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The new Israel-Turkey honeymoon

Despite the renewed rapprochement between Jerusalem and Ankara, Israel must remain cautious.

The Israel Defense Forces dispatches a 150-strong search-and-rescue team to earthquake-stricken southeastern Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023. Credit: IDF.
The Israel Defense Forces dispatches a 150-strong search-and-rescue team to earthquake-stricken southeastern Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The Israeli government made the correct political and moral decision to help Turkey following the earthquake disaster that struck it on Feb. 6.

Israel can be proud of the military and civilian delegations it sent to Turkey. This is how a sovereign, moral and democratic country ​​should behave.

Turkey greatly appreciates Israeli aid, according to senior political officials in Jerusalem. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during their meeting on Feb. 14 in Ankara that Turkey will never forget the aid it received from Israel and the fact that it saved 19 Turks from under the rubble. Erdogan praised the professional work of the Israeli team and expressed deep appreciation for Israel.

This is certainly another important political development in the process of Turkey’s rapprochement with Israel, which began about a year ago after a decade of deep crisis in relations between the two countries.

Erdogan praises Israel for two main reasons: he appreciates Israel’s quick and effective humanitarian aid, and desires to draw closer to the Biden administration.

The Turkish president believes that the road to the White House runs through Jerusalem, and he needs an open door in Washington.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu also praised Israel and said Turkey’s relations with Israel will be upgraded to a higher level.

During Cohen’s meeting with Erdogan, the Israeli foreign minister sought Turkey’s aid in securing the release of two Israelis currently being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as well as the remains of two Israeli soldiers being held by the terror group. Erdogan has excellent relations with the leadership of Hamas. Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas commander, resides in Istanbul. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and former leader Khaled Mashaal are also frequent visitors to Turkey.

Erdogan expressed concern about Israeli actions on the Temple Mount and emphasized the need to maintain the status quo at the holy site, especially during the month of Ramadan. The Israeli foreign minister clarified that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo there and that it is committed to maintaining the freedom of worship in all holy places.

The re-normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey is progressing well, but there is still a cloud on relations between the two countries, especially because of the continued activity of Hamas from Istanbul.

The Palestinian terrorists who were released in the 2011 prisoner exchange deal work out of Istanbul and direct terrorist activities in Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel. Israel’s demand to close these offices is met by Turkey’s refusal and claims that the Hamas activity is purely political.

Israel has provided Turkey with intelligence evidence of Hamas’s terrorist activity in Istanbul, but the Turks insist on keeping the offices open. They have asked Hamas to lower its profile and avoid launching attacks that are directed from Turkish territory. Ankara also fears the reaction of the Biden administration.

Israeli aid to Turkey after the earthquake will strengthen the strategic relationship between the two countries, and this is of great concern to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. They see Israel receiving praise from Erdogan while the Netanyahu government takes decisions on the expansion of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

P.A. officials expressed surprise over Erdogan praising Israel, even though there were dozens of countries that provided humanitarian aid to Turkey.

The P.A. fears that Israel will take advantage of the aid to Turkey to improve its image in the world and present itself as a country that provides humanitarian aid to any country caught in a disaster.

A senior P.A. official has asserted that the Israeli move was calculated to push aside the Palestinian issue, which the Palestinians are trying to bring it back to the top of the international agenda. He claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to help Turkey in order to advance the normalization process with other Arab and Muslim countries and to show that Israel has a lot to contribute to them if they sign normalization agreements.

Despite the renewed rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, Israel needs to be cautious in everything related to Turkey. Erdogan is known as someone who is mercurial and changes his views on Israel, especially concerning the Palestinians. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is approaching, and it is estimated that a major security escalation is expected in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. This will be one of the most important tests for  Turkey in everything related to its relations with Israel.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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