Ankara, Turkey – Turkey’s strong relationship with Israel could be repaired, according to reports suggesting that Ankara is to hire the first ambassador for its Mediterranean group in more than two years. year and a half.
News of the election of a Jerusalem-educated official would mark the melting of ties between the countries after years of unrest and fiery astronomy between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to a report last week by Al-Monitor citing “well-placed sources”, Ankara has selected Ufuk Ulutas to make efforts to build bridges with Israel. Ulutas currently heads a foreign ministry research center but is not a career diplomat, having led a think tank that was outside the government.
He studied Hebrew and Middle Eastern politics at Jerusalem Hebrew University, according to biographical details on the think-tank website.
Described as “very plentiful” and “very pro-Palestine” by sources cited in the Al-Monitor report, Ulutas would have a hard job in repairing relationships that have gone from bad to worse in the last few years.
Tight ties under the Erdogan government were exacerbated in 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla that was trying to break into an Israeli attack in Gaza, killing eight Turkish nationals and an American-Turkish activist, and another Turkish national later accepted his injuries.
Six years later, the nations put back ties in a settlement deal that saw them hire ambassadors after Netanyahu apologized for the attack and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the suffer.
However, the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Israel’s harsh response to Palestinian street protests led to another collapse in relations, with both sides cutting high-level diplomatic ties in May 2018 but maintaining their embassies and consulates.
Among the diplomatic upgrades, both Erdogan and Netanyahu were involved in occasional name-calling shops designed for domestic consumption.
Last year, Erdogan compared Israel’s Palestinian policy to the Holocaust, forcing Netanyahu to accuse him of “killing Kurds in his country”.
News of the new ambassador came after reports that the countries’ intelligence leaders had met to pave the way for better connections.
“They may have agreed in principle to a gradual normalization so I would expect this astronomy to stop and the directors to stop communicating through the media,” a former senior said. Turkish diplomat with Al Jazeera.
However, Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Institute of National Security Studies, said that even the return of ambassadors would not reduce suspicion between the two sides, with Israel “so committed to trying to repair a relationship”.
She said: “Both leaders also benefit internally and externally from the astronomical battles between them, so when the opportunity arises again, it is likely that they will use astronomy. tighter experience. “
Things were not always so difficult. Turkey was the first country with a Muslim majority recognized by the state of Israel in 1949 and during the post-war period the countries had a warm relationship as two non-Arab powers, the West in the area.
Turkish governments pre-2002, when the ruling Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power, usually fostering close ties, with broad cooperation on defense, trade and tourism.
Erdogan visited Israel in 2005, offering to be an ambassador of peace over Palestinian occupation, but the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza reminded of ties, with Turkey describing the attack as “State-sponsored terrorism”.
Despite this, annual trade between the countries has fluctuated between $ 4.5bn and $ 6bn over the past eight years. The first 10 months of this year saw trade of more than $ 5bn, according to Turkish government statistics agency.
A full return on diplomatic ties could improve economic ties.
Lisel Hintz, associate professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, said Erdogan’s self-proclaimed role as a representative of Sunni Muslims was at the heart of his approach to Israel.
“For Erdogan, support for the Palestinian cause comes from his own beliefs about Turkey’s legitimacy as a regional Muslim leader but also from the domestic and regional support it can generate every time it stands in public with Israel, “she told Al Jazeera.
Noting that the Turkish president’s astronomy against Israel often coincided with major political events at home, Hintz said that defending Palestinians will win “support from numbers Another Muslim ”while“ opposition to Israel is gaining national support for him at home and abroad ”.
Despite this impetus, Erdogan is a “pragmatist enumerator who can paint trends that are otherwise remarkable, such as the economically driven rapprochement by Israel in 2016, as a win for Turkey,” she said.
Many observers see the renewal of any ambassador in response to new external pressures on Turkey, as well as the country’s dangerous economic situation.
The incoming presidency of Joe Biden in the U.S. is likely to see Washington take a tougher stance on Turkey’s human rights agenda and engage in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus .
Last week Europe and the US agreed on sanctions against Ankara; The first over his energy exploration in the Mediterranean, where he came up against EU members Greece and Cyprus, and the last one about the use of Russian S-400 missiles. last year.
“I think the decision to hire a new ambassador to Israel has more to do with the situation in the Mediterranean,” said the former Turkish diplomat.
In the dispute over gas sources, Israel and Egypt have sided with Turkey, backed by the Tripoli-based government in divided Libya.
“For a long time, we have been advocating the normalization of relations not only with Israel but also with Syria and Egypt. Turkey should not be divided over gas sources and areas of maritime sovereignty, ”said the former diplomat.
Renewing ties with Israel could be “in preparation for a new administration in Washington,” the former diplomat said, adding: “They are preparing for better communication with the EU and also by the Biden administration. “
However, even better ties with Israel will not change the “reality of a deep crisis between Turkey and its Western partners,” which focuses on the S-400s and gas exploration, according to Lindenstrauss.
No official confirmation has been given about Ulutas’ career, leading to a suggestion that he could be the new prosecutor of dhaffaffaires, a lower diplomatic status.
“Still, as relations have not been officially downgraded in 2018, there is no formal impediment to the return of the ambassadors,” Lindenstrauss said.
One key point for Israel is Turkey’s relationship with Hamas, with several top leaders now living in Istanbul from which they launched attacks.
“If Turkey can take a neutral stance on Hamas military personnel on its territory, that would be very optimistic from an Israeli perspective,” Lindenstrauss said.