Israel and Turkey on verge of dramatic revival of ties

Secret meeting paves way for warming relations; also provides for Israel selling gas to Turkey and laying pipeline

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on at the US Chief of Mission’s Residence during a bilateral meeting December 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on at the US Chief of Mission’s Residence during a bilateral meeting December 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

Turkish-Israeli relations may be on the verge of a dramatic improvement after years of disconnect, following a secret meeting Wednesday in Switzerland between senior Turkish and Israeli officials.

Among those attending the talks in Zurich, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office said, were National Security Council chief Yossi Cohen (the incoming head of the Mossad spy agency), former Foreign Ministry director Joseph Ciechanover (who serves as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s point man on Israeli-Turkish relations), and Feridun Sinirlioğlua, the current director-general of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Understandings reached at the talks are intended to serve as the basis for an agreement on warmed ties to be signed in the next few days.

The agreement was reached days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated that he would like to see bilateral ties revived.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry official confirmed the details of the Switzerland talks to the Turkish outlet Hurriyet Daily News, saying that a detente with Israel may be imminent.

Navy vessels escort the Mavi Marmara to the Ashdod port on May 31, 2010. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Israeli Navy vessels escort the Mavi Marmara to the port of Ashdod, May 31, 2010. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Relations between Jerusalem and Ankara broke down after the Israeli Navy intercepted a flotilla led by the Mavi Marmara, which was seeking to breach Israel’s security blockage on Hamas-run Gaza, in May 2010. The Israeli raid ended with nine dead Turkish activists and dozens wounded, after the Naval commandos were attacked with clubs and poles as they boarded the vessel.

Tension between the countries, already high, escalated further, and Erdogan, then the prime minister, recalled his ambassador. Israel recalled its own ambassador in retaliation and Turkey also began legal proceedings against senior IDF officials, including then IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and then Navy commander Eliezer Marom.

In 2013, President Barack Obama brokered an Israeli apology to Ankara, but hopes for a return to full normalization were not realized.

According to the PMO official, the agreement is to provide for: both countries to return their ambassadors; a cancellation of pending lawsuits against IDF soldiers; the establishment by Israel of a fund for the welfare of victims of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident; a Turkish commitment not to tolerate any “terrorist activities” on its sovereign territory; Turkey barring from its soil Salah Arouri, a Hamas operative who allegedly orchestrated the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June 2014; Turkey allowing Israel to lay down a gas pipeline on its soil; and the opening of immediate negotiations on the sale of natural gas from Israel to Turkey.

Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold already held secret meetings with his counterpart Sinirlioğlua and other senior Turkish officials in June, in what many observers saw as a first sign of a pending thaw in bilateral ties.

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