ANKARA: Turkey has informed Israel it is set to appoint an ambassador to Tel Aviv once Israel commits to simultaneously reciprocating the gesture, according to a media report.
Newspaper Israel Hayom, citing a senior Turkish official, made the claim on Monday. Turkey has not confirmed the report.
Analysts said that following a decade-long deterioration in bilateral ties, especially after the Mavi Marmara incident when Israeli commandos boarded a ship in a Gaza aid flotilla and Turkish activists died, both sides would need to restore trust with each other through concrete and sincere steps, rather than immediately expect the red carpet treatment.
From the Turkish side, any diplomatic reconciliation with Israel would try to break its regional isolation and also please US President Joe Biden’s administration.
However, the presence of senior Hamas officials in Turkey remains the major stumbling block in any rapprochement between the two countries.
The Hamas office in Istanbul, seen as a safe haven for the group’s senior members, is allegedly run by the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. The group reportedly set up a secret facility in Istanbul to conduct cyberattacks on Israel.
Turkey’s hosting of a senior Hamas delegation last year was also condemned by Washington, DC.
But, since December, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toned down the rhetoric and hinted at Turkey’s willingness to restore ties with Israel. He publicly declared that Israeli and Turkish intelligence cooperation continued.
“Ankara had already signaled its wish to improve relations with Israel a few months ago, but Israel’s response to the Turkish overtures was quite muted,” Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News. “It seems that Turkey is losing its patience and would like to advance in the direction of the return of the ambassadors in the immediate term to break some of its isolation in the diplomatic front.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is expected to begin consultations with representatives of the parties elected to the Knesset to begin the process of forming a new government, following the recent election. But there is still the possibility of a fifth election in a two-year period.
Lindenstrauss added that there was no major impediment to the return of ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara because relations were not formally downgraded in 2018. It was, she said, an issue that could theoretically be advanced even with a caretaker government in Israel if a professional diplomat was chosen.
On March 20 some Istanbul-based TV channels affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood - El Sharq TV, Watan TV, Mekameleen - were ordered by Ankara to stop airing anti-Egypt rhetoric in their political shows otherwise penalties would be imposed.
This move to curb Muslim Brotherhood channels could be seen as another message of reconciliation with Israel if Turkey also commits to meeting Israel’s demands in this field and removes some senior Hamas leaders living in Turkey.
“With regard to the activity of Hamas, Ankara has also signaled that it is less tolerant to the movement’s military activity on its soil and hence is moving in the right direction on this issue from Israel’s perspective,” Lindenstrauss said.
During a visit to Cyprus in early March, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Tel Aviv was ready to cooperate with Turkey on natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, and expressed his hopes that Ankara could join the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in the future.
But last week Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a harsh statement about “Israel’s recent evacuation, destruction and confiscation decisions against Palestinians” violating international law. It also urged the international community to stand on the side of the Palestinian people against Israel’s expansionist policies.
“Turkey has recently launched a charm offensive to repair relations with countries in the region, including Israel and Egypt,” Dr. Selin Nasi, the London representative of the Ankara Policy Center, told Arab News. “While Israel has received Turkey’s overtures with skepticism, it nevertheless leaves the door open for negotiations.”
Nasi said that Ankara may also take measures to reassure Israel’s security concerns, such as limiting the activities of Hamas offices operating on Turkish territory or expelling senior Hamas officials, the way Turkey did prior to the normalization deal with Israel in 2016.
“Turkey and Israel have converging interests when it comes to regional security, trade relations and energy cooperation. However, Israel is not in a rush to restore relations with Turkey as it gained an advantageous position in the Middle East, at the expense of Turkey, with the post-Abraham Accord security landscape.”
Nasi also said that Turkey may have stepped up normalization efforts with Israel in the wake of press reports saying that Biden would refer to the 1915 massacre of Armenians as “genocide” on the upcoming April 24 anniversary.
“Turkey might be hoping to win back support of the Israeli lobbies in the US Congress, in this regard. Against this backdrop, Israel is likely to set Turkey’s recalibrating ties with Hamas as a condition for normalization.”
Turkey called back its ambassador in 2018 but did not downgrade the level of diplomatic representation, she explained, and sending back ambassadors was a technical matter. Now that the elections were over, Israel’s domestic political conjuncture provided a more conducive environment for Ankara’s normalization efforts.
“Still, given the bad blood between the two leaders, a change of government in Israel would make it easier for Erdogan to make the first move in restoring ties with Israel,” Nasi said.