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Turkey-Israel common interests in the Middle East

Analytics | Elmira Hasanova | 18-08-2017, 11:20

The Republic of Turkey and the State of Israel have a number of conflicting interests in the Middle East. This article, however, will review their common interests in the region.

Counterterrorism or fight against terrorism: The interest number one, of course, is the protection of security and stability in the region. Security and stability are part and parcel of the both countries’ interests. As we know, the region is considered a cradle of many terrorist organizations. The efforts taken for fighting terrorism and ensuring domestic stability are   important for both Turkey and Israel. In November 1994, the both countries signed agreements for cooperation against terrorism in order to protect their nationals and preserve stability in the region.

On 19 March 2016, a suicide bombing organized by ISIS took place in Istanbul's Beyoğlu district. Among those killed, two were of dual Israeli-American nationality and one of Israeli nationality. In the aftermath of the attack the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote a letter of condolences to his Israeli colleague Reuven Rivlin, saying he was “very sorry” to hear that three Israelis were killed and 10 wounded in the attack. The letter stated: “I want to send my deepest condolences to the Israeli people and the families that lost their loved ones in this traitorous attack." On March 20, Dore Gold, the director-general of Israel`s Foreign Ministry, came to Istanbul to hold talks with the undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlioğlu and the governor of Istanbul Vasip Şahin about the terrorist attack perpetrated by ISIL. Dore Gold thanked the Turkish government for what it had done in the aftermath of the attack and underlined the need for an alliance in the fight against terror.

Syrian issue and collaboration: The conflict in Syria could be a source of either cooperation or tension between Israel and Turkey. The latter is now actively engaged in the fight against ISIS and has been targeted with a series of attacks from the radical Sunni Jihadist actor. This creates an added impetus for Turkey to restore ties with Israel, which could facilitate intelligence and other cooperation against the terror threat. That said, Turkey has recently cooperated with Russia and Iran on a ceasefire deal for Syria which excludes the United States. Until recently, Turkey had been demanding Bashar al-Assad’s removal and was in tension with Iran over the future of Syria, but the Russian-led process could leave Iran and its proxy Hezbollah with a significant presence in the country. This is a source of growing concern in Israel. Furthermore, Turkey’s overriding priority is to keep Kurdish fighters away from its borders, whereas Israelis are instinctively sympathetic to the aspirations of the Kurds, as a non-Arab minority seeking independence in the region.

Gaza Strip issue: The Gaza Strip issue is one of the most intense ones in the relations between Israel and Turkey. On 27 June 2016, Turkey and Israel signed a Reconciliation agreement ending the standoff that had lasted for many years, and reached a deal. According to the agreement, Turkey will accept to send all aid to the Gaza Strip through Israel and then from Israel to Gaza by land and Israel will allow Turkey to advance humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip, such as building a hospital, power station and a desalination station, all subject to Israeli security considerations. 

Turkey has sent its first aid shipment to the Gaza Strip in six years after the country struck a reconciliation deal with Israel. The Lady Leyla ship—carrying 11,000 tons of humanitarian aid including food, clothing and toys—docked at the Israeli port of Ashdod. The cargo was unloaded and transported overland to Gaza in time for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Qatar-Gulf crisis: On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt abruptly cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, allegedly due to the latter’s “funding and supporting terrorist organizations in the Middle East”. What approaches do Turkey and Israel pursue towards the Qatar crisis? 

“I’d like to say that we don’t find sanctions against Qatar right,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish President, said at the gathering in Ankara. “The most appropriate way for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to solve their internal issues is through dialogue. In this regard, we admire Qatar’s constructive and cool-headed approach”. Erdoğan has ratified two deals allowing the Turkish troops' deployment to Qatar and training the Gulf nation's gendarmerie, according to the presidency. He expressed disapproval of the sanctions imposed on Qatar by several Arab countries and added that Turkey would “continue and develop” its ties with Qatar. Turkey set up a military base in Qatar, its first such installation in the Middle East, as part of an agreement signed in 2014. In 2016, Ahmet Davutoğlu, then Turkish prime minister, visited the base where 150 troops were already stationed. Consequently, Turkey will support Qatar in this case.

Israel has shared interests with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in opposing Iran. Because Qatar has supported Hamas, the new crisis encourages those states that oppose Qatar to see Israel as a partner against Hamas and Iran. This relationship has already been quietly growing in recent years, but the crisis with Qatar allows writers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to speak out more strongly against Hamas.Nevertheless, the State of Israel remains neutral.

In conclusion, it is necessary to state that for the sake of peace and security in the region the both sides are interested in resolving this crisis.


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Elmira Hasanova

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