Turkey takes advantage of Israel’s economy but is no political ally

Israel-Turkey relations

Crisis in Israel-Turkey relations

In theory, Turkey and Israel ought to be on the same side. Both fear the collapse of Syria into a failed Islamic state, and yet do not want Bashar Assad to emerge victorious from the civil war.  Both countries too fear Iran’s meddling in Syria. Turkey is being overwhelmed with Syrian refugees, and despite their valiant attempts, absorbing 500,000 refugees, massive refugee camps always hold the potential for violence, let alone disease, poverty and general misery.

And of course most importantly, both Turkey and Israel greatly fear Iran becoming a nuclear power and extending its political power across the Middle East and beyond.

With their previous good relations, Turkey and Israel had a mutually beneficial relationship. Turkey provided a tolerant bridge for Israel to the Arab lands, while Israel provided a bridge to western Europe and more importantly, to America.

All that fell apart with the election of the Islamist Abdullah Gul as President and the outspoken and viciously anti-Israel Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Prime Minister.  The two men have acted to de-secularize Turkish society, in particular the army, and to promote a strict version Islam and Sharia law. This has not gone down well with large sections of Turkish society but they have not been resisted successfully.

The Mavi Marmara incident was just a symptom, rather than the cause, of the breakdown in relations between Israel and Turkey, and despite Israel’s apology and offer of compensation, nothing has changed.

All this brings us to Turkey’s latest acts which demonstrate an aggressive attempt to take advantage of Israel’s economic bounty while denying Israel any diplomatic or political benefit.

Natural gas from Israel’s Tamar field began flowing to customers in 2013

First, the surprising news that Turkey’s Zorlu Energy group is in talks with Israel to build a gas pipeline to Israel:

Turkey’s Zorlu Group, which holds an indirect stake in an Israeli power plant, has begun talks with Israeli companies to finance a pipeline that could export gas from the Jewish state’s Leviathan and Tamar offshore fields to Turkey, Reuters and Turkey’s Hurriyet daily reported on Friday, citing industry and diplomatic sources.

The report also cited Ömer Yüngül, chief executive of Zorlu Holding, the owner of Zorlu Enerji, as saying, “Turkey is a very suitable route for Israeli gas. I can even say it is the most suitable,” although he would not confirm the talks.

Considering the almost total breakdown in relations between the two countries, this could be considered almost miraculous.  But of course Turkey has a political reason of its own for this investment: its illegal occupation of northern Cyprus and its rivalry with and objection to Cyprus’s new energy and political alliance with Israel and Greece.

Turkey is also acting extremely aggressively (surprise) regarding its aviation rights to Israel, and yet, incomprehensibly, Israel is doing nothing to protect its own interests:

Turkey has essentially barred Israeli airlines, thus monopolizing the highly lucrative route between Israel and Turkey, but Israel is doing nothing about it for fear of exacerbating its already frayed diplomatic relations with Ankara, The Times of Israel has established.

I’m not sure how relations could possibly get any worse, short of outright war, so what has Israel got to lose?

Air traffic between the two countries has actually soared by over 150 percent since the 2010 Gaza flotilla episode that sent bilateral ties hurtling into the abyss. But only Turkey is benefiting from the increase: The total number of Turkish airline flights out of Ben Gurion each week has reached a staggering 112. The total number of Israeli airline flights on the route: zero.

For reasons Jerusalem blames squarely on Ankara, Israeli airlines have been unable to fly to any destinations in Turkey since 2007, and are locked out of the market. Israeli officials are deeply unhappy about what they consider an unfair situation in which the Turks have found a cash cow in Israel, but maneuvered in order to leave Israel’s airlines with nothing.

Turkish Airlines now operates more flights out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport than any other airline except for Israel’s national carrier El Al. The Turkish state-owned company currently operates no fewer than 53 weekly flights from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, according to its regional marketing manager Selin Stella Rattan. Pegasus Airlines and other Turkish charter companies together offer an additional 59 weekly flights connecting the two countries, bringing the total number of Turkish flights out of Ben Gurion to a staggering 112.

This constitutes a 166% increase on 2010, when the total weekly number of Turkish airline flights from Tel Aviv stood at 42.


Until 2007, Israeli companies operated about 30 weekly flights to and from Turkey. But starting that year, Turkish authorities ceased accommodating Israel’s security requirements, effectively barring Israeli companies from landing in Turkey. Israel’s security agencies have higher security requirements than other countries’ regarding the operation of flights. Officials in Jerusalem refused to specify Israel’s security demands on record, but in private conversations squarely blame Turkish authorities for deliberately making the Israelis’ lives more difficult.


Because of the strained relationship between Turkey and Israel, Jerusalem has so far refused to raise the issue in high-level talks with Ankara. But El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi, fuming about what he says is an inherently unfair state of affairs, last week wrote an angry letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decrying “the unfathomable and incomprehensible situation relating to Turkey in general and Turkish and Israeli airlines in specific.”

Citing a Turkish “refusal” to operate Israeli flights, Shkedi attacked “the State of Israel’s incomprehensible support for the international expansion of Turkish airlines at the expense of Israeli airlines that are prevented from flying.”

In his October 22 letter, Shkedi lamented the government’s unwillingness to act on behalf of Israeli companies. As long as Israeli planes cannot land in Turkey, Shkedi wrote to Netanyahu, Turkish planes should be barred from Israel as well. “This is the minimum required of a country that respects itself, yet it is not happening.”


Besides discussing the sum to be paid in compensation (estimated to end up in the $15-25 million range overall), the negotiations over the flotilla incident are reportedly focusing on whether the payments will be labeled “assistance to families” (as Israel wishes) or “restitution for the deaths of nine Turkish civilians” (as Ankara demands). As long as these highly sensitive negotiations — conducted for Israel by officials from the Prime Minister’s Office — are ongoing, the Israeli government has been hesitant to revisit the four-year-old aviation agreement between the two countries.

In December 2009, Turkish and Israeli officials signed a deal that allowed for more flight destinations and removed frequency restrictions that had been in place since 1951.

In private conversations, officials are fuming. “On merit, we should ban Turkish flights to Israel tomorrow,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel. “But currently we don’t want to open another front with the Turks.”

It was grossly unfair that “Israel has become a goldmine for Turkish companies,” while the Turks’ inflexibility concerning Israel’s legitimate security concerns still prevents Israeli companies from competing in this multi-million dollar market, he said.

In the immediate aftermath of the flotilla raid, Israeli tourism to Turkey receded, but it has recently been increasing.

Jerusalem is also wary of challenging Ankara on the aviation front because it hopes for Turkey’s assistance in a bid to join the Western European and Others Group at the United Nations Human Rights Council. After an 18-month boycott, Israel this week cooperated with the Geneva-based body, under the condition that European nations help it join WEOG. As of now, Israel belongs to no regional group at the UNHRC, a situation that severely impacts its ability to advance its interests in the forum. Turkey is a member of WEOG and could theoretically torpedo Israel’s admission bid, since it requires unanimous approval.

I cannot imagine a scenario in which Turkey would agree to Israel’s joining any organization in which Turkey itself is a member. I do not understand how the Israeli government holds out any hope at all of such a supernatural turn-around on the part of the Turks under their current leadership and it is simply scandalous that Israel is allowing the Turks to behave so aggressively without any reaction.

Missiles allegedly attacked in Syria

Which brings us to the final slap in the face from Turkey. Given Turkey’s fear and hatred both of Bashar Assad and Iran, whose proxy in Syria is Hezbollah, one would think that Turkey would have approved of Israel’s alleged bombing of a missile base in Syria, and would have felt flattered that fingers were pointed at Turkey for having given Israel intelligence assistance in the missile strike. However Turkey’s reaction at such a “suspicion” was outrage, saying they would never assist in a strike against another Muslim state:

Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported on Saturday that Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was confronted with the allegations that Ankara transferred information to Jerusalem prior to the attack, which was attributed by foreign sources to Israel, including an official source within the American government.

“There is an attempt to give the impression that Turkey has coordinated with Israel,” said Davutoglu at a press conference with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, “we have issues with Syria, an issue based on a principle. But let me say it clearly: The Turkish government has never cooperated with Israel against any Muslim country, and it never will.”

Davutoglu slammed the reports stating that Turkey gave Israel critical intelligence about the target in Latakia, describing them as “black propaganda”.

“Those (reports) are attempts to cast a shadow on the Syrian people’s rightful struggle and Turkey’s attitude with principles. It is out of the question for us to participate in any common operation,” he said. The Turkish minister stressed that his country would stand against such Israeli operation, but emphasized that the information on the strikes was not confirmed yet.

Davutoglu made a rather surprising statement about Iran, considering Turkey’s stance, a statement that ought to give Israel a rather large pause for thought:

According to Hurriyet, during the press conference, Davutoglu insisted on Turkish-Iranian friendship and partnership. “We have deep and historic relations. Some circles may want to represent us as two rival neighbors. Some may desire it. But much on the contrary, Turkey and Iran are not rivals but friends,” he said.

So which is it to be Turkey? Are you for Iran or against? Do you approve of Israel’s bombing of Syrian missiles intended for Hezbollah or do you object? Do you want to cut off relations with Israel altogether or are you just in it for the money, with natural gas and airlines?  And are you an enemy of Iran or an ally?

As for the Israeli leadership, it is imperative that they too decide which is to be. If  Turkey is an ostensible ally, then our leaders ought to be demanding, loudly and clearly, that Turkey ceases and desists from undermining us at every opportunity, to the extent of selling out our spies to a mutual enemy and refusing to be connected to a military strike against that same mutual enemy.

Or is Turkey an opponent? In which case why are we allowing Turkey to buy such a large stake in an Israeli energy company? This is not a matter of private profit but of national security. And why are we allowing the Turks to run roughshod over our national airline and our national pride?   Why do we allow the Turkish FM to pronounce that Turkey and Iran are allies without a word of objection from us?

We are not projecting tolerance and liberalism here. All we are projecting is weakness, and that is the most dangerous characteristic of all to possess in the Middle East.

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3 Responses to Turkey takes advantage of Israel’s economy but is no political ally

  1. Reality says:

    I don’t understand our leaders. What, are we completely insane? Have we no pride? We’re losing out financially, politically & our pride is in the toilet. What ‘s going on? Why ? Who makes these insane decisions? Why is there no public outcry? & Why are we even thinking of letting Turkey have a stake inour pipeline? there are many other partners we could choose. We certainly don’t need them . It’s time the public knew.

    • anneinpt says:

      Perhaps things will change now that Liberman is back in the game. At least Israel has rejected the Turkish suggestion that we send an ambassador to them without them sending one to us. And the Turks haven’t yet gotten their pipeline from us. They said they would like it.

      I would like a pink pony too but I don’t think I’m going to get one.

      But yes, we are insane and we have no pride. Or rather our stupid leaders don’t.

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