Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Turkish and Israeli flags are displayed before an El Al Israel Airlines cargo flight is loaded, Istanbul, May 24, 2020. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 26 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.


US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

Updated 53 min 23 sec ago

US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

  • The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government
  • Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians

BEIRUT: The United States called on Saturday for a transparent and credible investigation into the massive port blast in Beirut that killed 172 people and said Lebanon could never go back to the days “in which anything goes” at its ports and borders.
The Aug. 4 blast, which the authorities say was caused by more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been unsafely stored at the port for years, injured 6,000 people, damaged swathes of the city and left 300,000 homeless.
Some 30 people remain missing.
“Seeing it on television is one thing, seeing it up close is another. It’s really overwhelming,” David Hale, US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said after visiting the port.
“We can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the port or the borders of Lebanon that had to contribute to this situation,” Hale said. “Every sovereign state controls its ports and its borders thoroughly and I imagine all Lebanese would like to return to that era.”
He added that FBI agents would be arriving this weekend, at the invitation of Lebanon, to help find out what exactly happened and what led to the explosion.
The blast has fueled anger at ruling politicians who were already facing heavy criticism over a financial meltdown that has sunk the currency, left savers unable to withdraw their money, and fueled poverty and unemployment since October.
President Michel Aoun has said a probe will look into whether the cause of the blast was negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
The heavily armed Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, said on Friday it would wait for results of the official Lebanese investigation into the blast.
But if it turns out to be an act of sabotage by Israel then it would “pay an equal price”, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address. Israel has denied any role in the explosion.
Nasrallah also said his group was against an international investigation because its first purpose would be to “distance Israel from any responsibility for this explosion, if it had responsibility.” He said the participation of the FBI in an investigation would serve the same purpose.
The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government, which formed in January with backing of Hezbollah and its allies including Aoun.
Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians.
In his strongest intervention yet since the blast, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai also said the church reserved the right to veto any proposals that further jeopardize Lebanon.
His comments in a sermon were reported by Lebanese broadcaster LBC.
The Maronite church exercises political sway in a country where the head of state must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Iran backs Hezbollah and in a visit to Beirut on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said international efforts should help Lebanon rather than “impose anything on it.”
Western visitors including French President Emmanuel Macron and the US State Department’s Hale have called for Lebanon to implement reforms including anti-corruption measures that the country’s leaders have avoided for years.