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Middle east

Tumultuous times: Turkish–Israeli relations over a decade

Text by Mehdi Chebil

Latest update : 2010-06-01

Extensive ties have long existed between Israel and Turkey, ranging from a mutually beneficial economic and diplomatic relationship to military cooperation. FRANCE24 examines the diplomatic highs and lows between the two over the last decade.

Turkey has long been Israel’s main ally in the Middle East, with far-reaching economic, diplomatic and military ties existing between the two countries. It was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise the State of Israel in March 1949, and both countries signed a key military treaty in 1996. Military cooperation between the two encompasses joint military exercises, sales of military equipment, and the use of Turkish airspace for Israeli air force training.

However, the relationship between the two countries has started to crumble in recent years, with the 2008 Gaza war leading to a sharp deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations.

In the latest crisis, Turkey warned Israel of “irreparable consequences” after at least ten people were killed when Israeli navy commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza. Turkey had earlier requested that the flotilla be granted safe passage to the blockaded, Hamas-ruled territory.

Below are the key moments in Turkish – Israeli relations over the last decade:

January 2000:

Free trade agreement (FTA) signed between Israel and Turkey, the first such accord between a predominantly Muslim country and the Jewish state. In February 2009, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel exports $1.5 billion in good and services to Turkey annually, and imports more than $1 billion.

November 2002:

The Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) is swept to power after a landslide electoral victory and portrays itself as a mediator in the long-standing Israeli-Arab conflict.

February 2006:

Turkish President Gul Abdullah hosts Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Ankara just one month after the Islamist movement win Palestinian legislative elections. While the international community isolates Hamas, Turkey defends its contact with the party, arguing that it is essential if Turkey is to effectively play its mediating role between Israel and the Arabs.

May - December 2008:

Turkey hosts five rounds of Israeli-Syrian talks in an attempt to seal a comprehensive peace agreement in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The talks end abruptly when Israel launches its Cast Lead offensive on Gaza in December 2008.

December 2008:

Israeli–Turkish relations hit a low point after Israel launches a massive three-week long offensive by land, air and sea on densely-populated Gaza to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at its territory. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan infuriates Israel by describing the Gaza assault as a “crime against humanity”.

January 2009:

Erdogan storms out of the Davos World Economic Forum after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

“When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know very well how you hit and killed children on beaches”, said Erdogan, referring to the some 300 Palestinian minors killed in the Israeli offensive.

January 2010:

Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon humiliates the Turkish Ambassador to Israel on television by having him seated on a low chair, prompting public outcry in Turkey. Ayalon had initially summoned Turkey’s ambassador to rebuke him over a controversial anti-Israel TV series depicting Israeli soldiers as baby-snatchers.

May  2010:

On 25 May Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses a Turkish-sponsored uranium deal with Iran as a “bogus suggestion” and an “Iranian act of deception (…) meant to divert international opinion from the sanctions against Iran in the Security Council”.

Under the widely-criticised deal (which was also signed by Brazil), Iran will ship its nuclear reactors’ low-grade uranium to Turkey, which in return will provide Tehran with medium-enriched uranium for a medical research reactor.

Less than a week later, on 31 May Turkey calls for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, and recalls its ambassador from Tel Aviv to protest against Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid. 

“This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism. Nobody should think we will keep quiet in the face of this,” said Prime Minister Erdogan, as street protests rocked Istanbul and Ankara.

Date created : 2010-05-31


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