Another look at the Israel-Turkey reconciliation deal

A billboard in Turkey advertises the Israel-Turkey agreement

Despite my deep misgivings, not to mention moral objections, to the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey, it is important to take note of other views, particularly those which don’t see the deal as a disaster but rather as an important diplomatic gain for Israel.

I’ll start with Evelyn Gordon, whose views I deeply respect and who is certainly never given to delusional flights of fancy like the left-wing are wont to take. Her article speaks about “Turkey and the value of saying No“:

The Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement announced this week is an object lesson in the importance of being willing to walk away from negotiations. For six years, the Israeli chattering classes and the international community urged Israel to simply accept Turkey’s terms, arguing that Ankara wasn’t going to soften its demands and that Israel desperately needed good relations with Turkey, whatever the price. But it turns out neither part of that argument was true. Turkey proved to need Israel far more than Israel needed it, and consequently, it eventually reduced its demands significantly. The current deal is thus much better than what Israel would have gotten had it caved in and signed earlier.

The biggest change is that Turkey capitulated completely on its longstanding demand for an end to the Gaza blockade, which would have badly undermined Israel’s security. Under the current deal, all restrictions meant to prevent Hamas-run Gaza from importing arms and exporting terror remain in place: The naval blockade will continue; imports to Gaza will still enter through Israel and undergo Israeli security checks, and movement restrictions aimed at preventing Gazan terrorists from entering either Israel or the West Bank will remain in force. Instead, Turkey will bolster its self-image as Gaza’s champion by building a power plant, hospital, and desalination facility–all badly needed humanitarian projects that Israel has long wished someone would undertake. It will also be allowed to send unlimited humanitarian aid through Israel’s Ashdod Port–a meaningless concession since Israel never restricted humanitarian aid shipments.

Another important change relates to Hamas operations in Turkey, …[…] the current deal requires it to end all Hamas military activity on its territory.

This falls short of Israel’s demand that it expel Hamas entirely; the Islamist organization will still be able to engage in diplomacy and fund-raising in Turkey. But if Israel refused to have relations with any country that let terrorist groups engage in diplomacy and fund-raising on its territory, it would also have to sever ties with the European Union, where the political wing of Hezbollah–a far more dangerous group than Hamas–is allowed to operate freely in all but a handful of countries. In other words, this is an acceptable compromise that genuinely improves the existing situation.

The third major provision requires Israel to pay $20 million in compensation to the families of Turks killed or wounded during Israel’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in May 2010. That provision offends many Israelis because it essentially rewards anti-Israel violence […]

Nevertheless, this money would probably have to be paid at some point anyway, because the families have filed lawsuits against Israel both in Turkey and overseas. This way, the sum is at least capped: Before receiving this money, Turkey will have to pass legislation voiding all existing lawsuits, and has also promised to indemnify Israel for any future suits.

Turkey could have gotten these same terms six years ago, but it thought it could force Israel into conceding more. Had Israel’s chattering classes had their way, Ankara would have been right. But all the warnings of dire consequences if Israel refused to capitulate proved false.

Evelyn Gordon continues to explain that in the intervening years of frozen relations, Israel has made significant progress economically and diplomatically, while things have not gone so well for Turkey. There are therefore “lessons to be learned”, as she puts it, vis a vis Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians.

Another commentator who views the agreement as a healthy compromise is Raphael Ahren in the Times of Israel, writing that Israel and Turkey find a magical solution where everyone is a winner:

A sober look at the facts reveals that there are no big winners or losers. Both sides made significant concessions to clinch a deal.


The deal Netanyahu and Turkish counterpart, Binali Yıldırım, announced nearly simultaneously — the former in Rome, the latter in Ankara — allows both sides to save face.

Ankara celebrates having “lifted” the blockade of Gaza, because the agreement allows it to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of the Strip, including building a power station and desalination plant there.

But Jerusalem was quick to point out it that it refused to compromise on the naval blockade.

“It will remain as it is,” Netanyahu said.

The Turks’ efforts to help ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are clearly in Israel’s interest, the prime minister added, pointing out that Israel had at no stage refused to let Turkey provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza as long as the blockade remained intact.

This is perhaps the agreement’s biggest accomplishment. It allows Ankara to announce that it is helping build Gaza, but keeps entirely in place the policy Israel has set up to try to prevent arms from entering the Strip.

The families of two Israeli soldiers whose bodies are held by Hamas, and of two Israeli civilians held in Gaza, unsurprisingly accused the prime minister of selling them out. But as Netanyahu noted, Turkey doesn’t rule Gaza. Hamas does. And the Turkish president, he noted, has now promised to help return Israeli soldiers and captives from Gaza.

Neither Israel nor Turkey got everything they wanted, but each got enough to declare themselves the winner of this half-decade long standoff. This arrangement will be criticized in Jerusalem and in Ankara, but ultimately it serves the interests of both countries, and that’s why it will be signed. It’s called diplomacy.

Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field

It looks like there may be trouble ahead however with the proposed gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey raising objections from several quarters, most notably from Russia and the US, but Cyprus too is unhappy:

Russia, from which Turkey imports 55%-60% of its natural gas, will do everything in its power to prevent this project from getting off the ground. Russia is one of the largest oil and gas exporters in the world. Fifty percent of its economy is based on that export; the international sanctions against it, combined with falling oil prices, have hammered the country.

Gas executives believe Russia will follow a strategy of volume over value – similar to Saudi Arabia’s oil strategy – in order to maintain its hold on the market. A VP for state-owned Gazprom recently said the country would raise its gas production in 2016 by 8%, from 418.5 BCM in 2015 to 452 BCM in 2016.

Last month, after the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was reported Putin wanted to participate in the development of the Israeli gas reservoirs; this month, it was reported Netanyahu invited Putin to do so. The Israeli defense establishment is concerned the Russians seek to sabotage the development of Leviathan to thwart competition with Russian gas – or at least to ensure it is not sold to Europe or Turkey.

Then there is the US, which began to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) last February. For now, it has only succeeded in exporting to Latin America. It had one European delivery – to Portugal – but there is no doubt its eyes are set on the Europe.

But beyond the cost and the technical challenge, there is also the question of Cyprus. The proposed pipeline between Israel and Turkey would pass through Cypriot economic waters – requiring the country’s approval. But relations between Cyprus and Turkey have been frosty since the latter occupied the northern part of the island in 1974.

A Cypriot energy executive – who preferred to remain anonymous – was furious at the deal between Israel and Turkey. He said, “a gas export deal between Israel and Turkey is a point of no return for Israeli-Cypriot ties. Israel is encouraging the conduct of Turkey on the island; it is not acceptable.”

Turkish commentator Burak Bekdil at the Gatestone Institute, also pours a dampener on any celebratory sentiments talks about Turkey’s shotgun wedding with Israel: (emphases added):

If, however, Ankara and Jerusalem finally shake hands after six years of cold war, it will be because Turkey feels increasingly isolated internationally, not because it feels any genuine friendship for the Jewish nation.

There are two major problems that will probably block a genuine normalization. One is Hamas, and the other is the seemingly irreversible anti-Semitism which most Turks devour.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed more than once that Hamas is not a terrorist group but a legitimate political party. He has held innumerable meetings with senior Hamas officials including Khaled Mashaal, head of its political bureau. In addition, Erdogan came up with the idea that Zionism should be declared a “crime against humanity.”

Anti-Semitism, as mentioned, is the other problem. Erdogan deliberately spread anti-Semitic sentiments to an already xenophobic society until he decided to go (relatively) silent when he recently realized that Turkey’s cold war with Israel was not sustainable. This does not mean that his or Turkish society’s views regarding Jews have changed.

Bekdil elaborates on the roots of this deep-seated Turkish antisemitism in another article, entitled Turkey’s Conquest Fetish:

There is more than enough evidence about the Turkish Islamists’ “conquest-fetish.” Turkey’s leaders have too often spoken of “liberating Jerusalem and making the city the capital of an independent Palestine.”

Erdogan and his fellow Islamists are keen admirers of the idea that Muslim Turks capture lands belonging to other civilizations because, in this mindset, “conquest” means the spread of Islam. That is hardly surprising: political Islam typically features a tendency to spread to non-Islamist or non-Muslim parts of the world. But the way Erdogan defends “conquest,” even in the year 2016, looks just too ridiculous.

It is amazing that Erdogan still has the power to shock — in absurdity — even the most seasoned Erdogan observers. In his narrative, Muslim Turks have never invaded foreign lands by the force of the sword. What they did was just conquering hearts. This is not even funny.

It is sad to consider that these “fairy tales from Erdoganistan” (as Bekdil calls them) could have provided the fertile breeding ground for the terrorists who carried out yesterday’s horrific terror attack at Attaturk Airport in Istanbul, most likely carried out by ISIS or one of its offshoots, in which 36 people were killed and scores injured.

If only Erdogan would return to Earth and recognize reality, stop with his fairy tales of Zionist (aka Jewish) power and Turkish innocence, maybe his people could be the beneficiaries of a warm relationship with Israel, with all the economic, diplomatic and technological benefits entailed, as well as improved security for their nation on both the domestic and international fronts.

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5 Responses to Another look at the Israel-Turkey reconciliation deal

  1. Pingback: Another look at the Israel-Turkey reconciliation deal – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Henry says:

    When the Saudis opened the spigot and the price of oil halved, US shale oil collapsed causing bankruptcies and the hoped for LNG exports didn’t materialize. Cheap Israeli gas going into Europe inside Gazprom’s pipelines would put a dagger in that heart.

    Gazprom (Russia) needs revenue and Europe is tired of what she perceives is gouging by Gazprom. Turkey needs gas and Russia might be better off allowing some of it to come from Israel with more being exported to Europe than having the Russia supply it all. Why? Gazprom earns more by also getting in on the Jordan and Egypian and who knows what other pipelines that eventually come into being. I’d rather see Israel supply the gas since it then controls the shutoff valve.

    Turkey will have to tone down anti-Semitsm if it wants a reasonable amount of Israeli tourism ever again. Turkey first has to have security, and as we found out yesterday it’s airports aren’t secure.

    Brexit might just move the power of the EU from Brussels to France and Germany, who both now realize their current immigration policies might destroy a continent. The EU has to change and Europe might just welcome Israeli gas piped by Gazprom. For the right price anything can happen.

    Putin can play political chess far better than Obama. Who else is at his level? We’ll know soon enough if Bibi is that good. I believe he is.

    • anneinpt says:

      Very interesting analysis Henry! Thank you for your insight, especially as it’s rather more optimistic than anything else I’ve read. I hope you are correct in your assessments. It all certainly sounds plausible. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  3. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Now, now, Anne, you know very well that not all “Leftists” are as you claim! I am constantly accused by our older daughter of being “right-wing” on Israel. Unlike my wife, I accept the label with pride. As I would, given an equivalent existential threat to the UK (which is how I regard Brexit, but that’s another story).

    We democrats but show a little more understanding on these issues towards each others stances on them.

    In other words, “this is where I live (and spiritually, Israel is where I live just as where I live physically is elsewhere), I will do almost anything to defend where I live”. And I will still usually vote Labour (once Corbyn is gone), or, were I in Israel, Labor.

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