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 Erdogan survives 5th attempted coup


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

At least 194 are dead and 1,154 wounded in a failed military coup in Turkey, including 49 civilians, 41 police officers, and 104 coup plotters.

In some of the more dramatic moments of the violence, pro-coup Sikorsky helicopters attacked Parliament in Ankara with gunfire and bombs late Friday and into the morning. 

“There was a loud explosion and lots of dust. It was hard to breathe,” İlhan Cihaner, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told The Media Line. 

“Seven different parts of Parliament were attacked by the helicopter at the same moment.” 

Zeynep Altıok, another CHP MP, spoke to The Media Line from Parliament early Saturday afternoon while sporadic fighting continued outside.

“There are still attackers in the building,” she said. “Gunshots are continuing close to the main gate”

She described the extensive damage to the building.

“The Parliament was directly hit by one of the bombs,” she said. “If you saw a picture you wouldn’t even understand [where it was taken]. There’s that much damage here.”

The coup attempt started at around 10:00 p.m. Friday night as tanks shut down the two bridges spanning the Bosphorus, which separates the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, and a few low-flying F-16 fighter jets caused deafening sonic booms over Istanbul and Ankara.

Only a small portion of the armed forces participated in the coup attempt, including elements from the air force, the gendarmerie and the armed forces.

“It was a significant show of force but it was not a full show of force by the armed forces by any stretch of the imagination,” Paul T. Levin, Director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, told The Media Line.

Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar was taken hostage by the plotters, who called themselves the “Peace in the Country Council.”

Pro-coup soldiers killed 17 policemen during an attack on the Gölbaşı Special Forces Department headquarters in the capital Ankara, which saw much of the most violent fighting.

Helicopters attacked a hotel in Marmaris where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been staying less than two hours earlier. An F-16 also dropped bombs near the Presidential Palace in Ankara, killing five.

Soldiers raided the Doğan Media Center, briefly commandeering at least two television stations and a newspaper office, and forcing an announcer from national broadcaster TRT to read their official statement on live television and declare a curfew. 

While Levin stresses that it’s still too early to know much about the coup plotters, he says it may be related to a past struggle between the government and military. The armed forces staged three armed coups and one peaceful one in the past, and even between coups exercised a great deal of influence over the civilian government.

“There’s been a struggle [for] control over the military. The [ruling] AKP [Justice and Development Party] seem to be moving in now to assert control,” he said.

Two trials, the first starting in 2008, accused an alleged secret organization, including much of Turkey’s top military brass, of planning a violent coup. Hundreds of officers were taken into custody, but released in 2013 after it was discovered that much of the key evidence had been fabricated.

“My understanding is that the second tier or junior leadership of the army was extremely disgruntled and upset over the way that the senior leadership had let themselves be humiliated,” Levin said. 

The AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have become increasingly authoritarian in recent years and hugely expanded their influence over almost all government institutions.

But, while the civilian government seems to have liberated itself from the military, the armed forces have resisted the AKP’s control.

“The military as an institution largely remained intact. It’s one of the few remaining institutions that’s been free from encroachments by the AKP,” Levin says.

The coup attempt seemed to draw little support, with all three opposition parties and several top generals quickly denouncing it, and many government supporters flooding the streets. Police forces also stayed loyal to the government. 

“It did seem very poorly coordinated,” Levin said. 

Early Saturday morning, two helicopters were shot down. Later, about fifty soldiers on the Bosphorus Bridge, some of whom had shot at civilians and police, surrendered. Some soldiers, most of whom appeared to be conscripts, were attacked and even beaten to death by pro government protestors. Hostages were freed.

By early evening, nearly 3,000 soldiers were in custody, including four generals and 29 colonels.

The AKP and Erdoğan accused their former ally and current arch-enemy Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric and leader of a global movement, of orchestrating the coup, but offered little or no evidence. Gülen has denied the accusations. 

Nevertheless, Erdoğan described the coup as a “gift from God,” giving the government the impetus to ‘cleanse’ the military from alleged Gülen sympathizers.

Levin says the government is likely to respond to the failed coup with a crackdown.

On Saturday afternoon the government announced that 2745 judges, allegedly Gülen sympathizers, had been suspended, in yet another massive judicial purge.

Failed Turkey coup will not affect reconciliation with Israel, Netanyahu says


A reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey will not be affected by the attempted military coup, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“Israel and Turkey recently agreed on a reconciliation process between them. We assume that this process will continue without any connection to the dramatic events in Turkey over the weekend,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting.

The reconciliation agreement between the two countries, which ended a six-year diplomatic freeze, was approved last month.

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

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

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 rounds up plot suspects after thwarting coup against Erdogan


Turkish authorities rounded up nearly 3,000 suspected military plotters on Saturday and ordered thousands of judges detained after thwarting a coup by rebels using tanks and attack helicopters to try to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For several hours overnight on Friday violence shook Turkey's two main cities, as the armed faction which tried to seize power blocked a bridge in Istanbul and strafed the headquarters of Turkish intelligence and parliament in Ankara.

At least 265 people were killed. An official said 161 of them were mostly civilians and police officers, while the remaining 104 were coup supporters.

But the coup attempt crumbled as Erdogan rushed back to Istanbul from a Mediterranean holiday and urged people to take to the streets to support his government against plotters he accused of trying to kill him.

“They will pay a heavy price for this,” said Erdogan, launching a purge of the armed forces, which last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

Among those detained were top military commanders, including the head of the Second Army which protects the country's borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Hundreds of soldiers were held in Ankara for alleged involvement in the coup, leaving police stations overflowing.

Some had to be taken under armed police escort in buses to a sports stadium. Reuters footage showed some of the detainees, handcuffed and stripped from the waist up, sitting on the floor of one of the buses.

The government declared the situation under control, saying 2,839 people had been rounded up, from foot soldiers to senior officers, including those who formed “the backbone” of the rebellion.

Authorities also began a major crackdown in the judiciary over suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, removing from their posts and ordering the detention of nearly 3,000 prosecutors and judges, including from top courts.

Erdogan has blamed the coup on supporters of Gulen, who he has frequently accused of trying to foment uprising in the military, media and judiciary.

Ten members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors and two members of the Constitutional Court have already been detained, officials said.

OBAMA'S SUPPORT

A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled the country of about 80 million people since 2003, would have marked another seismic shift in the Middle East, five years after the Arab uprisings erupted and plunged Turkey's southern neighbor Syria into civil war.

However, a failed coup attempt could still destabilize the NATO member and major U.S. ally that lies between the European Union and the chaos of Syria, with Islamic State bombers targeting Turkish cities and the government also at war with Kurdish separatists.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed support for Turkey's government and urged parties on all sides of the crisis to avoid destabilizing the country and follow the rule of law. But his secretary of state, John Kerry, warned Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that public suggestions of a U.S. role in the plot were “utterly false” and harmful to relations.

Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and told thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport that the government remained at the helm.

A polarizing figure whose Islamist-rooted ideology lies at odds with supporters of modern Turkey's secular principles, Erdogan said the plotters had tried to attack him in the resort town of Marmaris.

“They bombed places I had departed from right after I was gone,” he said. “They probably thought we were still there.”

Erdogan's AK Party has long had strained relations with the military, which has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism although it has not seized power directly since 1980.

His conservative religious vision for Turkey's future has also alienated many ordinary citizens who accuse him of authoritarianism. Police used heavy force in 2013 to suppress mass protests demanding more freedom.

He commands the admiration and loyalty of millions of Turks, however, particularly for raising living standards and restoring order to an economy once beset by regular crises, which grew 4.8 percent year-on-year in the first quarter.

The violence is likely to hit a tourism industry already suffering from the bombings, and business confidence is also vulnerable.

SMARTPHONE ADDRESS

In a night that sometimes verged on the bizarre, Erdogan frequently took to social media, even though he is an avowed enemy of the technology when his opponents use it and frequently targets Twitter and Facebook.

He addressed the nation via a video calling service, appearing on the smartphone of a CNN Turk reporter who held it up to a studio camera.

He also urged Washington to deport Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States. The cleric, who once supported Erdogan but became a leading adversary, condemned the attempted coup and said he played no role in it.

“As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations,” Gulen said in a statement.

Kerry said the United States was willing to help Turkey as it tries to identify those involved in the coup attempt, but made clear it would only act if there was evidence against Gulen.

SOLDIERS SURRENDER

Gunfire and explosions had rocked both Istanbul and Ankara through the night after soldiers took up positions in both cities and ordered state television to read out a statement declaring they had taken power. However, by dawn the noise of fighting had died down considerably.

About 50 soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on one of the bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul after dawn on Saturday, abandoning their tanks with their hands raised in the air. Reuters witnesses saw government supporters attack the pro-coup soldiers who had surrendered.

By Saturday afternoon, CNN Turk reported that security forces had completed an operation against coup plotters at the headquarters of the military general staff. Security sources also said police detained about 100 military officers at an air base in the southeast.

Neighboring Greece arrested eight men aboard a Turkish military helicopter which landed in the northern city of Alexandroupolis on Saturday, the Greek police ministry said, adding that they had requested political asylum.

At one stage military commanders were held hostage by the plotters and by Saturday evening — 24 hours after the coup was launched — some operations against rebels were continuing.

Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, said soldiers at the Incirlik air base, used by the United States to launch air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, were involved in the attempt. He said Turkey would resume operations with the U.S.-led coalition once the anti-coup operations were completed.

LAWMAKERS IN HIDING

The coup began with warplanes and helicopters roaring over Ankara and troops moving in to seal off the bridges over the Bosphorus, which separates Europe and Asia in Istanbul.

Turkish maritime authorities reopened the Bosphorus to transiting tankers after shutting the major trade route from the Black Sea to the Aegean for several hours for security and safety reasons.

In the early hours of Saturday, lawmakers hid in shelters inside the parliament building, which was fired on by tanks. An opposition deputy told Reuters that parliament was hit three times and people had been wounded.

When parliament convened later in the day, the four main political parties – running the gamut from Erdogan's right-wing Islamist-rooted AK Party to the left-of-center, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) – came together in a rare show of unity to condemn the attempted coup.

A Turkish military commander also said fighter jets had shot down a helicopter used by the coup plotters over Ankara.

Momentum turned against the coup plotters as the night wore on. Crowds defied orders to stay indoors, gathering at major squares in Istanbul and Ankara, waving flags and chanting.

“We have a prime minister, we have a chief of command, we're not going to leave this country to degenerates,” shouted one man, as groups of government supporters climbed onto a tank near Ataturk airport.

Kerry said he had phoned the Turkish foreign minister and underlined “absolute support for Turkey's democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions”.

FLIGHTS RESUME

Flag carrier Turkish Airlines resumed flights on Saturday, though some foreign carriers canceled weekend flights.

At the height of the action, rebel soldiers took control of TRT state television, which announced a countrywide curfew and martial law. An announcer read a statement on the orders of the pro-coup faction that accused the government of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law. Turkey would be run by a “peace council” that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.

Turkey is one of the main backers of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war and hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees. It was a departure point last year for the biggest influx of migrants to Europe since World War Two.

Turkey has suffered numerous bombings and shootings this year, including an attack two weeks ago by Islamists at Ataturk airport that killed more than 40 people, as well as those staged by Kurdish militants.

After serving as prime minister from 2003, Erdogan was elected president in 2014 with plans to alter the constitution to give the previously ceremonial presidency far greater executive powers.

Turkish army says it seizes power; Erdogan says: ‘We will overcome this’


Turkey's military said on Friday it had seized power but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that the attempted coup would be put down.

If successful, the overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would be one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years, transforming one of the most important U.S. allies while war rages on its border. Even if it fails, the coup attempt could destabilize a pivotal country in the region.

“We will overcome this,” Erdogan said, speaking on a video call to a mobile phone held up to the camera by an announcer on the Turkish sister station of CNN. He called on his followers to take to the streets to defend his government and said the coup plotters would pay a heavy price.

An official said Erdogan was speaking from Marmaris on the Turkish coast where he was on holiday. Erdogan said he would swiftly return to Ankara.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and other senior officials said the elected government remained in office. Yildirim called the coup attempt a terrorist act by gangs and illegal formations.

Television images showed scores of people, some waving Turkish flags, gathered in major squares in main city Istanbul and capital Ankara to show support for the elected government. Gunfire broke out in both cities.

Warplanes and helicopters roared over Ankara and explosions could be heard there. Reuters reporters saw a helicopter open fire. State-run news agency Anadolu said military helicopters had fired on the headquarters of the intelligence agency.

Reuters journalists saw tanks open fire near the parliament building in Ankara, which they had surrounded.

Airports were shut, access to Internet social media sites was cut off, and troops sealed off the two bridges over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, one of which was still lit up red, white and blue in solidarity with victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in France a day earlier.

Soldiers took control of TRT state television, which announced a countrywide curfew and martial law. An announcer read a statement on the orders of the military that accused the government of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law. The country would be run by a “peace council” that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.

TRT later went off the air.

Anadolu said the chief of Turkey's military staff was among people taken “hostage” in the capital Ankara. CNN Turk also reported that hostages were being held at the military headquarters.

NOT A TINPOT COUP

A senior EU source monitoring the situation said: “It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a significant body of the military, not just a few colonels. They've got control of the airports and are expecting control over the TV station imminently. They control several strategic points in Istanbul.

“Given the scale of the operation, it is difficult to imagine they will stop short of prevailing. It's not just a few colonels,” the source repeated.

One European diplomat was dining with the Turkish ambassador to a European capital when guests were interrupted by the pinging of urgent news on their mobile phones.

“This is clearly not some tinpot little coup. The Turkish ambassador was clearly shocked and is taking it very seriously,” the diplomat told Reuters as the dinner party broke up. “However it looks in the morning, this will have massive implications for Turkey. This has not come out of nowhere.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking jointly after talks in Moscow, both said they hoped bloodshed would be avoided. The U.S. State Department said Americans in Turkey should shelter indoors. Other countries issued similar advice.

Turkey, a NATO member with the second biggest military in the Western alliance, is one of the most important allies of the United States in the fight against Islamic State, which seized swathes of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Turkey is one of the main backers of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war, host to 2.7 million Syrian refugees and launchpad last year for the biggest influx of migrants to Europe since World War Two.

Celebratory gunfire erupted in Syria's capital Damascus as reports emerged that Erdogan had been toppled. People took the streets to celebrate there and in other government-held cities.

Turkey has been at war with Kurdish separatists, and has suffered numerous bombing and shooting attacks this year, including an attack two weeks ago by Islamists at Istanbul's main airport that killed more than 40 people.

In an earlier statement sent by email and reported on TV channels, the military said it had taken power to protect the democratic order and to maintain human rights. All of Turkey's existing foreign relations would be maintained and the rule of law would remain the priority, it said.

After serving as prime minister from 2003, Erdogan was elected president in 2014 with plans to alter the constitution to give the previously ceremonial presidency far greater executive powers.

Turkey has enjoyed an economic boom during his time in office and has dramatically expanded its influence across the region. But opponents say his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

His AK Party, with roots in Islamism, has long had a strained relationship with the military and nationalists in a state that was founded on secularist principles after World War One. The military has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism, but has not seized power directly since 1980.

Prime Minister Yildirim said a group within Turkey's military had attempted to overthrow the government and security forces have been called in to “do what is necessary”.

“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” Yildirim said in comments broadcast by private channel NTV.

“The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”

Turkey’s Erodgan safe as group in military attempts coup, presidential source says


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is safe, a presidential source said on Friday, adding that a statement made on behalf of the armed forces announcing a takeover of the government was not authorised by the military command.

The source also urged the world to “stand in solidarity” with the Turkish people.

Turkey's military said on Friday it had seized power, but the prime minister said the attempted coup would be put down.

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.

Turkish ship with Gaza-bound aid docks at Ashdod, first since reconciliation


A Turkish ship packed with aid for the Gaza Strip arrived in Israel, the first since Turkey and Israel reached a reconciliation deal that allows such transfers.

The cargo ship docking at Ashdod, just north of Gaza, on Sunday afternoon was bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian equipment and food, Haaretz reported.

Israel and Turkey last month agreed to fully reestablish ties ruptured by Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla in 2010. Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish nationals in violent encounters during the raid on the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships attempting to breach a blockade on the strip imposed by Israel after the 2009 Gaza war with Hamas.

As part of the deal, Israel is keeping the blockade in place but is easing the transfer of Turkish aid to the strip.

Israel also will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the Turkish nationals. Turkey will press Hamas to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers slain during wars with Hamas and two Israeli citizens still being held in the strip.

The families of the slain soldiers and their supporters protested the arrival of the ship, Haaretz reported.

Istanbul airport terror attack kills 41, injures at least 230; no Israeli casualties reported


Israel’s Foreign Ministry is working to determine whether any Israeli citizens were injured in a suicide bombing Tuesday night in Turkey that killed 41 people and injured at least 230.

Three bombers blew themselves up at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the third busiest in Europe, after opening fire at the entrance to the airport’s international terminal, according to media reports. Police had returned fire.

In March, a bombing in a tourist section of Istanbul killed three Israelis and injured several others. The same month, a suicide bombing at an airport in Brussels killed 32 people and injured more than 300.

The airport attack in Istanbul came on the same day that Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal ending a six-year break in diplomatic relations.

According to the Times of Israel, the Israeli diplomats who were at the airport at the time of the Tuesday night attack were unharmed. Israeli diplomats said that no Israeli tourists were among the victims taken to the hospital.

Even during the diplomatic chill, Israel was one of the busiest routes for Turkish Airlines, with 695,000 Israelis flying round trip with the airline in 2014 and eight daily flights on the Tel Aviv-Istanbul route.

Turkish Airlines flights from Tel Aviv were suspended in the wake of the attack.

“The only two flights from Ataturk to Tel Aviv this evening have already landed. A flight to Istanbul took off about an hour ago — and will surely land in a different airport. Two Turkish Airlines flights were due to depart tonight to Istanbul, and we recommend that members of the public due to fly with the company keep updated online,” the Israel Airports Authority said soon after the attacks.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Dozens killed, more than 100 wounded in suicide attack at Istanbul airport


UPDATED 4:02pm

Three suicide bombers opened fire before blowing themselves up at the entrance to the main international airport in Istanbul, killing at least 28 people, the provincial governor said earlier.

The number of people wounded in Tuesday's attack on Istanbul's main international airport rose to 106, broadcaster NTV said, citing hospital sources, while another network, Haberturk, said the number was 147, citing a justice minister.

Police fired shots to try to stop the attackers just before they reached a security checkpoint at the arrivals hall of the Ataturk airport but they blew themselves up, one of the officials said.

Speaking in parliament, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that based on initial information he could only confirm there had been one attacker.

“According to information I have received, at the entrance to the Ataturk Airport international terminal a terrorist first opened fire with a Kalashnikov and then blew themself up,” he said in comments broadcast by CNN Turk.

There was no immediate claim of responsbility for the attack.

Ataturk is Turkey's largest airport and a major transport hub for international travellers. Pictures posted on social media from the site showed wounded people lying on the ground inside and outside one of the terminal buildings.

A witness told Reuters security officials prevented his taxi and other cars from entering the airport at around 9:50 pm (1850 GMT). Drivers leaving the terminal shouted “Don't enter! A bomb exploded!” from their windows to incoming traffic, he said.

Television footage showed ambulances rushing to the scene. One witness told CNN Turk that gunfire was heard from the car park at the airport. Taxis were ferrying wounded people from the airport, the witness said.

FLIGHTS HALTED

The head of Red Crescent, Kerem Kinik, said on CNN Turk that people should go to blood donation centres and not hospitals to give blood and called on people to avoid main roads to the airport to avoid blocking path of emergency vehicles.

Authorities halted the takeoff of scheduled flights from the airport and passengers were transferred to hotels, a Turkish Airlines official said. Earlier an airport official said some flights to the airport had been diverted.

Turkey has suffered a spate of bombings this year, including two suicide attacks in tourist areas of Istanbul blamed on Islamic State, and two car bombings in the capital, Ankara, which were claimed by a Kurdish militant group.

In the most recent attack, a car bomb ripped through a police bus in central Istanbul during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people and wounding 36 near the main tourist district, a major university and the mayor's office.

Turkey, which is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, is also fighting Kurdish militants in its largely Kurdish southeast.

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.

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.

Jewish groups hail Israel-Turkey rapprochement deal


Jewish American groups on Monday welcomed the 

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.”

Istanbul bomber did not deliberately target Israelis, investigation finds


A suicide bomber who killed three Israelis in an attack in Istanbul did not target the Israeli tour group, Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau has determined.

The attacker, who detonated himself on March 19 as the Israeli tour group left a restaurant in the major Turkish city, was attempting to disrupt tourism in general to Turkey, the bureau announced Sunday after a month-long investigation, the Associated Press reported. An Iranian national also was killed in the explosion.  Two of the Israeli victims also held American citizenship.

Turkish media reported a day after the attack that the bomber followed the Israeli culinary tour group from their hotel to the restaurant, and waited until they were leaving the restaurant to detonate his explosives.

The bomber was identified as a Turkish citizen, Mehmet Ozturk, who was affiliated with the Islamic State. He reportedly spent two years in Syria before returning to Turkey illegally.

Following the attack, Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office issued a travel warning calling on Israelis not to travel to Turkey. That warning remains in place.

Israel’s president sends thanks to Jews in Turkey, offers assistance


President Reuven Rivlin of Israel offered assistance to the Jewish community of Turkey in the aftermath of the Istanbul terror attack that killed three Israelis and reports of planned ISIS attacks on Jewish targets.

On Tuesday, Rivlin spoke by telephone with İshak İbrahimzadeh, president of the Jewish community of Turkey, the president’s office said in a statement. The president expressed his gratitude to Ibrahimzadeh for his community’s assistance to the injured in the March 19 attack and the families of those killed. The attack may have targeted an Israeli tour group.

“Thank you for your care; you reminded us that ‘all Jews are brothers,'” Rivlin said.

Along with the three Israelis, one Iranian national died in the Istanbul attack.

Rivlin also expressed concern for the Jews of Turkey in the wake of a Sky News report Monday evening that Islamic State terrorists are planning an “imminent” attack on Jewish kindergartens, schools and youth centers in the country.

“We are very worried about the information we are receiving, and following the situation closely with the relevant authorities in Israel and Turkey,” Rivlin said.

In thanking Rivlin, İbrahimzadeh said: “Hopefully we shall overcome this soon and return to normal life. We appreciate this offer and the solidarity of the State of Israel very much.”

The Sky News report said the most likely target is a synagogue in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, which is attached to a community center and school, the British news service reported Monday. The report is likely referring to the Neve Shalom Synagogue, which was hit by attacks in 1986 and 2003.

Just hours earlier, Israel warned its citizens living in or visiting Turkey to leave immediately, warning of an Islamic State threat.

Sky News reported seeing an intelligence report saying the Islamic State was behind the attack in Istanbul as well as the series of bombings in Brussels on March 22.

ISIS reportedly planning ‘imminent’ attack on Jewish school in Turkey


Islamic State terrorists are planning an “imminent” attack on Jewish kindergartens, schools and youth centers in Turkey, according to Sky News.

The most likely target of the attack is a synagogue in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, which is attached to a community center and school, the British newspaper reported Monday.

The report is likely referring to the Neve Shalom Synagogue, which was previously hit by attacks in 1986 and 2003.

“We don’t know when it’s scheduled for. It could be in the next 24 hours or next few days,” an intelligence source told Sky News. “In light of these circumstances, extraordinary security measures are being taken above and beyond the high alert level already in place by the Turkish police, as well as vigilance within the Jewish community.”

Just hours earlier, Israel warned its citizens living in or visiting Turkey to leave immediately, warning of an Islamic State threat. Last Saturday, March 19, three Israeli tourists on a culinary tour were among five killedin a suicide bombing in Istanbul. It’s not yet known whether Israelis, who often vacation in Turkey, were targeted.

Sky News reported seeing an intelligence report saying the Islamic State was behind the attack in Istanbul as well as the series of bombings in Brussels Thursday.

Islamic State has been blamed for four of six bombings in Turkey in the past eight months, including a double suicide attack at a peace rally in the capital, Ankara, in October that killed 103 people.

The information about the planned attack came from six Islamic State operatives arrested in the city of Gaziantep, in southern Turkey, in the past week, according to Sky News.

“Undercover and other covert counter-terror measures are being implemented around the clock. This is a more than credible threat. This is an active plot,” the source is quoted as saying.

On Saturday, Turkish police warned of possible Islamic State attacks against Christians and Jews over the weekend.

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.

Second car bomb in a month kills 37 in Turkish capital, Ankara


A car bomb tore through a crowded transport hub in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Sunday, killing at least 37 people and wounding 125 in the second such attack in the administrative heart of the city in under a month.

The blast, which could be heard several kilometres away, sent burning debris showering down over an area a few hundred metres (yards) from the Justice and Interior Ministries, a top courthouse, and the former office of the prime minister.

“These attacks, which threaten our country's integrity and our nation's unity and solidarity, do not weaken our resolve in fighting terrorism but bolster our determination,” President Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.

Two senior security officials told Reuters the first findings suggested that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy, or an affiliated group, was responsible.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Interior Minister Efkan Ala said the name of the group behind the attack would likely be announced on Monday after initial investigations were completed.

“Tonight, civilian citizens waiting at a bus stop were targeted in a terrorist attack with a bomb-laden car,” Ala told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the head of the intelligence agency and security chiefs.

“Significant findings have been made, but the organisation behind this will be announced once the investigation has been finalised,” he said.

NATO member Turkey faces multiple security threats. As part of a U.S.-led coalition, it is fighting Islamic State in neighbouring Syria and Iraq. It is also battling PKK militants in its southeast, where a 2-1/2-year ceasefire collapsed last July, triggering the worst violence since the 1990s.

The bombing came two days after the U.S. Embassy issued a warning that there was information regarding a potential attack on government buildings in the Bahcelievler area of Ankara, just a few km (miles) away from the blast site.

The United States condemned the attack, saying in a White House National Security Council statement: “This horrific act is only the most recent of many terrorist attacks perpetrated against the Turkish people. The United States stands together with Turkey, a NATO ally and valued partner, as we confront the scourge of terrorism.”

Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said 30 of those killed had died at the scene, while the four others died in hospital. At least one or two of the dead were attackers, he said, and 19 of the 125 wounded were in critical condition.

PELLETS AND NAILS

One of the security officials said the car used in the attack was a BMW driven from Viransehir, a town in the largely Kurdish southeast, and that the PKK and the affiliated Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) appeared to be responsible.

TAK claimed responsibility for the previous car bombing, just a few blocks away, on Feb. 17. That attack targeted a military bus as it waited at traffic lights, and killed 29 people, most of them soldiers, near the military headquarters, parliament and other key government institutions.

A police source said there appeared to have been two attackers, one a man and the other a woman, whose severed hand was found 300 metres from the blast site.

The explosives were the same kind as those used on Feb. 17 and the bomb had been reinforced with pellets and nails to cause maximum damage, the source told Reuters.

The pro-Kurdish opposition HDP, parliament's third largest party, which Erdogan accuses of being an extension of the PKK, condemned what it described as a “savage attack”.

State broadcaster TRT said the car had exploded at a major transport hub, hitting a bus carrying some 20 people near the central Guven Park and Kizilay Square at 6:43 p.m. (1643 GMT).

An Ankara court ordered a ban on access to Facebook, Twitter and other sites in Turkey after images from the bombing were shared on social media, broadcasters CNN Turk and NTV reported.

SECURITY THREATS

World leaders joined in condemning the bombing. British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “appalled,” while French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described it as a “cowardly attack”. Russian President Vladimir Putin described it as “inhuman,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

“There can be no justification for such heinous acts of violence. All NATO allies stand in solidarity with Turkey, resolute in our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the country's ambassador to Turkey, James Larsen, was in a car at an intersection 20 metres from where the bomb was detonated.

“It really does bring it home to us that a terrorist attack can take place at any time, anywhere,” Bishop told Nine Network television while on a diplomatic trip to Fiji. “We utterly condemn these barbaric attacks on civilian populations.”

“It was an appalling thing for him to witness, being so close, but he's fine,” she added of the ambassador.

Turkey sees the unrest in its largely Kurdish southeast as deeply linked to events in northern Syria, where the Kurdish YPG militia has been seizing territory as it fights both Islamic State and rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara fears those gains will stoke separatist ambitions among its own Kurds and has long argued that the YPG and PKK have close ideological and operational ties.

In its armed campaign in Turkey, the PKK has historically struck directly at the security forces and says that it does not target civilians. A direct claim of responsibility for Sunday's bombing would indicate a major tactical shift.

Islamic State militants have been blamed for at least four bomb attacks on Turkey since June 2015, including a suicide bombing that killed 10 German tourists in the historic heart of Istanbul in January. Local jihadist groups and leftist radicals have also staged attacks in Turkey in the past. 

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.”