June 28, 2016
TSG IntelBrief: Israel and Turkey Restore Relations
After six years of strained relations following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident—in which Israeli forces stormed the Mavi Marmara ship as it sought to break the Gaza blockade, killing ten Turkish citizens—Israel and Turkey announced a plan to fully restore relations between the formerly friendly countries. The June 27 announcement, which was tailored by each country for their respective domestic audiences, involves more than reopening embassies and credentialing ambassadors. The normalization of relations is a rare case of conflict resolution amid deep-seated differences in a region bereft of positive geopolitical developments.
As part of the deal, Israel agreed to pay $20 million into a fund for the the families of the ten Turkish citizens killed in 2010. The naval blockade of Gaza remains in place, though Turkey is now permitted to provide needed aid to Gaza through the Israeli port of Ashdod. The framework allows Turkey to effectively claim that it lifted the Gaza blockade—a key Israeli security concern—even as it remains in place. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that under the deal Turkey would help restrain Hamas, which will continue to have a presence in Turkey, and press the group to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
The return of Turkish-Israeli relations will have an unknown, but likely limited, impact on the war in Syria. Of the two countries, Turkey is far more invested in the removal of the Assad regime. Both countries have terrorism concerns that are exacerbated by the civil war, though Israel is not fretting the rising casualties of its main enemy, Hizballah. Both Turkey and Israel have their own reasons to counter Iranian influence in the region, and the resumption of relations is mutually beneficial in this respect.
During the six-year diplomatic hiatus, economic ties between Israel and Turkey continued; in 2014, trade between the two countries exceeded $5 billion. That figure will likely grow much larger in the coming years if potential natural gas deals are realized. It is the prospect of natural gas trade and cooperation that is the most significant aspect of this recent development—not just between the two countries, but with the EU as well.
In recent years, Israel has discovered enormous natural gas reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean. These gas fields—including Leviathan, Tamar, and Daniel East and Daniel West—would make Israel a major energy supplier if fully developed and capitalized. To fully exploit these fields, Israel will need a pipeline to Turkey, where it can be sold for Turkish consumption and moved further north into the EU. Both Turkey and the EU are eager to find non-Russian sources of natural gas. A June 27 report that Ankara had apologized to Russia for shooting down one of its fighter jets last November may help alleviate tensions between the two countries. Ankara, however, will still welcome energy options outside of Moscow’s sphere of influence. If the Israeli-Turkish natural gas pathway becomes a reality, the economic benefits to Israel and the larger geopolitical consequences will be significant.
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