Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey July 25, 2017. Photo by Yasin Bulbul/Reuters.

Turkish president accuses Israel of trying to take Al-Aqsa mosque from Muslims


President Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused Israel of attempting to take the Al-Aqsa mosque from Muslims using security as the excuse.

Erdogan made the accusation during a meeting of his AKP party.

“Everyone who knows Israel is aware that restrictions on Al-Aqsa mosque are not due to safety concerns,” he said during a speech in the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, according to reports. “When Israeli soldiers carelessly pollute the grounds of Al-Aqsa with their combat boots by using simple issues as a pretext and then easily spill blood there, the reason is we have not done enough to stake our claim over Jerusalem.

“From here I make a call to all Muslims: Anyone who has the opportunity should visit Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa mosque. Come, let’s all protect Jerusalem.”

Erdogan said he had heard that Israel had removed the metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount for Muslim worshippers and hoped that “the rest will follow.”

“We expect Israel to take steps for the peace of the region,” he added.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement issued Tuesday called the remarks “absurd, unfounded and distorted.”

“He would be better off dealing with the difficult problems facing his own country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.

“The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed. Jerusalem was, is, and will always be the capital of the Jewish people. In stark contrast to the past, the government in Jerusalem is committed to security, liberty, freedom of worship and respect for the rights of all minorities. Those who live in glass palaces should be wary of casting stones.”

The Prime Minister’s Office in Israel also responded, saying in a brief statement: “It would be interesting to see what Erdogan would say to the residents of northern Cyprus or to the Kurds. Erdogan is the last one who can preach to Israel.”

Erdogan also decried two anti-Israel attacks in recent days on an Istanbul synagogue over the metal detectors, calling for a halt to such demonstrations.

“We have no issues with the houses of worship of Christians or Jews,” he said. “We have taken the necessary measures against the attacks planned on synagogues and temples in our country.”

Over the weekend, Erdogan called on the international community to intervene to get the metal detectors removed from the site.

The new security measures had been put into place after three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the holy site on July 14. Once the metal detectors were put in place, Muslims refused to enter the Temple Mount, instead praying outside its gates, leading to clashes and the deaths of at least five Palestinians in recent days.

Despite the removal Tuesday morning of the metal detectors, Muslim worshippers have continued to stay away.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference following the talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on May 3. Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Israel of massacring Palestinians


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “massacres” against the Palestinians and chided the international community for its silence.

Erdogan made his comments on Monday at the Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul, a two-day international event that brings together representatives of foundations, experts, academics, ministers and high-ranking officials from around the world to discuss the state of Muslim heritage in Jerusalem.

Speaking of Israel, the Turkish leader was quoted as saying in the Istanbul-based Daily Sabah newspaper, “They feel they are immune to any punishment for their crimes, but the international community needs to stand up against them. It is impossible to establish peace in the region if the international law remains indifferent to massacres and cruelty.”

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Erdogan’s comments in a statement issued on Monday night.

“Those who systematically violate human rights in their own country should not preach to the only true democracy in the region,” the statement said. “Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians – and will continue to do so despite the baseless slander launched against it.”

Also at the forum, Erdogan called on Turks to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque often to protect its Muslim identity.

“Turkey attaches great importance to the justified resistance of the Palestinians and will not yield to Israeli attempts to change the status quo in the Al-Aqsa mosque,” Erdogan said. “We as Muslims should visit the Al-Aqsa mosque more often; every day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us.”

The mosque, under the control of the Muslim Waqf, is located in Jerusalem on what Jews call the Temple Mount.

Erdogan also criticized a bill being considered in Israel that would limit the volume of the Muslim call to prayer.

“It is disgraceful for those who lecture us about the freedom of religion to turn a blind eye to this attempt. Turkey will not let these attempts against freedom of belief [prevail],” Erdogan said. “Why are they afraid of the call to prayer? Are they unsure of their own fate? We do not and will not treat our Jewish citizens like that.”

How complicated is Syria? Trump just helped ISIS


We like our problems clean and direct. Good versus evil. Good fights evil. Good wins.

The Syrian regime of President Assad is evil. Its use of chemical weapons to murder children was barbaric. It makes sense to not let him get away with it. So, you can argue that President Trump was right to order missile strikes against the regime.

This satisfying moral action, however, should not make us dumb down a complicated conflict. The dominant reality of the Syrian conflict today is that it represents evil vs evil. You can get rid of one evil only to see something worse replace it.

On one side of the conflict, you have the Assad regime, supported by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. A few years ago, Assad was on life support. Now, with his strong partners, he’s made a comeback.

On the other side of the conflict are anti-regime rebel groups who fight each other as much as they fight the Assad regime.

The largest is ISIS, with 25,000 to 80,000 fighters. ISIS has become the enemy par excellence in the Western world. Trump has talked incessantly about destroying them. Now consider this: By striking Assad, Trump ended up helping ISIS. Complicated enough?

Besides ISIS, there are groups like Al-Nusra Front (15,000 to 20,000 fighters), Jaysh al-Islam (17,000 to 25,000), Ahrar ash-Sham (10,000 to 20,000), Asala wa-al-Tanmiya (13,000), Jaysh al-Fatah (10,000), Sham Legion (4,000) and Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union (3,000).

In the middle of this jungle is the Free Syrian Army, with 100,000 fighters, which was started by former Syrian officers. Everyone seems to fight them.

Geography further complicates the picture. The country has been heavily splintered. Different groups have different power bases. Of course, the more land you can conquer the more power you have.

In the North is the Kurdish group, which is another story altogether, because Kurds are known to be more moderate. But Turkey hates the Kurds. Just as Iran and Syria are supporting the Assad regime, countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting their own rebel groups.

The point is this: Syria has become a complete, violent mess. When it comes to the most likely winners in this conflict, the choice has become evil versus evil. The good people of Syria who initially rose up against Assad, and the militias they organized, have been slowly crushed.

As much as it may satisfy us to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, it’s important to keep our eye on the whole picture. What can America do? At this point, not much. Six years ago, when the more moderate rebel forces were stronger, we could have given them military assistance and established no-fly zones. Would it have worked? Who knows? There’s no certainty when so many violent forces are at play.

What we do know today is that extremist groups have the upper hand pretty much everywhere and that Russia has established its own military presence. That limits our options. On the humanitarian front, we can certainly help establish safe zones to assist the millions of refugees. We can even order the occasional pinprick attack to show we’re still here and we have our limits, and the use of chemical weapons is one of them.

But let’s be real. There are no good options. The Syrian fire has gotten too big to simply suffocate. Yes, let’s stay vigilant. Let’s make sure things don’t get too out of hand and spill over into other countries (like Israel). But as vexed as I am to say this, when evil fights evil, sometimes the best option is to let them fight it out, and to help ensure no one wins.

As Daniel Pipes writes, “Iranian- and Russian-backed Shi’ite pro-government jihadis are best kept busy fighting Saudi-, Qatar-, and Turkish-backed anti-government Sunni jihadis; because Kurds, however appealing, are not contenders for control of the whole of Syria; and because Americans have no stomach for another Middle Eastern war.”

Trump can go on about how attacking Assad is a “vital U.S. interest,” but who’s he kidding? Is he ready to invite the head of ISIS to the White House for peace talks?


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Turkey’s president ratifies reconciliation deal with Israel


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the reconciliation agreement with Israel restoring diplomatic ties after a six-year freeze.

Erdogan  ratified the agreement on Wednesday. The Turkish Parliament approved the deal earlier this month before they left for a summer recess, after being delayed by the July 15 military coup attempt. Israel’s Knesset had approved the deal in late June.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Under the agreement, Turkey will drop legal claims against the Israeli military and individual officers and soldiers who were part of the Mavi Marmara raid. Also, Israel will pay $20 million to a humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously apologized for the deaths, which had been another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Israel to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation after six-year rift


Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday submitted to parliament a settlement deal with Israel that would see Israel pay Ankara $20 million within 25 days in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims, ending a six-year rift.

Relations between the two countries crumbled after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

Israel had already offered its apologies for the raid. Both countries are to appoint ambassadors, and Turkey is to pass legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers as part of an agreement partly driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

Turkey’s former attache to Israel reportedly confesses to planning coup


Turkey’s former military attache to Israel reportedly has confessed to plotting the failed military coup to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Citing Turkey’s state-run Andalou news agency, The Times of Israel reported Monday that Akin Ozturk made the confession while under interrogation. In photos circulating in Turkish media Ozturk, who is also the former chief of the Turkish Air Force, appears to have a number of injuries to his head and upper body.

The coup began late Friday night and was quelled by the next day. More than 200 died during the attempt. Thousands of soldiers were rounded up on Sunday by forces loyal to the government on suspicion of being involved in the coup.

In statements to Turkish media over the weekend, Ozturk denied being involved in the attempted coup.

Ozturk, who retired from the Turkish army last year, was the country’s military attaché to Israel from 1996 to 1998, according to The Times of Israel.

Last month, Turkey and Israel formally reinstated diplomatic relations following a six-year freeze. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the coup attempt will have no effect on the agreement between the two countries.

A terror attack at an airport in Istanbul hours after the reconciliation deal was signed killed at least 41 and injured more than 230.

Turkey, Egypt, Africa: How ‘hard-liner’ Netanyahu pulled off a diplomacy trifecta


The conventional wisdom has it that earning the sobriquet “the most right-wing government in Israeli history” does not lead to diplomatic successes.

In recent weeks, on the Turkish, Egyptian and African fronts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proving the conventional wisdom wrong.

How is it that the head of a government beating a hasty retreat from the two-state solution scored a triumphant tour of Africa, hosted a convivial summit with an Egyptian foreign minister for the first time in nearly a decade and renewed full ties with Turkey?

Here’s a look at what Netanyahu’s diplomatic successes mean – and their limitations.

Oh, Bibi, Bibi, it’s a wild world

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, talks about retreating from America’s preeminent role in the world. Although he is adamant that he is pro-Israel, Trump has suggested he could charge Israel for the billions in defense assistance it receives.

Similarly Europe, overwhelmed by a refugee crisis, is becoming more insular and, for the first time in decades, faces the prospect of falling apart as a common political force, with Britain’s planned exit from the European Union and other countries contemplating similar actions.

Meantime, calls to target Israel – or its settlements – with boycotts are increasing across the continent.

“In Israel, there’s broad recognition for no substitute for the U.S-Israel alliance. It remains crucial,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank with a focus on the Middle East. “There’s also a recognition that we are going through a turbulent period, and from a diplomatic perspective there are ways to defray some of these challenges.”

Among them: Enhance security ties with Egypt, reinvigorate decades-old ties in Africa and mend ties with Turkey.

The shared Sinai threat

The vastness of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, its strategic positioning between Asia and Africa, and the porous nature of its Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea coasts have been like catnip to terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

That poses a shared challenge to Israel and Egypt, and has helped already friendly ties between the nations; Israel was one of the few countries to celebrate the 2013 coup that removed the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and brought to power Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

Israel in recent months quietly has allowed Egyptian forces entry back into the peninsula, effectively allowing Egypt to abrogate one of the tenets, demilitarization, of the 1979 Camp David Peace Agreement. Commensurately, Egypt has allowed Israel to target terrorists with drones.

“You have a closely coordinated counterterrorism strategy in the Sinai,” Schanzer said. “You have intelligence sharing, increased numbers of Israelis are operating in the Sinai.”

That helps explain why Sissi was willing to send his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, to Israel this week for a high-profile visit – effectively warming up a peace that Sissi’s predecessors preferred to keep cool. Keeping the Sinai secure trumped the domestic blowback Sissi knew he would endure for the visit.

Preempting the Palestinians, France and (maybe) the Obama administration

The French are trying to kick-start peace talks with the Palestinians under an international umbrella. The Palestinians hope to advance statehood recognition during the U.N. General Assembly launch in September. And President Barack Obama may deliver his own post-U.S. election surprise, setting out the U.S. parameters for a final-status arrangement.

All are anathema to Netanyahu, who favors direct talks with the Palestinians, where Israel is able to exercise greater leverage. Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, appeared to favor the direct talks track, saying his visit was part of Sissi’s “vision for establishing peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples — bringing this long conflict to an end.”

Bringing Egypt into the configuration increases pressure on the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to direct talks, said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Egypt is the P.A.’s lead patron in the Arab world, and Abbas can ill afford to alienate Sissi.

“While the PA president has had no problem rejecting Netanyahu’s call to resume talks amid disbelief that anything concrete will emerge from them, bringing Egypt into the picture raises the cost of any such rejection,” Makovsky wrote on the think tank’s website.

Turkey is more about what Erdogan needs

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, pressed for the rupture with Israel in 2010 after Israel’s deadly raid on a Palestinian convoy aiming to breach Israel’s blockade with Gaza. Now he’s the force behind the reconciliation.

Erdogan is dealing with restive Kurds in the south, the chaos in Syria across his country’s border and the blowback from his decision recently to take tougher measures against the Islamic State. He needs to smooth waters elsewhere.

Reestablishing ties with Israel not only returns an important trade partner to eminence and restores full security ties at a time of crisis, it addresses a longstanding U.S. demand that its two most important allies in the Middle East reconcile.

“Erdogan is starting to realize he’s overstretched; Turkey is dealing with so many problems at once,” said Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “Erdogan is realizing he has to pull back.”

Back to Africa

The last time there was a movement on the rise to isolate Israel — in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Arab League used oil leverage to pressure third parties to join their boycott — Israel countered by quietly reinforcing ties in Africa.

The ties, established in the 1950s and 1960s, already were a point of pride for Israel, identifying the Jewish state not as a colonial anomaly, as the Arab nations would have it, but as a postcolonial triumph of an indigenous people.

That very much was the point of Netanyahu’s four-nation African tour, said Schanzer.

“One gets the sense we’re revisiting history amid the new boycott movement — and it’s yielding dividends,” he said.

The tour coincided with the 40th anniversary of an Israeli commando raid on Entebbe in Uganda, where terrorists were holding Israeli airplane passengers with the sanction of the country’s then dictator, Idi Amin. Netanyahu’s elder brother, Yoni, was killed leading the rescue effort.

But the tour was more than symbolic, participants said. Netanyahu traveled with 80 men and women representing some 50 businesses, and was well prepared to assist them, according to Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem-based solar energy and social development enterprise.

Abramowitz said he shook hands on $1 billion worth of deals during the four-nation tour.

“A fully coordinated government initiative brilliantly executed in every country by the Prime Minister’s Office, the embassies and the Israel Export Institute, it was clockwork,” he said.

Israel’s Security Cabinet approves Turkey reconciliation deal


Israel’s Security Cabinet approved the reconciliation agreement with Turkey restoring diplomatic ties after a six-year freeze.

Following a discussion of more than four hours, the Security Cabinet voted 7-3 to approve the deal, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked dissenting.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded and killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. The votes against the agreement were in part over the payment of reparations to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.

 

The Security Cabinet also said it would take up a discussion on the conditions of incarceration of Hamas prisoners in Israel as long as the issue of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers presumed dead and two Israeli citizens being held in Gaza is unresolved.

As part of the agreement, Turkey has committed to help pressure Hamas to repatriate the soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, and the citizens, Avra Mangisto and Hisham Al-Said, being held there.

Under the deal, Israel will create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims, which would not be released until Turkey passes legislation closing claims against the Israeli military for the deaths. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for the deaths, another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Turkey withdrew its demand that Israel halt its Gaza blockade, but Israel will allow Turkey to establish building projects in Gaza with the building materials entering Gaza through Israel’s Ashdod Port. The building projects reportedly include a hospital, power station and desalinization plant.

Israeli president sends condolence letter to Turkey in wake of airport attack, welcomes renewed ties


Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter of condolence to his Turkish counterpart in the aftermath of the terror attack at an Istanbul airport that has killed at least 41 and injured more than 230.

Three suicide bombers opened fire on passengers in the international terminal at the Ataturk Airport on Tuesday night before detonating themselves.

The attack came hours after Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal ending a six-year break in diplomatic relations.

“This cowardly, murderous act is an example of the most vitriolic hatred the like of which we are sadly seeing across our region and the entire world today,” Rivlin wrote to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the letter sent Wednesday, in which he also offered Israeli assistance in recovering from the attack. “I take this opportunity to welcome the chance to renew our good relationship especially because our strengthened dialogue will greatly aid in our joint efforts against this threat, and because it sends a strong message to the terrorists that we will stand united against hatred.”

Turkey had cut off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2010 after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens on a boat that was attempting to break through Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

As Time reported, Turkish commentator Mustafa Akyol tweeted that the timing of the Istanbul bombing, just after the reconciliation deal was signed in Jerusalem and Ankara, may not have been a coincidence — suggesting the attack could have involved anti-Israel undertones.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday “strongly condemning” the attack.

“All civilized nations must stand together to fight the scourge of terrorism,” the statement said.

Israeli diplomats who were at the airport at the time of the attack were unharmed. Israeli diplomats said that no Israeli tourists were among the victims taken to the hospital.

At least one Palestinian was confirmed killed and seven Palestinians injured in the attack. Among the other foreign nationals killed were people from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, China, Iran, Ukraine and Jordan, according to reports.

Israel’s embassy in Ankara condemned the attack and extended its condolences on Wednesday.

Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Turkish officials have said it appears to have been mounted by the Islamic State.

The airport, the third busiest in Europe, was up and running by Wednesday morning.

 

Turkey and Israel Spin Normalization Deal in Their Favor


Turkish and Israeli officials announced on Monday a long-awaited rapprochement and reestablishment of formal diplomatic relations after being severed six years ago.

“We are very very happy,” Ivo Molinas, the editor-in-chief of Turkish Jewish newspaper Şalom and an advisor to Turkey’s Jewish community, told the Media Line. “One of the things we love the most is to see Israel and Turkey as friends.” 

The reconciliation deal brings to end the freeze in relations over events on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in a humanitarian flotilla to the Gaza Strip organized in part by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) in May 2010. Israeli forces killed ten Turkish activists in a violent clash when the ship they tried to breach the military blockade around Gaza.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım announced that ambassadors will be exchanged within weeks. But Israel denied one of Ankara’s original conditions, a lifting of the Gaza blockade. The two sides agreed that any aid for Gaza will be subject to Israeli inspection and go through the Israeli port of Ashdod.

However, as part of the deal, which officials from both countries have been quietly working on since last year, all current and future claims against Israeli soldiers involved in the flotilla raid will be dropped. Israel will also create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation for the families of those killed. That provision sparked criticism in Israel with one former politician Gideon Saar calling it a “national humiliation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the deal calling it an agreement of “strategic importance” for the state of Israel, adding that it protects all of the Israeli soldiers involved from “all criminal and civil claims.”

Turkey will provide humanitarian relief to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, with a 10,000-ton aid shipment to be sent to the Israeli port city Ashdod on Friday. Ankara will also build a 200-bed hospital, a power station and a desalination drinking-water plant in Gaza. 

Umut Uzer, a professor at Istanbul Technical University with expertise in Turkish-Israeli relations, says that Turkey can play a very positive role now that it has good relations with both the Palestinians and Israel.

“Let’s hope that Turkey will have a moderating influence on Gaza, by opening hospitals,” and other humanitarian activities, he told the Media Line. “That would be beneficial for Israel as well.”

Uzer said it’s time for Ankara to stop choosing sides.

“A more balanced approach would be beneficial for both peoples, both the Palestinians and Israelis.”

A major complaint from Israel has been Ankara’s hosting of the Islamist Hamas movement, which governs Gaza and which Israel, the United States and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization.

“Israel believes that many of the terrorist attacks performed in the West Bank are planned in Turkey,” Karel Valansi, a columnist with Şalom who writes about Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, told The Media Line. “Following the deal Hamas will stay in Turkey but Ankara will control their activities. It has to be only political. Turkey may become a facilitator between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, and has ruled the Strip until then. Israeli officials say Hamas continues to dig tunnels to attack Israel, and has called on Turkey to stop supporting Hamas.

“It is a sore point,” former Israeli Parliament member for the Yesh Atid party Dov Lipman, recently returned from a trip to Turkey, told the Media Line. “We still view Hamas as a terror organization that seeks our destruction.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal over the weekend, and said the government won’t expel the organization from Turkey. However, Turkish officials pledged to not support terror activities in Israel and to not allow Hamas to fundraise or conduct military operations from Turkish territory against Israel.

Professor Uzer says Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is close with Hamas and can use its influence over the group in a more positive way.

“I think Turkey could and should put more pressure on Hamas as far as military operations are concerned.”

Uzer says Turkey has been working hard for the rapprochement out of necessity for good regional relations.

“The fact that Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy has collapsed […] and also that things got really bad with Russia [after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet last November], doesn’t leave many friendly countries in the region,” he says. 

Despite the collapse of political relations, economic relations have been steadily growing between Turkey and Israel, and further expansion provided another incentive for the normalization of ties.

Former Israeli parliamentarian Lipman says the reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey has economic benefits for both sides. He said that Israel could sell natural gas, past of a very large field recently discovered, to Turkey.

“The economic benefits – especially with regards to gas – are huge,” he says, referring to the massive, recently discovered Leviathan gas field off the coast of Haifa.

The field could be hooked up to Turkey’s existing gas pipelines, selling to the Turkish market and delivering to Europe through Turkey, but no formal agreements are in place.

But Professor Uzer expresses caution at such an early stage.

“Yes, there’s natural gas, no doubt, but can it be transported to Europe, that’s something that needs to be explored economically and politically,” he says. “It sounds very exciting but I’m not so sure if it’s economically and politically feasible.”

Molinas says that the poor relations with Israel magnified anti-Semitism in the Turkish media and political discourse.

“We want to forget these past six years which were not so easy, especially the first years after the Mavi Marmara incident,” he said. “Now we hope that this harsh anti-Semitic climate will soften in a short time,” he says.

Lipman said the anti-Semitism in Turkey also had very negative affects in Israel.

“Some comments made by Turkish leaders have been taken very badly. We are not happy about any hints of extremism or anti-Jewish beliefs and ideologies. These are very concerning and lead to lack of trust.”

However, Lipman says most Israelis are happy that relations have improved.

“Israelis really like the Turkish people and Turkish culture. They would love for there to be a strong relationship with the Turkish people,” he said. “Hopefully, things can calm down and we can see a lot of tourism in both directions.”

Israel, Turkey sign reconciliation deal


The foreign ministries of Israel and Turkey simultaneously signed a reconciliation agreement on Tuesday, six years after relations were cut off.

The director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, signed the agreement in Jerusalem. The identical agreement was signed in Ankara by Turkey’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, Feridun Hadi Sinirlioğlu, who had led his country’s negotiating team.

The agreement had been formally announced a day earlier.

“Israel has made an important strategic agreement in terms of security, regional stability and the Israeli economy,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday afternoon in Rome, where he had briefed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the agreement.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded and killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Israel’s Security Cabinet is expected to approve the agreement when it votes on Wednesday even though Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have said they would vote against it.

Under the deal, Israel will create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims, which would not be released until Turkey passes legislation closing claims against the Israeli military for the deaths. Netanyahu has apologized for the deaths, another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Turkey withdrew its demand that Israel halt its Gaza blockade, but Israel will allow Turkey to establish building projects in Gaza with the building materials entering Gaza through Israel’s Ashdod Port. The building projects reportedly include a hospital, power station and desalinization plant.

Turkey also has agreed to assist in repatriating two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas in Gaza.

 

Lieberman, majority of Israelis oppose Turkey reconciliation deal


More than half of Israelis oppose the newly announced reconciliation deal with Turkey, according to a Channel 10 poll.

In addition, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he is against the deal, several Israeli media outlets reported Monday.

Channel 10’s poll found that 56 percent of Israelis oppose the deal that ends a six-year break in diplomatic ties between the two countries, while another 11 percent has no opinion, i24 news reported.

Under the deal, to be signed Tuesday in Jerusalem and Ankara, Israel will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the nine Turkish citizens killed in a 2010 raid on a ship, the Mavi Marmara, attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, according to i24news.

Critics of the deal include those who object that it does not demand that Turkey use its influence with Hamas to  resolve the fate of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza and whose remains have never been repatriated. Others say Israel does not owe an apology or compensation to those killed on the Mavi Marmara ship because the activists attacked the Israeli soldiers.

Lieberman, who sees Turkey as unrepentant antagonist of Israel,  said he plans to vote against the deal when it comes before the security cabinet later this week. “We won’t make a campaign out of it just as I didn’t in my opposition to the [Gilad] Shalit deal at the time, but my position is known,” he said.

Lieberman was referring to the 2011 Israel-Hamas deal in which Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit was released in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

The Channel 10 poll, which interviewed 500 Jewish Israelis and 100 Arab Israelis, found that while Arabs mostly supported (72 percent) the deal, Jews mostly opposed (65 percent) it.

The poll’s margin of error was 4.2 percent.

Netanyahu formally announces reconciliation deal with Turkey


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally announced a reconciliation agreement with Turkey, ending a six-year cut in diplomatic ties.

“Israel has made an important strategic agreement in terms of security, regional stability, and the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu said Monday afternoon in Rome.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim made an announcement simultaneously in Ankara. The agreement will be signed on Tuesday in Jerusalem and in Ankara.

Israeli news outlets reported that the agreement had been reached in Rome on Sunday, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official involved with the negotiations.

“I don’t run the country according to tweets or headlines, but according to what is good for the country’s security, economy and interests,” Netanyahu said. “This agreement is important and isn’t devoid of criticism. Gas and the Israeli economy will be promoted by the agreement. This doesn’t mean we’ve started a honeymoon period, and I’m not trying to embellish [the agreement]. But our critical interests are promoted by this deal.”

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded and killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Netanyahu enumerated the seven main points of the agreement,  including protecting the commanders and fighters of the Israel Defense Forces from criminal and civil charges; maintaining the naval blockade of Gaza, and assistance from Turkey in repatriating two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Netanyahu also said the agreement “opens the door to cooperation on economic and energy issues,” including selling natural gas to Turkey.

The family of Hadar Goldin, one of the soldiers whose body is being held by Hamas, rejected the deal, saying Netanyahu acted in opposition to his promises that the deal would return their son’s body and that of Oron Shaul. Both soldiers were killed during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza.

How gas could warm relations between Israel and Turkey


On the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington in March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a private meeting with Israel's energy minister, Yuval Steinitz. It was the highest level contact between Israel and Turkey since diplomatic relations broke down six years ago after Israeli forces raided a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, killing 10 Turkish activists.

The meeting, which lasted 20 to 30 minutes and whose details have not been previously disclosed, discussed the war in Syria, Iran's presence there, terrorism – and natural gas. That last item is a key driver of efforts to forge a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey: At stake are reserves of natural gas worth hundreds of billions of dollars under the waters of Israel and Cyprus. To exploit them Israel will likely require the cooperation of Turkey.

In an interview at his office in Jerusalem, Steinitz confirmed the Washington meeting. “It was in a very good atmosphere,” he said. “I don't want to say more than that … I'm a great proponent of this effort to resume diplomatic relations with Turkey.”

Since the Washington meeting, high-level envoys from Turkey and Israel have talked privately in Geneva and London to hammer out a deal on restoring relations between the former allies. Discussions have at times become bogged down: Israel wants Turkey to cut ties with Hamas representatives based in Turkey; Ankara wants reassurances on providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza, among other things.

A senior Turkish official said he was not aware of the meeting and said it would have been outside normal protocol for a president to meet a minister.

Overall, though, Israeli officials believe an agreement can be reached in the coming weeks.

“We have resolved 80 to 90 percent of the difficulties, or gaps, and now with a little bit of goodwill and flexibility on both sides we can reach the remaining items,” Steinitz said. “I think we are pretty close (to normalising relations).”

There have also been positive noises from Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on June 7 that Ankara was “one or two meetings away” from normalising ties with Israel. However, he did not put a timeframe on the process.

 

VAST RESERVES

Israel and Cyprus, which have increasingly close ties, sit on an estimated 3,450 billion cubic metres of gas buried in the Levant Basin, according to a U.S. Geological Survey carried out late last decade. Those reserves are worth around $700 billion and equate to enough gas to supply the entire world for a year. And that's only proven reserves. A recent seismological survey conducted by a French consultancy suggested Israel alone may be sitting on nearly three times as much gas as first thought, according to Steinitz.

The problem is not just the huge costs of drilling for the gas, but finding a route to deliver it to customers. While a portion of the gas would go for domestic consumption, the vast majority is earmarked for export. Unless Israel and Cyprus can lock in long-term export contracts, the costs of developing the deepwater fields will not be covered and the vast assets may never be fully exploited.

Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, may be a long-run buyer of Israeli gas, but is a modest market. Neighbouring Lebanon and Syria – both sworn enemies of Israel – are out of the question. Instead, Turkey and Egypt, with 80 million and 93 million people respectively, would be a far better fit as potential long-term consumers.

An initial plan was to send some of the gas to Egypt, which already has small contracts to buy gas from Israel. But in the past year Egypt has discovered natural gas off its coastline and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said he will push ahead rapidly with developing its own energy resources.

Steinitz says a deal with Egypt remains an option. But Israel is also turning towards exploring a pipeline to Turkey, both for consumers there and as a connection to Europe. A third option is a Cyprus-Greece-Europe route.

As a result, restoring relations with Ankara is now a linchpin in Israel's strategy to unlock its natural gas wealth.

“Turkey would very much like to diversify its energy imports and resources,” said Steinitz, when pressed about the restoration of ties between the countries. “They don't want to be dependent on one source, or two sources of energy.”

 

RUSSIA CONNECTION

Turkey imports the bulk of its gas from Russia. But Ankara's ties with Moscow are strained, particularly over the Syrian conflict after a Turkish fighter plane shot down a Russian jet last November. In 2015, Turkey trimmed its imports of Russian gas by 300 million cubic metres to around 27 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year, to the annoyance of Moscow.

Yet Turkey's rapidly growing economy still consumes 50 bcm of gas a year and demand is set to double over the next seven or eight years, analysts say. Diversifying supply will be important.

“They need other sources, reliable sources, of gas,” said Steinitz. “We have an interest to exportIsraeli gas and to have export options – not to be totally dependent on one country for our exports. So it's a very good opportunity here.”

Turkish energy companies share that view. Both Zorlu Enerji and a consortium of Turcas and Enerjisa have been in talks with Israel over gas prices and potential pipeline routes, a Turkish industry source told Reuters late last year.

“There's a potential of around 30 bcm of gas (a year) there, of which Turkey could buy 8 bcm to 10 bcm (a year),” the source said.

Building a pipeline to Turkey or Egypt is about the same distance, around 540 km (340 miles), and about the same cost, around $3 billion. Turkey is more attractive because of its position as a gateway to Europe.

 

THE CYPRUS PROBLEM

Though Steinitz is hopeful of mending fences with Turkey, regional analysts remain sceptical of a gas bonanza in the East Mediterranean any time soon.

“A lot of the talk is pie in the sky,” said Michael Leigh, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in the United States and an expert on gas discoveries in the East Mediterranean. He believes there are too many political and commercial obstacles to getting the gas out of the seabed and transporting it to markets.

Perhaps the trickiest issue is Cyprus. Since 1974 the island has been split between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, after the Turks invaded following a military coup on the island backed by Greece. There are no diplomatic ties between the south, which is a member of the European Union, and Turkey.

Large amounts of gas are located in the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus. If it and Israelare intent on coordinating their export strategy – and if Turkey is to be one of the routes – the divisions in Cyprus must be addressed first, analysts say. That's because at least part of the pipeline would have to pass through Cypriot territorial waters into Turkish territorial waters.

British and Cypriot diplomats have talked hopefully about a breakthrough on reunifying Cyprus, but it remains far from certain. “We can see that there is an alignment of the stars and momentum from both sides,” said a senior official directly involved in talks. “The prospects are certainly better than they have been in a very long time. But we cannot say there is a deal until everything is in place.”

Even if a deal can be reached, it still may not mean all hurdles are cleared. Leigh, of the German Marshall Fund, pointed out that Erdogan, whose imprimatur is critical to a resolution, has blown hot and cold on the issue.

In relation to exploiting the gas reserves, Leigh added: “A resolution of the Cyprus problem is necessary but not sufficient – you need commercial viability, too.” He is not convinced the Levant Basin is a reliable investment, given the decline in gas prices and the cost of extracting the gas and piping it to markets.

Steinitz remains optimistic, convinced that Israel's economic stability and energy security depend on developing the country's gas resources in whatever way possible.

“We are going to do it by hook or by crook,” he said. “We have to overcome all the difficulties and do it because it is essential for Israel's future.”

Israel’s status at NATO headquarters gets an upgrade


NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has upgraded its ties with Israel, bringing Jerusalem even closer into its circle at a time of mounting instability throughout the Middle East.

Israel will open offices at NATO’s Brussels headquarters and will credential its representative, Israeli Ambassador to the European Union David Walzer.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed NATO’s “inviting the State of Israel to open office at the organization's headquarters,” adding that he saw the move “as an important expression of Israel's standing in the world.”

“The countries of the world are looking to cooperate with us due to – inter alia – our determined fight against terrorism, our technological know-how and our intelligence services,” he said.

In a statement posted on its website, NATA announced that it had “agreed ‎to accept the request that an official Israeli Mission be established at NATO headquarters.”

In what some interpreted to be a tampering down of Israel bravado, the statement added that “NATO has invited all partners to open diplomatic missions to the Headquarters of the Atlantic Alliance in Brussels.”

Israel has been a member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue since December 1994.

But the real news behind the upgrade was that that Turkey, which has used its membership in NATO to block Israel’s request for years, had lifted its veto and may, despite the lack of a formal agreement for normalization of ties, be ready to patch up a six-year rift with Israel.

Gen (ret) Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former National Security Adviser, said that “as a small country all contacts with international organizations are important to us, both so as to bring our voice to the table and, no less, as a way of learning from one another.”

Speaking with The Media Line from Europe, he said “a small country such as ours, with real problems and needs and also the need to present its case in public forums, should actively promote all contacts with multinational groups, most definitely with a large and important organization like NATO.”

Not all Israeli experts were quite as convinced, though in Jerusalem the upgrade is viewed positively across the board.

Ephraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on Israel-Turkey relations said Turkey’s acceptance of an Israeli office at NATO headquarters “is apparently a gesture within the framework of negotiations to end the crisis between the two nations.”

“It’s not nothing,” he told The Media Line, “but it is a symbolic move. We have representative offices in all too many unimportant countries, too. It’s not that big a deal.” 

Asked about the now abandoned veto at a press conference in the Turkish capital of Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu supported the Israeli upgrade and said Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain should get similar treatment. “This isn’t just Israel, the same right needs to be given to all the southern partners,” he said.

There are any number of reasons Turkish president and strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may have decided this is the week to play nice with Israel, but simple exhaustion may be one of them.

Turkey, in crisis with the Jewish state for the past six years, since Israel staged a raid on the Mavi Marmara, a boat attempting to break the Gaza blockade, in which nine Turkish citizens died, finds itself at odds with almost every regional neighbor.

Supporting the rebels, Turkey is an undeclared war against Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. Diplomatic ties to Egypt, a regional colossus, were ruptured over Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which was unseated by current President Abdel Fatah Al-Sissi. Turkey is embroiled in an ongoing civil war with nationalist Kurds. It is at an impasse with Russia, with whom it has skirmished in the Syrian theater.

For Gallia Lindenstrauss, a researcher at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies who specializes in Turkish foreign policy, loosening the anti-Israeli veto at NATO “is one of the more tangible  forms any normalization agreement will take, and Israel has waited for it for a long time.”

Speaking with The Media Line, she said it indicated that “the deal is very close.”

In 2009, in a pre- Arab Spring, pre-Mavi Marmara world in which Turkey found itself resurgent,  foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu set designed a foreign policy based on a principle he called “zero problems with neighbors.”

The congenial-sounding policy was formulated only a few months after a heated exchange about the loss of civilian life in Gaza between a fervid Erdoğan and Israel’s then-president, Shimon Peres. Erdoğan stormed off stage after protesting that Israeli air strikes were “very wrong” and saying “many people have been killed.”

But by the summer of 2013, only four years after Davotoglu’s reboot, the journal Foreign Policy published an article entitled How Turkey Went from Zero Problems to Zero Friends.

This week, he seems to have lost definitively. Now prime minister, Davotoglu resigned on Thursday after losing yet another political battle with Erdoğan, whom the British newspaper The Spectator has dubbed “the most powerful man in Europe.”

Less sympathetically, the headline is followed by “Turkey’s thuggish president has European leaders exactly where he wants them.”

Lindenstrauss points out that lifting the veto on Israel also resolved long-standing tensions between NATO and its Muslim member states. “Turkey had the role of limiting the constructive cooperation between NATO and Israel, and this has been a big problem.”

The next round of Israeli-Turkish talks, which are expected to be critical, is scheduled for later this month. Most of the points of contention have been resolved, including the issue of Israel scaling back its blockade of Gaza—Israeli has purportedly agreed to enable Turkey to carry out a number of infrastructure projects there, such as building a new power plant (in a collaboration with Germany) and building a long-awaited desalination plant. The principal open question regards the activities of Hamas in Turkey, where Israel claims the planning and financing of West Bank terrorism is conducted sotto voce.

NATO approves Israeli representation to its headquarters


NATO said on Wednesday it had agreed to non-member Israel setting up representation at its Brussels headquarters, a tentative sign of rapprochement between the Jewish state and NATO member Turkey.

Israel and Turkey have stepped up efforts to patch up a relationship badly damaged following an Israeli raid in 2010 on a Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara, which had been trying to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip.

NATO said in a statement that Israel's ambassador to the European Union, David Walzer, would now also head its mission at alliance headquarters.

The foreign ministry of Israel, which is not a NATO member but has partner status as a participant in the alliance's Mediterranean Dialogue programs together with six other non-NATO countries in the region, welcomed the move.

Turkey's mission to NATO had no comment on Wednesday but Ankara previously opposed some forms of NATO cooperation with Israel following the Mavi Marmara incident.

In 2010, Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara, which was the lead ship in a group of boats trying to break the blockade, and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Ankara has discussed the opening Israeli mission at NATO with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“We said we may welcome this if all countries are treated equally,” Cavusoglu said. “It's important that not only Israel but other southern partners are granted the same right.”

Israeli travel warning: Leave Turkey immediately


Israel warned its citizens living in or visiting Turkey to leave immediately.

The travel warning was issued Monday by the National Security Council Counter Terrorism Bureau, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The warning, which was upgraded from a basic concrete threat to a high concrete threat, comes a week after a suicide bombing at a main shopping center in Istanbul killed three Israelis and one Iranian national. Turkish media later reported that the bomber targeted an Israeli tour group.

According to the warning, the March 19 bombing “underscores the threat by Daesh against tourist targets throughout Turkey and proves high capabilities of carrying out further attacks.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“Terrorist infrastructures in Turkey continue to advance additional attacks against tourist targets – including Israeli tourists – throughout the country,” the warning also said.

Turkish Police issued a nationwide alert on Sunday warning of possible Islamic State attacks over the weekend against churches and synagogues, and calling on consulates and embassies in the country to be on high alert.

The Islamic State has been blamed for four of six bombing attacks in Turkey in the past eight months, the English-language Turkish news service Hurriyet Daily News reported.

On March 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a telephone conversation with his Israeli counterpart that his country is “ready to cooperate with Israel against terrorism.”

Istanbul bomber targeted Israeli tour group, Turkish media report


The suspected suicide bomber who killed three Israelis and one Iranian in Istanbul followed an Israeli tour group to a restaurant and detonated himself there, according to Turkish media reports.

The reports published Monday run counter to those of intelligence assessments that said the Israelis were not deliberately targeted.

On Monday, journalist Abdullah Bozkury of Today’s Zaman posted on Twitter that the bomber followed the Israeli tourists from their hotel and lurked outside a restaurant until they finished their breakfast and began to exit, then he detonated the bomb.

He identified the bomber as being affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist group.

The Turkish reports,which also include Hurriyet and T24, do not name sources.

On Sunday, the suicide bomber was identified as a Turkish citizen, Mehmet Ozturk, by Turkey’s interior minister.

“The findings obtained show that the terrorist is linked to the Daesh terror organization,” said the minister, Efkan Ala, according to The Associated Press. Daesh is an acronym for the Islamic State.

He reportedly spent two years in Syria before returning to Turkey illegally.

In televised comments Saturday following the blast and an emergency meeting of Israel’s Security Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said officials were investigating whether Israelis had been targeted in the bombing and said intelligence pointed to it being an Islamic State attack.

The three Israeli victims killed in the bombing are Avraham Goldman, 69, of Herzliya; Yonatan Suher, 40, of Tel Aviv, and Simcha Damri, 60, of Dimona. Suher and Goldman also were U.S. citizens.

Eleven Israelis were wounded in the blast, including Damri’s husband, Avi.

The fourth victim of the attack was an Iranian national identified as Ali Reza Razmhah.

Also Sunday, Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau issued a travel warning calling on Israelis not to travel to Turkey. The warning cites the significant rise over the past two months in terror threats in Turkey, especially suicide bombings and particularly in Istanbul and Ankara, the capital.

 

The warning was raised to Level 2, defined as a basic concrete threat, from Level 4, meaning an ongoing potential threat.

3 Israelis said killed, at least 11 hurt in Istanbul suicide blast


Three Israelis were among the five people killed in a suicide bombing at a main shopping center in Istanbul, Turkish officials said.

At least 11 Israelis were among the 36 people who were wounded in the blast Saturday. The fourth fatality was an Iranian national and the fifth was the suicide bomber, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet.

Turkish Deputy Health Minister Ahmet Baha Ogutken confirmed in a statement to the Daily Sabah newspaper that an Israeli woman was killed in the explosion. Eli Bin, head of Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue services, also confirmed to Israel’s Channel 2 that “there is one Israeli killed whose family has been notified.”

The Israeli victims were part of a 14-member tour group, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

The ministry feared two or three Israelis were among the dead, but declined to confirm reports of Israelis killed in the attack, according to The Times of Israel.

“We fear for the lives of three Israelis who were hurt in the attack,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said on Saturday afternoon.

Two Israelis injured in the blast were seriously hurt. One was undergoing surgery in an Istanbul hospital, Channel 2 reported.

The explosion rocked Istiklal Avenue in the heart of the Turkish city, a wide pedestrian boulevard with a historic tram running down the middle and lined with international stores and foreign consulates. Police sealed off the street after the attack and ambulances carried the injured away.

Turkish media identified the suicide bomber as Savaz Yildiz, 33, from the Turkish city of Adana, saying he was known to Turkish authorities.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing. But Turkish officials pointed to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, fighting for Kurdish autonomy in the southeast, or to Islamic State.

A CCTV camera appears to have captured the blast, and the footage was posted online by the private Dogan news agency.

How Syria and natural gas are pushing Israel and Turkey back together


After years of false starts, Israeli negotiators went to Geneva last week for talks aimed at ending a long-running conflict with a regional adversary.

It’s not the Palestinians. It’s Turkey.

Once a key partner of Israel, Turkey in recent years has been a thorn in its side. It supports Israel’s foes, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan often uses international forums as opportunities to slam the Jewish state – particularly its treatment of Palestinians.

But in December, Israel and Turkey began negotiating a full restoration of ties after nearly six years of downgraded relations. Here’s what happened between the former allies, why things are improving now – and why some Israeli analysts are still skeptical the Turkey-Israel impasse will be resolved.

Turkey used to be Israel’s closest ally in the Middle East.

Turkey recognized Israel shortly after its founding in 1948, and over the course of the 1990s the countries built strong defense ties. Both relatively secular, pro-Western democracies and minorities in an Arab-dominated Middle East, the two countries established regular dialogue between their defense ministries, conducted joint military training exercises and signed weapons deals. Israel sent assistance to Turkey after a massive earthquake in 1999.

Things deteriorated after Erdogan’s election and a crisis followed Israel’s killing of nine Turks trying to break the Gaza blockade.

Relations started souring in 2002, when Erdogan’s Islamic AKP party won national elections and aligned the foreign policy of Turkey in favor of the Palestinians while cooling ties with Israel. Diplomatic relations broke down completely after the May 2010 flotilla incident, when the Mavi Marmara ship manned by Turkish activists tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Israeli forces landed on the ship and killed nine activists in the ensuing melee.

Turkey demanded Israel apologize for the incident, but Israel declined. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador, withdrew its envoy to Israel, suspended military cooperation with Israel and excluded Israel from NATO exercises.

Now Turkey needs a friend in a disintegrating region.

Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan in a 2013 phone call brokered by President Barack Obama, who was wrapping up a visit to Israel at the time. In December 2015, the sides entered talks aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations, and last week a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met with Erdogan.

The negotiations followed a bad year for Turkey. Syria’s civil war has thrown the country into crisis, exacerbating its conflict with Kurds at home and leading some to accuse Turkey of supporting the ISIS terror organization, which is fighting Kurdish forces in Iraq. Turkey also has taken in some 2 million Syrian refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

Turkey is also facing tensions with Egypt over Turkish support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, now outlawed in Egypt, and tensions with Russia following Turkey’s downing of a Russian plane in November. Restoring ties with Israel could give Erdogan a rare regional win.

“The regional challenges Turkey has with Russia, from Egypt, with the Kurds,” said Alon Liel, Israel’s charge d’affaires in Turkey in the 1980s, is giving Turkey “second thoughts about the Israel issue.”

Israel wants someone to buy its natural gas.

Israel wouldn’t mind strengthening ties with one of its few Middle Eastern trading partners. Patching the Turkey relationship also would reopen the door to military exercises with NATO.

But Israel’s main motivation isn’t about war and peace, experts say; it’s economic. For months, Netanyahu has been pushing to enact a controversial program that would allow drilling in Israel’s giant offshore gas fields, which the prime minister says is essential for the national security of Israel. A deal with Turkey could both restore it as an ally and make it a large buyer of Israeli natural gas. That would be a boon for Netanyahu – and a potential bonanza for the gas companies.

But Gaza could be the obstacle to a renewed alliance – again.

Relations between Turkey and Israel collapsed over Gaza, and Gaza could keep them apart – natural gas or not. Turkey hosts part of the leadership of Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, and has harshly criticized Israel for its blockade of the coastal strip.

As part of the deal, Turkey has demanded that Israel lift or ease the blockade. Israel, in turn, has demanded that Turkey expel Hamas’ leaders. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who has voiced pessimism about the deal, also demanded that Turkey convince Hamas to return the remains of two Israeli soldiers.

Speaking in Greece in January, Yaalon also accused Turkey of buying oil from ISIS terrorists and said Ankara “enables jihadists to move backwards and forwards between Europe and Syria and Iraq and to be part of the ISIS terror infrastructure in Europe.”

A Turkey detente also could backfire for Israel. In recent years, Israel has bolstered ties with Egypt led by Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who last week met with a Presidents Conference delegation in Cairo, as well as Greece and Cyprus – all Turkish rivals. Retaining Greek and Cypriot support is especially important, Liel said, because they act as Israeli allies in the European Union.

It may not be worthwhile, he said, to risk those ties for a detente with a Turkish government that has spent the past seven years denouncing Israel.

“Erdogan is an unpredictable player,” Liel said. “There’s a concern that if they sign with him today, and there’s a war in Gaza in four to five months, he’ll make trouble.”

Presidents Conference meets with Erdogan amid Turkey-Israel reconciliation efforts


A delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey and Israel seek to improve ties.

Stephen Greenberg, the chairman of the umbrella foreign policy body for U.S. Jewish groups, and Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive vice president, met with Erdogan Tuesday in Ankara, according to a statement by the group.

“They discussed a range of issues including relations between Turkey, the United States and Israel, terrorism and extremism, and regional conflicts,” the statement said. “The delegation was accompanied by heads of the Turkish Jewish Community, led by Isak Ibrimzadeh.”

Haaretz reported that Hoenlein conveyed notes on the meeting to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli and Turkish diplomats have met in recent weeks to advance reconciliation. The Israeli daily said they were to meet again Wednesday in Switzerland.

In recent weeks, Erdogan has expressed an interest in renewing ties ruptured over Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and then a deadly Israeli raid in 2010 on a Turkish aid ship attempting to breach Israel’s blockade of the strip.

A confluence of events led to Erdogan’s outreach to Israel, including uneasiness shared with Israel at the Russian and Iranian intervention in the civil war in Syria, which borders both countries, and Israeli plans to mine natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean together with Greece and Cyprus. Netanyahu has said he is not opposed to Turkey joining the natural gas venture.

“The far-ranging discussion dealt with issues such as energy, incitement, and the role of Russia, Iran and other countries,” the Presidents Conference statement said. “They also talked about their commonalities as descendants of the Abrahamic faiths and the multiple challenges that they face, emphasizing the need to work together to fight manifestations of hate against Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others. President Erdogan outlined eight of his policy priorities, including the issue of energy and potential for regional cooperation involving Israel as well.”

For the past two years, the Obama administration has encouraged a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, its two closest regional allies.

Israel wary of continued conflict in Syria


It’s been seven years since Israel and Syria were in talks mediated by Turkey.

Those negotiations in Ankara were premised on de-coupling Damascus from its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah and dislodging Israel from the Golan.

Neither side could envision paying the price required to seal a deal, and shortly after the talks ended, then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now president) began to nurture a personal animosity against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad that only grew as Syria’s conflict turned sectarian and Israel went hard after Hamas in Gaza.

As the Syrian uprising got serious in 2011, Moscow presented itself as the mediator between Jerusalem and Damascus. Russia’s enhanced commitment to a presence in Syria may be the penultimate strategic legacy of this bloody chapter in Levantine history.

Details of the Damascus-Jerusalem interchange are outlined in the report by Seymour Hersh published earlier this month in the London Review of Books. The essay focuses largely on the debate inside Washington over the risks and rewards of arming the increasingly sectarian rebels, some of whom had clear al-Qaida antecedents.

Hersh writes that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) served as a conduit for United States intelligence to the Syrian government, since it was in Jerusalem’s interest to have Assad’s army instead of Islamist rebel battalions operating on the northern side of the Golan Heights. Hersh also writes the Kremlin relayed an offer from Assad to Netanyahu to resume talks over the territory.

It’s now known that Israel rebuffed the offer and moved to deepen its cooperation with Jordanian military intelligence, which was simultaneously supporting and monitoring the al Nusra Front in the southern Syrian governorates of Suwyeda, Daraa and Quneitra. It looked as if Assad was losing his grip, and the IDF took a realpolitik stance toward the rebels.

Gains by insurgents led the regime to deploy chemical weapons against the pro-rebel township of Ghouta in August 2013 and in the suburbs of Aleppo in March 2013.

At around this time, former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas made an impolitic comment to The New York Times.

“Let them both [sides] bleed, hemorrhage to death: That’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria,” Pinkas said in an article that found a consensus in Israel for a “limited strike” against regime targets.

But the quote has been cited multiple times to bolster a line uniting supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, pro-Assad “leftists” and basic meat-and-potatoes anti-Semites to charge that a blood-thirsty “Israel wants the civil war in Syria to continue.”

Of course, it’s not just Pinkas’ cynical sound bite that drives the “Israel likes this war” trope. To advance their territorial claims, the Golan annexationists in the highest political echelons promote the notion that Syria will never again be reassembled.

This case was made explicitly by Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the Herzliya Conference in June and even floated by the prime minister when he met U.S. President Barack Obama in November.

But the prime minister must know there is no room for the Americans to “think differently” about the Golan, especially now that there’s actually a chance that the powers playing in the Syrian sandbox are ready to push their clients to the negotiating table.

Beyond the bluster, Israel and, more importantly, Israelis, demonstrated consistent unease over the destabilizing consequences of the war in Syria, an anxiety stemming from self-interested security concerns [ranging from DAASH to Hezbollah] and genuine humanitarian revulsion toward the carnage at their doorstep. 

A memo written this week by former Israeli National Security Advisors Yaakov Amidror and Eran Lerman gives a good glimpse into what Israel’s security establishment really thinks about Syria. Here’s what they said:

1) The continuation of the Syrian civil war poses a threat to Jordan and thus to Israel.

2) DAASH feeds off of the sectarian conflict in Syria, and chaos there makes al-Nusra look like moderates compared to what DAASH leader Al-Baghdadi and his followers have on offer.

3) Expanded operational territory for Hezbollah fighters is problematic.

4) Ultimately, Israel’s borders are more secure when state actors are on the other side — instead of terror groups.

Concrete signs of this policy are documented in the consistent Israeli lobbying for increased U.S. allocations to help Jordan deal with the Syrian refugees. Israel is concerned that these refugees neither starve in Jordan during the short term, nor settle there in the long term. It’s clearly not in Israel’s interest that an additional million radicalized Sunnis show up in Jordan.

So, logically, the new Damascus “blood libel” doesn’t match strategic thinking in the real Israel.

The shameful inability of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu to do something for the Palestinians of the besieged Yarmouk Refugee Camp is a moral stain on both. The Syrian war has put the spotlight on the 1948 refugees and their descendants, and neither Jerusalem nor Ramallah can ignore this constituency indefinitely.

But the assistance provided by Israeli field hospitals to rebel fighters in the north and the volunteers of IsraAID on the Greek islands and in the Balkans to Syrian asylum seekers is well-known and appreciated by refugees and the exiled opposition leaders.

It is accepted that Israel shares intelligence on DAASH with the Russians, as well as the Jordanians.

 And of course they keep the Hashemite and Saudi courts briefed on Hezbollah and the Iranians.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu navigate practical understandings over who can do what in Syria, it’s very clear that this war has aligned Israel to the Sunni Arab states to its east.

This week, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said his government “was striving to maintain Syria as a unified nation inclusive of all sects.”

Petroleum politics and the perceived U.S. detachment from the Middle East have paved the way for an unprecedented Riyadh-Moscow dialogue.

It is Russia that will have to engineer a stage-left exit for Hezbollah and Iran if she wants to keep her assets in a transitional Syria and maintain credibility with the Sunni states.

“Saudi Arabia is ready to pay any price to bring down the Assad regime,” an exiled leader of the Assyrian Christian Community whose family has suffered from the ravages of both the Damascus government and Islamist fighters told the Jewish Journal.

“Israel’s interest is to satisfy the Sunni Arabs, and that means they, too, want to see a negotiated end to this war.”

Israel and Turkey reach preliminary deal to restore ties


Israel and Turkey have reached a preliminary agreement to normalize relations, including the return of ambassadors to both countries, an Israeli official said on Thursday.

The deal was reached during a recent meeting in Switzerland between the incoming head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, Israeli envoy Joseph Ciechanover and Turkish foreign ministry under-secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined comment. A Turkish official confirmed that talks had taken place but denied any agreement had been reached, adding that efforts to normalize relations were continuing.

Under the preliminary agreement, Israel will establish a compensation fund to address the killing by Israeli marines of 10 Turks aboard a pro-Palestinian activist ship that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010, the Israeli official said. Turkey would then drop all claims against Israel.

The once-strong Israel-Turkey alliance has soured dramatically under Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan, who heads the Islamist-rooted AK Party, reaching a low with the raid on the Gaza-bound ship.

Efforts to reconcile the countries, including in a 2013 phone call between Erdogan and Netanyahu that was brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama, have yet to yield a final deal restoring full diplomatic ties.

The channel between Israel and Turkey, which borders Iraq, Iran and Syria, was long seen as a key element in U.S. policy in the region. With the rise of Islamic State and the complexities of relations with Iran, it retains importance for Washington.

With recent tensions between Turkey and Russia, Israeli officials say that Ankara has expressed new interest in importing natural gas from Israel.

According to the agreement reached in Switzerland, the official said, the countries will discuss the possibility of constructing a pipeline to supply Turkey with gas.

Turkey’s Erdogan: Normalization of ties with Israel would benefit region


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the normalization of ties between his country and Israel would benefit the entire Middle East.

“This normalization process would be good for us, Israel, Palestine and the entire region,” Erdogan told reporters Sunday, the Turkish Daily Sabah reported. “The region definitely needs this. I don’t believe the Israeli public is pleased with the current state of relations. We need to consider the interests of the people of the region and introduce peace.”

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down after the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed in an Israeli commando raid of a Turkish boat in a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip

Erdogan reiterated his three conditions for restoring ties with Israel: an apology for the raid and the deaths, compensation to the victims’ families and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan in March 2013, after which representatives of the countries met for reconciliation talks that fell apart during the Gaza War the following year.

Four teachers among six Israeli-Arabs charged for promoting Islamic State


Israel's Shin Bet undercover internal security agency and police said on Monday they had arrested and charged six Arab citizens, including four school teachers, with supporting and spreading the ideology of Islamic State.

The six, residents of the Bedouin Negev desert town of Hura in southern Israel, were charged with various offences and three were alleged to have planned joining Islamic State militants in Syria, a statement from Shin Bet said.

“The investigation uncovered that the suspects met secretly to discuss and promote Islamic State's ideology,” Shin Bet said.

“The hard core among the activists are employed at schools in the Negev. Some took advantage of their position and attempted to plead the case for ISIS among pupils and teachers on school premises,” it added.

The six appeared at Beersheba District Court and the statement said five of the six admitted the charges. Lawyers for the accused were initially unavailable.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he had ordered the immediate dismissal of the teachers.

“Terrorists will not be teachers in Israel … I have ordered the director general of the Education Ministry to revoke the teaching licenses of all those involved and to sack them immediately,” Bennett said on Monday.

Arabs, the majority of them Muslim, make up around a fifth of Israel's population. While often sympathetic to the Palestinians and resentful of what they see as entrenched discrimination, they seldom resort to violence.

Israeli security officials say a few dozen Arab citizens have left to fight with Islamic State in Syria, usually traveling through Turkey or Jordan.

Last year, an Israeli-Arab who spent three months fighting with Islamic State in Syria before quitting the group and returning home, was sentenced to a 22 month jail term.

Turkey summons Israeli diplomat after journalists, NGO workers refused entry


Turkey's Foreign Ministry said on Friday it summoned the highest-ranking Israeli diplomat in Ankara to explain why a group of Turkish journalists and civil society workers were refused entry at Ben Gurion Airport.

The incident occurred three days after diplomats from Israel and Turkey, both U.S. allies, held talks to explore prospects of repairing their relationship after a Turkish election earlier this month.

Ties between the erstwhile allies were wrecked after Israeli commandoes killed 10 Turkish activists trying to break the blockade on Gaza in 2010. Turkey soon after recalled its ambassador and ejected Israel's.

A group of nine Turks had traveled to Israel on Thursday to attend an event marking the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

They were questioned for nine hours and, despite having the required visas, seven of them were sent back. Two journalists with the state TRT broadcaster were allowed in, it said, condemning the decision to eject the group.

“To show our reaction to the treatment of our citizens and to receive an explanation, the Israeli charge d'affaires has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry,” it said. The charge d'affaires is Israel's most senior official at the embassy.

Israel's Foreign Ministry confirmed that the Israeli charge d'affaires was summoned in Ankara over the incident and said seven Turkish citizens were denied entry for security reasons.

An official from Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, said those denied entry were suspected of having links to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip.

“In light of a connection found between them and activists from the Hamas terrorist organization and the risk created by their entrance to Israel, it was decided not to let them in,” the official said.

President Tayyip Erdogan is one of Israel's most vocal critics. The June 7 election deprived his Islamist-rooted AK Party of its majority in parliament for the first time since 2002, which may pave the way for reconciliation with Israel.

Turkish, Israeli diplomats explore hopes for relations


Israel held unannounced diplomatic level talks with Turkey on Monday to explore prospects, after Turkish polls, of restoring an alliance that was once central to U.S. Middle East policy but has soured dramatically under Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan.

The Islamist-rooted AK Party founded by Erdogan, who accused Israel last year of having “surpassed Hitler in barbarism” through attacks on Palestinian territories, lost its overall majority in a June 7 vote for the first time since taking power in 2002. It must now seek a coalition partners for government.

Erdogan's years in full control of foreign and domestic policy saw virtual collapse of what had been Israel's closest alliance with a Muslim state, encompassing the military and intelligence sectors. The killing of 10 pro-Palestinian Turks by Israeli commandos on a ship that tried to break its Gaza blockade in 2010 marked a low point.

An Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Dore Gold, a Netanyahu confidant who was named director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry last month, had met his counterpart Feridun Sinirlioglu in Rome on Monday.

SHIFT?

The official said it was too early to judge whether the meeting signaled an acceleration of reconciliation efforts.

“Certainly there is a sense that the situation in Turkey has shifted after the election,” the official said, referring to the AKP's recent setback in parliament that has shaken Erdogan's standing and undermined his plans for a powerful presidency.

“But time will tell whether the new government there takes a more accommodating line on Israel than Erdogan.”

A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry confirmed Gold had been in Rome but would not comment on any meetings held there.

Officials at Turkey's Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Efforts to reconcile Turkey and Israel, including in a 2013 phone call between Erdogan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama, have yet to yield a final deal restoring full diplomatic ties.

The channel between Israel and Turkey, which borders Iraq, Iran and Syria, was long seen as a key element in U.S. policy in the region. With the rise of Islamic State and the complexities of relations with Iran it retains importance for Washington.

It remains unclear what effect the outcome of the election will have on Erdogan's influence on foreign policy. But his failure to achieve a majority to change the constitution and increase the powers of the largely figurehead presidency he holds could weaken his hold.

Rings bearing Islamic State logo discovered en route to West Bank


A package of rings bearing the Islamic State logo and messages in Arabic that was confiscated at Ben Gurion International airport will be destroyed.

The interception of the suspicious package from Turkey, containing about 120 silver rings, was announced Tuesday by the Customs Authority, the NRG Hebrew-language news website reported.

The package was ordered by an importer in the West Bank Palestinian city of Ramallah. There were hundreds of other pieces of jewelry in the package as well.

“A large number of rings mean that there are buyers. It’s scary and shocking to know that in the lands of the Palestinian Authority there are those who support that murderous organization. And who knows? Maybe with our help they’ll discover a cell or ideological organization of ISIS,” a customs security official told Ynet.

The Shin Bet security service and other security officials were notified of the discovery.

At a breaking point in Turkey: Should Jews stay or should we go?


The gold and gray city of Istanbul spent Valentine’s Day bracing for snow. Under angry clouds, Turkish couples huddled around tabletops in the cafe quarter of Ortakoy, a historically posh neighborhood along the Bosphorus Strait. Jewelry-makers had set up stands along the alleyways to sell gleaming valentine trinkets. Crowning the scene — visible from nearly every spot in the neighborhood — were the ornate minarets of the Ortakoy Mosque, one of the city’s proudest monuments. When the mosque’s loudspeakers blasted a Saturday morning call to prayer throughout Ortakoy, all cafe chatter paused for a moment; one got the feeling its holy vibrations could split ice.

If any of Ortakoy’s lovers noticed the line of well-dressed men and women who, meanwhile, were ducking through a miniature green door in a stone wall on the quarter’s edge — just across from the Shakespeare Cafe and Bar — they didn’t let it show. 

A guard at the green door checked IDs before ushering those men and women into a dark, airtight hallway. A keypad on the wall inside unlocked a second armored gate.

A small, armored door at the edge of Istanbul's Ortakoy neighborhood leads to a hidden synagogue.

Beyond the high-security passageway, the group entered a separate world invisible to neighbors — a grand courtyard and synagogue painted a fresh, Mediterannean white and dotted with stained-glass Stars of David. Inside the shul, Ortakoy’s resident rabbi, Nafi Haleva, belted the week’s Shabbat sermon in Turkish, tailoring it to the Western holiday that had captured Istanbul’s consciousness. 

“We’re not against Valentine’s Day,” the rabbi told the 100 or so Turkish Jews in attendance, seated separately by gender, as required by Turkey’s Orthodox rabbinate. “But it can’t just be one day of gifts.”

Haleva spoke on lasting love and marriage and the roles of a Jewish man and wife. “Women are superior to men,” he said. “Women and men have to be the same, so men have to study the Torah.”

Seated in the front row of the women’s balcony was a special guest: Amira Oron, 48, the newly appointed chargé d’affaires at the Israeli embassy in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city. Oron is the latest diplomat to stand in for a true Israeli ambassador since the position was recalled in 2010 following the infamous Mavi Marmara flotilla raid in which Israeli soldiers attacked a Turkish aid and activist ship heading toward Gaza, killing 10.

Oron had traveled hundreds of miles Feb. 14 to spend Shabbat in Istanbul — no doubt to mingle as much as to pray — and, looking poised in a pretty scarf and pixie cut, she listened patiently to the sermon, though she couldn’t understand the parts in Turkish.

The rest of the crowd was less attentive. Friends whispered noisily; children monkeyed across empty chairs. Men in robes at the front of the shul had to constantly shush the congregation back to attention.

“The new generation in Turkey doesn’t know anything about Judaism,” Abraham Haim, an Israeli-Turkish rabbi who makes biweekly trips to Istanbul, would later tell the Journal. “In Tel Aviv, you can take someone from Dizengoff Street, and he’s ultra-Orthodox by comparison.”

When the Torah had been tucked back into its cupboard, Ortakoy’s Jews spilled gratefully into their synagogue’s leafy courtyard. They picked from heaps of Turkish pastries, fruits and cheeses laid out on banquet tables. A few also indulged in a late-morning glass of raki — Turkey’s national anise spirit, served with a splash of cold water. Warmed by all those bodies and the breath from their conversation, Ortakoy’s sealed-off synagogue complex felt at least a few degrees more welcoming than the outside world. 

Denis Ojalvo, 64, a stout Turkish-Jewish businessman who lives in the hills above the synagogue, chose to skip Shabbat services Feb. 14. (“I’m more of a cultural Jew,” he explained.) Ojalvo instead waited along Ortakoy’s shoreline, in the glacial breeze that was whipping off the Bosphorous, for services to end — and for a close friend and a reporter to emerge through the green door and join him for an afternoon chat.

Ojalvo chose a restaurant so far down on the docks, it behaved like a houseboat. He ordered hot salep, a Turkish drink made from rosewater and ground orchid tubers. As he sipped, a Chinese freighter chugged by; the view felt huge, historic.

“You see how nice?” Ojalvo asked. “Can you leave such a country?”

A few nights earlier, though, speaking in his friend’s living room, Ojalvo described the dark isolation he often felt living as a Jew in Turkey. “Here, you are like somebody who watches,” he said. “You are not in the stream. Because even if we don’t want to admit it, here, we live in a Muslim country, and we are somehow second-class citizens.

“I mean, we have rights,” he continued. “But we are unable to take real advantage of those rights because we feel like we are under a … glass ceiling.” 

‘Hope is fading’

Turkish Jews often speak of the warm welcome the Ottoman Empire gave their ancestors when they were expelled from Spain some 500 years ago. But in the century since the strict secularist Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded modern-day Turkey, Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities have been subject to waves of severe discrimination — in terms of property rights, freedom of language and education, upward mobility and more. “Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire [in the 1920s], the transformation to a nation-state created a dynamic where non-Muslims were not welcome and couldn’t fit into this model of Turkish nationalism,” said Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College and Middle East analyst who splits his time among the U.S., Israel and Turkey.

When the Republican People’s Party (CHP) passed a discriminatory “wealth tax” in 1942, about 30,000 Jews reportedly fled the country. The creation of the State of Israel a few years later encouraged tens of thousands more to leave, and anti-Semitic riots and attacks in the following decades drew out the trend.

Today, only about 17,000 Jews live in Turkey, most of them in Istanbul — a sad sliver of the 500,000 welcomed from Spain by
Ottoman rulers and the 200,000 that remained at the turn of the 20th century.

Their numbers continue to shrink. Although no one is keeping an official tally of annual departures, community members estimated that their net loss is now up to 300 people per year, in large part because more Jews are dying than are being born.

Nearly 40 percent of the community’s college-aged demographic chose to study abroad last year — a figure twice as high as the year prior. 

“Since this summer, there has been more and more talking in the community about living in another country, mostly between the young Jews,” said 31-year-old Mois Gabay, who writes for Salom, Turkey’s Jewish newspaper. M. Namer, a 33-year-old Istanbul entrepreneur active in the Turkish Union of Jewish Students, said in meetings, “Everybody’s talking about, ‘Should we stay or should we go?’ ”

Both young men said economic opportunities abroad — coupled with the difficulty of starting a Jewish family in Turkey — are helping drive migration. “One issue is finding a partner, the other is feeling comfortable about your future,” Namer said.

Pervasive anti-Semitism in the public sphere also has played an undeniable role.

A poll commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last year showed that around 70 percent of Turks harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. A grand majority of the respondents believed Turkish Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Turkey, that Jews have “too much power in the business world” and that Jews “don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.”

“Most Turkish people will never ever meet a Jew in their life,” Fishman said. “That’s where their conspiracy theories can really take hold.”

In September, a cellphone store in downtown Istanbul hung a sign in its window that read, “The Jew dogs cannot come in here.” In November, unknown activists posted a mock demolition notice on Istanbul’s Neve Shalom synagogue.

In December, 31-year-old Sabay wrote in an op-ed for Salom: “We face threats, attacks and harassment every day. Hope is fading. Is it necessary for a ‘Hrant among us’,” he asked, referring to Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist assassinated in 2007, “to be shot in order for the government, the opposition, civil society, our neighbors and jurists to see this?”

Various other members of the Jewish-Turkish community told the Journal that within the past decade, and especially the past few years, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric from Turkish politicians and media personalities has become so constant and overblown — and vague in its distinction between Israelis and Jews — that they no longer feel comfortable in their home country.

“It’s so flagrant, it’s so visible, and we are not idiots,” Ojalvo said. “We can see it. We can feel it.”

Ojalvo is the rare member of the community who keeps close tabs on these remarks and criticizes them publicly: He writes an occasional column for ŞSalom, and leaves lengthy comments on anti-Semitic articles in pro-government papers he reads on the Internet. Sometimes he contacts the authors directly. 

“I don’t care; I say my name,” he told the Journal. “I don’t believe in anonymous people shooting from behind a wall.”

But among his peers, Ojalvo is the exception.

For 10 days in February, this reporter traveled between Istanbul and Ankara in search of rage and panic among the country’s remaining Jews. What was there instead was a profound and private sadness — one that Turkey’s last Jews dutifully carry among themselves but were hesitant to share with an outsider.

Most members of the Jewish-Turkish community contacted by the Journal did not wish to talk to the press. “We have enough people trying to exploit us,” one man wrote in an email, suggesting the Journal visit France instead. Another expressed frustration that foreign Jewish organizations such as the ADL have gotten involved in their affairs and subjected them to added danger.

Most community members who did agree to be interviewed didn’t want their names in print. They gave various reasons for this: A few said they didn’t want to stir internal drama within Istanbul’s tight-knit Jewish circle; others said they’d rather stay off the government’s radar.

“I don’t want to think I should be afraid,” a 55-year-old Jewish-Turkish textile manufacturer said, “but maybe I should.”

The man’s son and daughter, both in their 20s, are currently living abroad. “Young people at that age, they study in U.S. or in Israel, and many of them don’t come back,” he said. “As [the population] goes down, people are moving faster. The youth have less chance of meeting each other. Nowadays, it’s much easier to go to the States for studies, and they find good jobs, and they stay for two years, three years, 10 years — and then they just stay.”

In Bursa, an old green building across from Turkey's oldest synagogue was once the site of a thriving Jewish school.

‘Good luck’

A report published last year by the Hrant Dink Foundation, a Turkish nonprofit tracking anti-democratic sentiment in the media, showed that during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza last year, a full half of media reports were flagged for “hate speech” specifically targeted Jews — up from around 25 percent in 2012. 

The foundation found that when discussing the war, pro-government newspapers such as Yeni Akit and Milli Gazete often used the words “Jews” or “Israelis” in place of “State of Israel” or “Israel Defense Forces.”

Just last year, in the span of a few months, Yeni Akit, the conservative and Islamist newspaper closely aligned with Turkey’s ruling political party, ran: 1) a column demanding Turkish Jews to publicly condemn Israel for its assault on Gaza or risk facing a pogrom like those against Greeks in the 1950s; 2) a crossword-style puzzle linking a portrait of Hitler with the slogan, “We are longing for you”; 3) an op-ed calling on Turkey’s Jews to be taxed for Gaza reconstruction; and 4) a headline blaming a deadly mine collapse in Turkey’s Soma province on the mine owner’s Jewish ties.

Burak Bekdil, a non-Jewish journalist and restaurant owner in Turkey who often reports on injustices against minorities for the left-wing Hurriyet Daily News, told the Journal: “For the government or for the average Turk, when I write the same things about [minorities such as] Alevis or Christians, they say, ‘You’re a stupid liberal.’ But if it’s about Jews, I’m a Zionist.”

Bekdil said that in the 12 years since the Justice and Development Party (known locally as AK Parti or AKP) came into power, he has watched anti-Semitic rhetoric edge into the mainstream.

Bekdil spoke to the Journal over a bottle of red wine in his Ankara restaurant, which he modeled after taverns on the Greek island where he now spends six months of every year laying low. Just before the AKP took parliament, Bekdil was handed an 18-month suspended prison term by Turkey’s then-powerful court system for “insulting the judiciary.” Although he has yet to be arrested by the AKP, the fear is always with him.

Bekdil said that compared to past decades, “This is a more dangerous thing that we go through today,” because all state power is in one set of hands: the AKP’s.

None of the myriad AKP politicians and pro-AKP newspaper columnists responded to emails and voicemails from the Journal requesting comment — with one exception.

Yasin Aktay, vice chairman in charge of foreign affairs for the AKP, invited the Journal to his stately office, located on a top floor of the new AKP skyscraper in Ankara, for a face-to-face interview. From the window in his hallway, visitors have a grand view of the president’s new, 3-million-square-foot palace.

“There is no realistic threat against the Jewish people in Turkey,” Aktay told the Journal over Turkish tea and chocolates. “And if, in spite of all this, they have some phobia — good luck.”

Aktay stressed his party has in many ways improved life for Turkey’s minorities since taking power of parliament in 2002 with a sweeping two-thirds majority.


“There is no realistic threat against the Jewish people in Turkey. And if, in spite of all this, they have some phobia — good luck.”
— Yasin Aktay, vice chairman in charge of foreign affairs for the AKP, Turkey's ruling party

For example, Aktay said, the AKP recently returned $2 billon in previously confiscated property to minority groups. “We are proud of this — and nobody can criticize us compared with the past,” Aktay said. “[Some say] we took steps backward. Just on the contrary: In all aspects, in all domains, in all feats, we advanced.”

The Turkish public’s sense of security at street level, too, is at a significant high. The AKP has managed to stave off another of the country’s infamous military coups, and has overseen an ebbing in the mass-casualty terror attacks that roiled Turkey in the early 2000s (including two horrific bombings outside Istanbul’s Neve Shalom and Bet Israel synagogues in 2003, in which 27 were killed and hundreds injured).

Many Turkish Jews who spoke to the Journal agreed with Aktay on this point. “We might not like [AKP] views, but stability is good, and there is no terror on the streets,” said the 55-year-old Turkish-Jewish textile maker and father who wished to remain anonymous.

However, to maintain this stability and to ensure the AKP’s own lasting power, party leaders, in the eyes of many, also have begun transforming Turkey from a true democracy into a shadowy police state. Party insiders told the Journal they’ve watched the AKP’s founding promise of nationwide reform slowly melt under the ambitions of one man: Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

New Turkey

Since rising from a small-town football star to mayor of Istanbul to Turkish prime minister and now president, Erdoganğhas earned a reputation among his adversaries as an aspiring “sultan” of his own Ottoman Empire.

Or, as he calls it, New Turkey.

More journalists were jailed in Turkey in 2012 and 2013 than in any other country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Erdoganğhas repeatedly blocked civilian access to sites such as Twitter and YouTube whenever he’s felt threatened by anti-AKP content. Dozens of anti-government rioters have been killed and thousands more injured by police under Erdogan’s watch. And now, a new “internal security” bill — currently making its way through parliament piece by piece — will give police the right to detain citizens “incommunicado” for 48 hours without a court-issued warrant, among a slew of other powers.

Erdogan also has achieved global fame for his increasingly wild rhetoric — which he more often than not aims at the nearby Jewish State of Israel, once a strong military ally.

“They curse Hitler day and night, but they have surpassed Hitler in barbarism,” Erdogan said of Israel at a July campaign rally. On a Latin American tour in February, the Turkish media reported him as saying: “As long as Israeli oppression and Israeli terror continue, the bleeding in the Middle East and the entire human conscience will never stop.”

Aktay insisted that his party’s anger is directed at Israel and Zionism, not Jews. 

“I am criticizing Israel because I am suffering from Zionism,” Aktay said. “I will safely and comfortably criticize jihadism. What is jihadism, and what is Zionism? In some terms, Zionism is the equivalent of jihadism. If jihadism is not good, why is Zionism good? And Zionism … really, it is murder.”

Can Özgön, head of the 30-person Jewish community in Ankara, Turkey, holds the only key to his childhood synagogue, now almost completely out of use.

Anti-Semitic social-media activity by AKP members drew global ire during the war in Gaza. Notably, Ankara mayor and AKP member Melih Gökçek, who has amassed almost 2.5 million followers on Twitter, responded, “I applaud you!” to a Turkish singer who declared, “May God bless Hitler.”

The local Jewish community also was shocked when, at a Holocaust Memorial Day event Jan. 27 in Ankara, parliament speaker Cemil Çiçek went off script to scold Israel for, among other crimes, committing a modern Holocaust in Gaza. 

Karel Valansi, a political columnist and former world news editor at Şalom newspaper, witnessed the speech. She wrote: “Don’t we have 364 other days and other platforms to discuss and try to find a solution to the problems of the Middle East, Gaza, Israel, Palestine and the Mavi Marmara incident that torpedoed Turkish-Israeli relations?” Meanwhile, on the same day in Prague, following a roundtable discussion with 30 parliamentary speakers from European countries, Turkey was the sole country that refused to sign a joint declaration demanding “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.”

Presented with these examples, Aktay called them justified emotional responses to seeing “2,300 civilian people” killed by Israel. 

“All these reactions come after Israel killed the children in the beach,” he said, raising his voice. “They kill children. They are committing crimes against humanity.”

Asked whether Turkey has a responsibility to make its own Jewish population feel safe despite Israel’s actions, he said: “Actually, we are the guarantee of their life. And there is no problem about that. … The problem of anti-Islamism is more real. The problem of anti-Semitism is not real. Even in Turkey, there is none. It comes out as some reactions to [Israeli crimes].”

Aktay blamed Israel for the sense of insecurity among Turkish Jews.

“The policy of Israel is putting the Jewish people in danger everywhere,” he said. “That is a sort of provocation, and it puts the uninvolved Jewish people in danger because Jewish people become targets. Hopefully not in Turkey, of course. But nobody can protect them afterward.”

Aktay told the Journal that as long as Israel is oppressing Palestinians, the AKP will stay in attack mode. 

“When a city is being kept under a siege like a concentration camp, it is not different than the Holocaust,” Aktay said. “Someone should criticize very loudly, and we don’t see anybody [do this] out of Turkey. We are proud in the Turkish role in this — somebody should of course articulate the voice of justice.”

‘Words can be dangerous’

According to left-wing Turkish journalist Bekdil, anti-Israel rhetoric is an easy “vote catcher” in Turkey. “At AKP rallies, there are two flags — one Turkish, one Palestinian,” he said. “It’s not just Turkish Islamism. Even the Turkish left wing feels connected.”

But as Erdogan has swept the popular vote, he has simultaneously alienated many of the country’s secularists, intellectuals and free thinkers — including the last of Turkey’s Jews.

In 2013, when hundreds of thousands of young Turks flocked to Istanbul’s central Gezi Park to save it from Erdogan’s development plans, the riots soon grew into a larger, symbolic fight against the AKP’s authoritarian and Islamist grip on Turkish life. Responding to the protesters on Turkish TV, Erdogan shook with fury — and in the heat of the moment, he and other party members’ red-faced tirades devolved into Jew-bashing.

Erdogan’s deputy prime minister at the time was quoted by local media as blaming Gezi Park protests on the “Jewish diaspora.” And in a videotaped outburst, Erdogan apparently shouted at a protester, although his exact words were hard to make out: “Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?”

Both officials later denied making these statements. 

Brooklyn College’s Fishman stressed the importance, as an analyst, of “separating the anti-Israelness from the anti-Jewishness” in AKP rhetoric. However, he added, “Having said that, it’s becoming more and more difficult to separate the two.”

Israel’s embassy in Ankara, the target of a mob attack and flag-burning during last summer’s war in Gaza, closely monitors Turkish political speech and media reports, including for anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic bias. But in public statements and on-the-record interviews, embassy officials, as well as officials at the Turkish Jewish Community foundation, tend to walk on eggshells — careful not to damage the already fragile ties between Turkish Jews and their government.

“We don’t believe in microphone diplomacy,” said chargé d’affaires Oron from her office within the tightly guarded embassy compound.

However, warned the embassy’s spokesman and deputy chief of mission, Nizar Amer: “Words can be dangerous, especially words that come from high officials.” And, he added, “Turkish Jews should feel secure and comfortable in their country, regardless of relations between Israel and Turkey.”

Down the hill from the embassy in Turkey’s parliament building, a single politician from the opposing Republican People’s Party (CHP) has made it his core platform to fight for minority rights in Turkey.

In an interview in his cramped corner office, Aykan Erdemir, 40, an upbeat and outgoing parliamentarian who barely made the cut last election, told the Journal that the dangers of the AKP’s anti-Semitic rhetoric cannot be understated. “Reducing anti-Semitism to simple anti-Israeli sentiment is trivializing the extent of the problem we have,” he said. Erdemir called Erdogan an “anti-Semite, full stop” with “intentional, systematic, anti-Semitic core values that he built his whole career on.”

In recent months, Jews in Paris and Copenhagen faced the worst-case end result of growing anti-Semitism in Europe: deadly terror attacks by Islamist radicals against Jewish shops and synagogues.

In Turkey, on the other hand, Erdemir believes “state complicity” is the real danger. “The more an average citizen reproduces this anti-Semitic rhetoric in everyday encounters, the higher the likelihood of, let’s say, an attack against a synagogue or a Jewish citizen of Turkey,” he said.

“I’m concerned about the mainstream individual who is very reasonable in most of her outlook in life, but then has this strange set of core values that are full of hate, prejudice, discrimination, conspiracies,” Erdemir said. “Because, ultimately, I think it’s never the lunatic but always that average Joe who opens the floodgates for pogroms, mass killings and attacks. … They will support the climate that fuels hate.”

During his time in office, Erdemir has relentlessly denounced AKP actions that alienate minorities and has attempted to pass legislation to protect them, including a law against hate crimes.

“We have a half-baked hate-crimes law, which was AKP’s way of responding to pressure by the public — but it’s not comprehensive,” Erdemir said. “So we don’t have comprehensive institutional and legal protection [for minorities].”

Other sources in the Turkish parliament cited a recent surge of violence against women, including the widely protested murder of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan, as proof that sexist rhetoric from Erdogan is now taking itself out in the streets.

“Erdogan has sown so many seeds of hate in Turkish society,” Erdemir said. “It will be difficult to unmake it.”

‘If I were Jewish, I would hide’

There’s a word in Turkish used to describe the deep, stabbing — and quintessentially Turkish — type of nostalgia that overcomes an Istanbuli when he reflects on his life and his city: hüzün.

Hüzün is a descendent of huzn, the ancient Arabic word used in the Quran to mean “melancholy” or “sorrow over a loss.” In the present day, Turkey’s most well-known author, Orhan Pamuk, has attempted to redefine hüzün as it applies to his people. In Pamuk’s historical memoir “Istanbul: Memories and the City,” the author devotes an entire chapter to hüzün, which he calls, in part, a “cultural concept conveying worldly failure, listlessness, and spiritual suffering.”

Pamuk notes, however, that the country bears this special melancholy “with honor” — and that, for a Turk, experiencing a wave of hüzün can be as “life affirming” and insulating as it is painful.

“Now we begin to understand hüzün not as the melancholy of a solitary person,” writes Pamuk, “but the black mood shared by millions of people together. What I am trying to explain is the hüzün of an entire city: of Istanbul.”

A Westerner unfamiliar with Turkish hüzün, and that of its Jews, might mistake the mood for blank despair. But spend enough time within Turkey’s Jewish community and it slowly reveals itself as a communal, almost peaceful kind of resignation — the collective nostalgia of a community that has already begun to mourn its own demise. 

Leon Elnekave, 70, is the shul keeper and head of the remaining Jewish community in Bursa, the small port city on the Sea of Marmara where Sephardic Jews first arrived in Ottoman times. Only about 60 of them, all elderly, remain. In his office across the alley from Bursa’s 521-year-old synagogue, Elnekave used an index finger to trace the final remaining clusters of Turkish Jews on his wall map of the country. “Thirty in Antalya, 20 in Antakya, two in Çanakkale,” he said, matter-of-factly. Elnekave said the entire Jewish community has died off in many other towns, leaving their synagogues and cemeteries behind to rot. “Nobody is left,” he said.

Amid this soft fade, AKP’s insults are just salt in the wound.

“For the last maybe six months, whenever there’s news, I close the television, because I know what they are talking about, I know what they will say,” said Can Özgön, president of the Jewish community in Ankara, at his office in the center of town. Özgön had dressed his tall build in denim and corduroy, lumberjack style, and gelled his brown curls as best he could into an unruly pyramid. “Also, I will not take a newspaper,” he said. “Because I am nervous — that’s the reason. And I cannot do anything about it.” 

Last November, the AKP-appointed governor of Turkey’s far-north Edirne Province, near Bulgaria, announced that the historic Edirne synagogue, currently undergoing renovations, would be turned into a museum as revenge for Israel blocking Palestinian worshipers from Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque. (In response to widespread condemnation, the governor later retracted his statement and clarified the did not have the power to make this decision.)

When asked about the incident in Edirne, Özgön showed no signs of anger.

“What difference does it make? This synagogue is also a museum,” he said as he ducked beneath the hedge of brambles that obscures the entrance to Ankara’s abandoned shul. Once inside, Özgön, who holds the synagogue’s only key, proudly lit an electric Star of David, made of retro neon tubing, that hangs above the Torah’s ark. “Every chair used to be full,” he said, remembering the Shabbat services of his boyhood. Today, Özgön said, he has neither the resources nor the manpower to care for the building, whose roof leaks in winter and whose bathrooms are often trashed by the local homeless population. Surrounding homes, stately mansions once owned by Ankara’s well-to-do Jews, are now empty, their windows cracked.

When Özgön was small, his parents told him stories about growing up in a mixed community in Ankara. They said their Muslim and Christian neighbors would hand out matzah and sweets to Jewish children on Shabbat.

“But now,” Özgön said, “you cannot see anything like this. It’s finished.”

Turkish Jews are not alone in their hüzün for this small-town “mosaic” Turkey of old. On the tray tables of a new high-speed train from Istanbul to Ankara, inside a complimentary copy of the line’s official magazine, Rail Life, was an extended interview with Turkish movie star Cem Davran, in which he mourned the Istanbul of his childhood.

“Maybe we were the last happy children who had lived within the neighborhood culture,” he told the magazine.

And “the most important thing in the neighborhoods of ancient Istanbul,” Davran said, “was that many people from different faiths and culture were all together. Everyone respected each other’s faith. Moreover, they used to put extra effort in it so everyone could live their religion freely.”

Cihan Karayagiz, 25, a young Kurdish man on the train, read the passage. He gazed out the window for a spell — watching small, snow-covered villages dart past — before admitting to this reporter that he’d never met a Turkish Jew before in his life. His grandfather, though, had told him stories about this same “neighborhood culture” discussed by the movie star.

“If we have many colors, Turkey will be more interesting, it will be better,” he said. “If we only have one color, it will be dangerous. Now you can’t see any other religions. Or if they’re there, they hide themselves.”

Karayagiz thought some more, then added: “If I were Jewish, I would hide.”

Global court says will not investigate Israeli raid on Turkish flotilla


International prosecutors believe Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes during a raid that killed nine Turkish activists in 2010, but have decided the case is beyond their remit, according to court papers seen by Reuters.

The move by lawyers at the International Criminal Court is likely to enrage Ankara which accused its erstwhile ally Israel of mass murder after the commandos abseiled onto a flotilla challenging an Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes under the Court's jurisdiction have been committed in the context of interception and takeover of the Mavi Marmara by IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) soldiers on 31 May 2010,” read the paper seen on Wednesday. 

But the lawyers decided the crimes in question were not of sufficient gravity to fall under the court's jurisdiction, the papers added.

Prosecutors added they had reached these conclusions on the basis of publicly available information.

“Not having collected evidence itself, the Office’s analysis in this report must therefore not be considered to be the result of an investigation,” the paper read.

The decision not to open an investigation will disappoint activists who have repeatedly attempted to involve the Hague-based human rights court in the world's most controversial conflict.

The court has no jurisdiction over crimes in Turkey or Israel, since neither is a member of the court. However, one of the vessels, the Mavi Marmara, was registered to the Comoros Islands, which is.

It was the Indian Ocean state that referred the raid to the court, leaving prosecutors no choice under the court's statute but to begin a preliminary examination.

Comoros is represented in the affair by Elmadag, a Turkish law firm, and many critics, especially in Israel, charged Comoros with doing the Turkish activists' bidding by making the referral.

“SPECIAL STATUS”

“The Mavi Marmara was deliberately reflagged several days before she set sail,” said Nick Kaufman, an Israeli lawyer who represents clients before the ICC.

“This allowed the Union of Comoros to be exploited as a jurisdictional vehicle for the continuing and obsessive lawfare against Israel at the ICC.”

The Hague-based tribunal was set up to look into the gravest international atrocities, including crimes against humanity and genocide, when local authorities are either unwilling or unable to investigate and try them.

Lawyers representing the Comoros government said they would apply to judges for a review of the decision not to proceed.

“The Prosecutor's decision marks the first time a State referral by an ICC States Party has ever been rejected by … Prosecutor without even initiating an investigation,” said lawyers Rodney Dixon and Geoffrey Nice in a statement.

“It confirms the view expressed by politicians, civil society organizations, NGOs and commentators from many quarters that Israel has a 'special status,'” they added.

The court declined two years ago to investigate allegations against the Israeli military in 2008-2009, citing the uncertain legal status of the Palestinian Authority, which at the time had not been recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a sovereign state.

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