ANKARA: In an interesting move that transcends a years-long diplomatic standoff between the two countries, Turkey began supplying medical equipment to Israel to help the country in its struggle against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
The medical package comprises face masks, surgical gloves and protective coveralls.
Israel also recently acquired 1 million masks from China to protect its soldiers working on the frontlines against contagion.
The cargo will be delivered to Turkey’s southern Incirlik Air Base and will be picked by planes coming from Israel, where nearly 100 people have already lost their lives due to the virus.
In return, Israel is set to green light Turkey’s shipment of medical aid to the Palestinian Authority, according to the Bloomberg report.
Relations between Turkey and Israel broke down in May 2010 during the Mavi Marmara crisis, in which a Turkish-owned aid flotilla, attempting to breach the Gaza Strip blockade, was raided by Israeli commandos, who killed 10 activists.
Following this assault, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged that Israel should be punished for its “bloody massacre.”
In March 2013, with US mediation, Israel and Turkey’s prime ministers proceeded to normalize diplomatic ties and stop legal action against the former Israeli commanders, while making arrangements to compensate the victims’ families.
Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, described this solidarity move from Ankara as “corona-diplomacy” — the achievement of political goals through humanitarian help.
“This is surely a very interesting development, yet I doubt it will break the ice between Turkey and Israel as the friction between them has been especially deep during the last decade,” Wasilewski told Arab News.
“When it comes to the Palestinian issue, Israeli authorities are aware that if the disease spreads rapidly there — especially in Gaza — this will constitute a huge challenge for Israel itself, so agreeing on Turkish aid for the Palestinian Authority is just pragmatism,” Wasilewski added.
When it comes to the Palestinian issue, Israeli authorities are aware that if the disease spreads rapidly there — especially in Gaza — this will constitute a huge challenge for Israel itself, so agreeing on Turkish aid for the Palestinian Authority is just pragmatism.
Karol Wasilewski, Analyst
“Turkey is probably one of the strongest supporters of Palestinians around the world, so it was only natural they would extend help.”
Wasilewski did not completely exclude the possibility that the Turkish are hopeful such a humanitarian gesture may contribute to mending Turkish-Israeli ties. Therefore, although Turkey’s assistance has a humanitarian dimension, it also serves to further the country’s foreign policy objectives.
In December, Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) claimed that Israeli officials are ready to discuss with their Turkish counterparts a proposal to build a gas pipeline from Israeli reservoirs through Turkey onto the European continent. Ankara has not offered official confirmation, however.
According to Wasilewski, although Turkish decision-makers are reluctant to recognize such talks — as the electorate may not accept them — repairing Turkish-Israeli ties would be a huge win for Turkey, especially when it comes to the issue of resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
A reservoir of about 800 billion cubic meters of natural gas lies under the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields off the Israeli shore, per projections of the Israeli Ministry of Energy.
“While Turkey is showing its generosity in this difficult period, I think this step in itself will not be enough to repair relations,” Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior research fellow from the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv told Arab News.
“It was also meant as a way to assist the Palestinians in parallel to Israel.”
Still, according to Lindenstrauss, the move was covered by Israeli media, and it may thus contribute in a small way to improving the image of Turkey in the eyes of the Israeli public.
On the economic front, Israel recently increased import of steel from Turkey, a trend that continues from last year.
However, indulging in antisemitic conspiracy theories is still a matter of daily routine for some segments of Turkish politics.
In a speech on early March, Fatih Erbakan, head of Turkey’s Islamist Refah Party, blamed Israel for the outbreak of COVID-19.
“This virus serves Zionism’s population control goals, and there is significant research to attest to this. Zionism is a five-thousand-year-old bacteria that has triggered the suffering of people,” Erbakan said.