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What does Israel-Turkey reconciliation mean for the Middle East?

Question submitted by Firdavs Rohila, from Eastern Mediterranean University, May 6, 2013

Answered by: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies


Relations between Turkey and Israel began to deteriorate after the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip in late 2008. A deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in May 2010 further undermined relations. Israeli commandos killed nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ferry that was part of a flotilla that sought to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. In March 2013, President Obama facilitated a rapprochement, whereby Israel apologized for the botched raid.

The timing of a resumption of full diplomatic relations is still being worked out between the two governments. Beyond an apology, Ankara had demanded compensation for the families of the eight Turks and one Turkish American who were killed aboard the Mavi Marmara and a lifting of the blockade on Gaza. Ankara has now agreed to restore diplomatic relations without a change in the blockade and assured Jerusalem that separate legal cases against Israeli officers would be dropped. The families want a change in Israel's Gaza policy and want the prosecutions to proceed, however.

Regardless of how and when relations between Israel and Turkey return to normal, they will not look like the strategic ties of the mid- and late-1990s. At that time, the close military-to-military relationship was a function of the confluence of a particular moment in Turkish domestic politics and geostrategic challenges facing Ankara and Jerusalem.

Today, even though Israel and Turkey have common interests and even if they fully mend their ties, it is likely too politically sensitive—particularly in Ankara—for them to cooperate openly on Syria and Iran.