At the beginning of 2022, the exchange of cordial messages between Turkey and Israel expanded in a way that indicated the existence of a serious move by both sides to open a new page in their relations. These relations entered a new phase with the release of an Israeli couple detained in Istanbul since the end of last year. In continuation of these relations, the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, visited Turkey with a warm welcome. With the "MV Mavi Marmara" incident, diplomatic relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv cooled in 2010. The two sides tried to restore their relations in 2013, but this did not happen due to Israel's invasion of Gaza in 2014.
In 2015, the two sides tried to improve relations, and Tel Aviv appointed its ambassador to Ankara. Still, Ankara hesitated to appoint an ambassador and sought to see a change in Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians. It didn't take long for Israel to crack down on the Palestinian protests in Gaza after the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador in protest in 2018. Tel Aviv also expelled the Turkish consul. Some political analysts believe that Biden's coming to power has increased the momentum of Turkey's foreign policy in establishing relations with Israel more than during the Trump era.
The new balances that are being formed in the Middle East have provided a good basis for trying to advance the dialogue between the two sides. The intensification of the American crisis with China in the case of Taiwan and Russia in the case of Ukraine has caused the sensitivity of the American foreign policy towards the Middle East to decrease and the countries of the region to be more willing to repair their relations with their neighbors. The reduction of American presence in this region has caused a kind of relative convergence of different countries in the Middle East to secure their political interests. The reduction of tensions in the Middle East region, including the fight against Israel's expansionism, provides the opportunity for America to enter new stages of political and military competition in China and Russia.
In this regard, the Biden government supported the agreements to normalize Israel's relations with the Arab countries under the name of the Abraham Accords, which was established in 2020 with the aim of normalizing relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel (which was later joined by Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco), and on the other hand, it decided to return to nuclear negotiations with Iran. Revival of the JCPOA based on American policy brings two important achievements for the Biden government.
The first is that it stabilizes global monitoring of Iran's nuclear activities.
Secondly, with the opening of world markets to Iranian oil, the dependence on Russian oil will decrease after the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia following Russia's attack on Ukraine.
To block Iran's influence in the region, the United States seeks to create a political, economic, military, and security convergence among the countries of the Middle East and implement the Abraham Accords in it. For this purpose, the delivery of Egyptian gas from Syria and electricity from Jordan to Lebanon is removed from the list of American economic sanctions. The new relations between Turkey and Israel can be evaluated in this framework. The two sides provide the basis for developing common interests by renewing economic, military, and security relations.
The foreign policy of the conservative Biden administration towards the issue of Israel and Palestine compared to the Republican administration of Trump has provided the ground for greater understanding between Turkey and Israel. The general elections of March 2021 in Israel ended the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and as a result, the new coalition government in Netanyahu's absence was able to take practical steps in establishing relations with Arab countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and recently Turkey. Recep Erdogan, who dreamed of reviving a new neo-Ottoman empire from the borders of China to Turkey, is now faced with political and security crises within his borders with Syria and Iraq.
The economic situation of Turkey following these crises and the decrease in the value of the Turkish lira to its lowest level in the history of Turkey has caused this country to revive its relations with Israel. There is no doubt that both sides have expectations regarding the normalization of bilateral relations. By re-establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, Turkey primarily seeks to get out of regional isolation and increase its political presence in the Middle East in front of its rivals, Egypt and Greece, especially in the Mediterranean. With such an agreement, Turkey is waiting for the support of pro-Israel "lobbies" in Washington to reduce the anti-Turkish spirit in the US Congress.
On September 13, 2013, Shell's Turkish subsidiary Turkas submitted a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline from the Leviathan gas field to southern Turkey at the cost of $2.5 billion and capable of transporting 16 billion cubic meters of gas. The company described the project as an attractive one despite the political risks that exist due to the strained relations between Israel and Turkey. This is the first public statement of a Turkish company to export Israeli gas to Turkey. Various Turkish companies, including Zorlu Energy, a partner of the Dorad power station in Ashkelon, have negotiated a gas sales and pipeline construction contract with Leviathan Partners.
The Israeli cabinet did not cancel the permission to export more than 40% of Israel's gas reserves. An international energy conference was held in Paphos, Cyprus, in September 2013, where Briza, director of Turkas Oil, presented a detailed plan for the company's proposed pipeline project for the first time at a public conference. Many Israeli businessmen participated in it. This pipeline will extend 470 kilometers from Leviathan to the port of Ekssan or Mersin in southern Turkey. Most of Leviathan's gas will be used in the Turkish market, which needs new sources, and part of it will be sold to Europe, especially Greece. The shortest route of the pipeline should pass through the exclusive economic zone of Greece to avoid crossing the Syrian territory.
On May 22, 2014, Zorlu Holding began work on a 20-year, $2.5 billion offshore pipeline project to transport natural gas discovered at Leviathan in Israel to Turkey. This marine system is expected to transport 8 billion cubic meters of gas annually. The "East Med" gas supply project is one of Israel's strategic plans for greater influence in the European economy through Crete, Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey, and the former Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu announced during his visit to Bulgaria that this country will be one of the first importers of Israeli gas. On the sidelines of his visit to Bulgaria, Netanyahu emphasized that he intends to discuss the issue of the "East Med" gas supply project to export gas to the European Union with the leaders of the Balkan countries. He said: "This project is wonderful, and it is currently evaluating its economic efficiency, but the initial reviews are positive, and I believe that a part of this gas can be exported to Bulgaria." The gas crisis in European countries following the Ukraine crisis has caused the new Israeli government to follow the same policy as Netanyahu.
European countries are considered possible markets for Israel's gas exports, and Israel is supposed to export gas to Europe from the gas fields of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The US State Department's decision to stop supporting the East Med gas pipeline project, which aims to transfer Israeli gas to Europe through Turkey, provided a golden geo-economic opportunity for Ankara. Ankara has expanded relations with Israel to solve its economic problems. Tel Aviv knows that the gas pipeline project to Europe is not possible without Turkey's intervention and solving the Cyprus problem. Israel expects that with Turkey's entry into Israel's strategic plan in the field of energy, if this plan is realized, it will be able to replace the plans proposed by the European Union to provide energy instead of Russian gas and reduce Europe's dependence on Russia in the field of energy.
Another area of joint cooperation between Turkey and Israel is the Eurasian international electrical communication plan from the Israeli ports to the Greek island of Crete, Cyprus, Turkey and Europe. The Eurasian Interconnection Project is a reliable alternative for energy transmission in Europe to expand the energy market beyond its borders. This plan is a large energy infrastructure project, which aims to implement one of the most ambitious communication plans in the contemporary world. In addition, the said plan, as the first energy bridge between Europe and Asia, will establish electricity networks in two continents.
The electricity connection between Hadera in Israel and Vasilikos in Cyprus is one of the projects financed by the European Union under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). According to the press release issued by the European Commission, the amount allocated for the Hadera-Vasilikos connection is approximately 1.325 million euros. On February 17, 2017, the European Commission approved the amount of 14.5 million euros as financial support for the final detailed studies before the implementation of the project. This project is based on an undersea cable designed to connect the electrical systems of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. The capacity of this project will be 2000 MW, and its length will be approximately 1518 km. The plan includes three connections: 329 km between Israel and Cyprus, 879 km between Cyprus and the island of Crete, and 310 km between the island of Crete and the Greek mainland. The electrical systems of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece are interconnected via the island of Crete in Greece with 2,000-megawatt high voltage submarine current (HVDC) cables. In each terminal, voltage source converter (VSC) stations will be installed to help strengthen the electricity in the respective countries by alternating currents. Due to the complexity caused by the great depth of the sea and the long distances between countries, as well as the nature of the electrical link, the use of cables and electrical infrastructure is associated with the latest technological developments.
While the Mediterranean region has a great diversity of cultures and populations, the Mediterranean region is also an important place for convergence between Israel and some European countries. In addition, the energy sector, including electricity and gas in this geographical region, also has a high degree of dependence of different countries on each other. For this reason, Israel, like Cyprus and the island of Crete, cannot be considered electrically isolated from the rest of the European energy network.
In addition, in a directive from the European Union to the member states of this union, it is stated that by 2020, 20% of the final energy consumption should be from renewable energy sources, and for this reason, each member state must approve programs to achieve these goals. All these facts show that energy communication in electricity in Eurasian countries is developing. iI we claim that Israel's cooperation with Eurasian countries in the field of electricity and electronic connections is one of the most important ways of communicating between Israel and other Eurasian countries, we are not exaggerating. The project was officially announced in January 2012, and since then, steps have been taken by Israel in the Greek region of Crete as a communication plan.
Turkey's joining Israel's strategic plans in the Mediterranean region, especially in the energy field, will also lead to the support of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
And this is one of the most important areas of economic and security convergence to connect Turkey with America's allied countries in the region to compensate for Turkey's economic crisis.
Turkey and Israel are seeking to develop cooperation in many fields such as trade, information exchange, energy, and defense cooperation, but despite the coldness of relations in the past decade, their economic relations have continued, and according to the report of the Israel Chamber, the rate of trade between Israel and Turkey has increased to 6 billion dollars.
Turkish-Israeli relations and their influence on the Palestinian issue
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that Ankara has decided to return its ambassador to Israel and resume diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. He said: We have decided to appoint an ambassador for Israel and will continue to support the Palestinian people. Çavuşoğlu's statements are made at a time when the Muslim people of Turkey do not have a positive attitude towards Israel.
And the Islamist parties of Turkey are seeking to gain more electoral votes by calling Israel an enemy. Exiting an economic crisis following such agreements with Israel can weaken the popularity of Turkish politicians in public opinion. For this reason, at the same time as the announcement of the renewal of diplomatic relations at the level of ambassadors between the parties, it is not surprising that the Turkish authorities made statements in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people. Media in favor of the Turkish government have considered this agreement a positive basis for delivering Turkey's humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, so that they can move the public opinion of the world's Muslims in the direction of their party interests. The power of Islamist currents such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey, whose most important goals are to defend the rights of the Palestinian people and fight against Israel, has caused Turkish statesmen to promote agreements with Israel to support the Palestinian people.
The presence of Hamas in Turkey can be one of the challenges to the relations between Turkey and Israel. There is a possibility that the current economic crisis in Turkey will provide grounds for limiting the activities of Hamas in that country. At the same time, it can be predicted that the popularity of Erdogan's party among Turkish Islamists will decrease drastically, and we should expect Turkish media to justify these relations with Israel for the benefit of the Palestinian people by sending humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of IQNA.