Is Turkey an Enemy of Israel? A Deep Dive into a Complex Relationship

There have been times of both cooperation and tension in the complicated and constantly changing relationship between Israel and Turkey. Although the two nations have always maintained a strategic alliance, there has been a noticeable decline in their relationship in recent years, which has many wondering if Turkey is now Israel’s enemy.

To understand the current state of the relationship, it’s crucial to delve into its history and examine the factors that have contributed to its current trajectory

A History of Ups and Downs: From Strategic Alliance to Growing Tensions

The Early Years: A Strategic Partnership

The foundation of the Israel-Turkey relationship was laid in the 1990s, driven by a shared interest in regional security and economic cooperation In 1996, the two countries signed a landmark military agreement that solidified their strategic partnership This agreement facilitated joint military exercises, arms sales, and intelligence sharing, positioning Turkey as a crucial ally for Israel in a region fraught with geopolitical complexities.

Shifting Tides: The Rise of Erdoğan and Growing Discord

When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the country’s leader, the relationship started to fall apart. With an increasingly assertive foreign policy, the Erdoğan administration frequently sided with entities hostile to Israel, including Iran and Hamas. The relationship suffered greatly as a result of this change in foreign policy and Erdoğan’s more outspoken criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

The Gaza War and a Diplomatic Rupture

The 2008-2009 Gaza War marked a turning point in the relationship. Diplomatic relations completely collapsed as a result of Turkey’s denunciation of Israel’s actions during the conflict and the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli forces raided a Turkish ship trying to break the Gaza blockade.

A Patchy Reconciliation: Normalization and Lingering Concerns

Diplomatic relations were partially restored in 2016 after years of estrangement, and full normalization took place in the middle of 2022. But even with the resumption of diplomatic relations, worries about the underlying conflicts and the possibility of future strife persist.

Key Factors Shaping the Relationship: A Multifaceted Analysis

Geopolitical Realignments: Turkey’s shift towards closer ties with Russia and Iran, coupled with its growing assertiveness in the Eastern Mediterranean, has created friction with Israel, which views these developments as a threat to its regional interests.

Ideological Divergence: A lack of trust and understanding has been exacerbated by the ideological differences between Israel’s secular democracy and the Islamist leanings of the Erdoğan administration.

The Palestinian Issue: The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a major point of contention, with Turkey’s vocal support for the Palestinian cause often clashing with Israel’s security concerns.

Domestic Politics: Domestic political considerations in both countries often influence the rhetoric and policies towards each other, further complicating the relationship.

Is Turkey an Enemy of Israel? A Nuanced Perspective

While the relationship between Israel and Turkey has undoubtedly deteriorated in recent years, labeling Turkey as an outright enemy of Israel would be an oversimplification. Despite the tensions, there remain areas of cooperation, such as energy and trade. Additionally, both countries recognize the importance of maintaining a dialogue, even amidst their disagreements.

However, it’s undeniable that the relationship faces significant challenges. The underlying factors contributing to the tensions remain unresolved, and the potential for future escalation cannot be discounted.

Looking Ahead: Uncertainties and Possibilities

The future of the Israel-Turkey relationship remains uncertain. The trajectory will likely depend on several factors, including:

  • The evolution of Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies under the Erdoğan administration.
  • The progress, or lack thereof, in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
  • The broader geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East, particularly the rivalry between Turkey and Israel’s regional allies.

Despite the current challenges, there is still room for cautious optimism. Both countries have a history of overcoming past differences, and the potential for renewed cooperation exists. However, navigating the complexities of the relationship will require a concerted effort from both sides to address the underlying tensions and build trust.

Turkey’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinian territories

KEVIN HUGGARD: What role does this issue play in Turkey’s broader foreign policy? Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, what position has Turkey traditionally taken on Israeli-Palestinian affairs?

ASLI AYDINTA\BA: Erdoğan’s vision for Turkey revolves around the Palestinian issue to the forefront.

The two non-Arab states in the region, Israel and Turkey, have been enthralled with one another for a significant portion of their 74-year relationship.

But over the past two decades under Erdoğan, relations have been tumultuous, often in parallel with the ups and downs in Israeli-Palestinian tensions. In 2009, Erdoğan walked out of a panel with Shimon Peres in Davos after accusing the former Israeli president of killing children. In 2010, a Turkish aid flotilla tried to break the blockade of Gaza, leading to a deadly Israeli raid and years of cold peace between the two countries.

Although ties between Turkey and Israel were repaired in 2022, they have substantially worsened since Israel’s military operations in Gaza and the Hamas attack on October 7. Though trade relations continue, both countries have recalled their ambassadors due to Erdoğan’s extremely tough stance against Israel.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted dramatically from the Kemalist era before him in two areas.

The first is Erdoğan’s belief in the legitimacy of Hamas as a viable Palestinian actor, which is a natural outcome of his ideological affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood. Erdoğan believes Hamas needs to be part of the political process and has moved the Turkish establishment toward that idea. Hamas has had a presence in Turkey and sent delegations there since it won the Palestinian elections in 2006. I should note that Ankara’s engagement is with Hamas’ political wing; as far as I know, there has been no Turkish support for the group’s military wing in Gaza. But Erdoğan has been open about his political support for Hamas — whose political representatives were reportedly in Turkey at the time of the attack.

Another distinction from the pre-Erdoğan age is the central role of the Palestinian issue in Turkey’s aspirations for regional leadership — and Erdoğan’s use of neo-Ottomanism to sell that idea to Turkish voters. The Turkish president has built his political platform on the theme of an ascending Turkey — with a historic responsibility to protect the dispossessed Muslim populations in the region, including, of course, the Palestinians. This notion of Turkish exceptionalism runs through all of Erdoğan’s foreign policy speeches and is at the core of his “Century of Turkey” platform. It also works well domestically for the voters: Erdoğan is the only leader standing up to Israel and the West, we are often told. This is how he wants to be remembered, as the leader who oversaw the rebirth of the Turkish empire and who hasn’t forgotten the Palestinians and Jerusalem.

Turkey’s response to the crisis

According to the evidence, “the Turkish establishment views this as an inflection point, not a passing flare-up of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” as you write in your policy paper. ” Kevin Huggard asks how Turkey has responded to the current crisis. Given this, has Turkey’s approach to policy thus far diverged from its usual position toward Israel and Palestine?

ASLI AYDINTAŞBAŞ: Erdoğan is known for his pragmatism and his skillful use of geopolitics to expand Turkey’s interests. When it suits his interests, he is willing to make concessions, renounce his beliefs, walk the tightrope between the West and Russia, and make apologies with enemies. But not on the Palestinian issue. There is no pragmatism there. In Erdoğan’s view, speaking out against Israel’s actions is his calling, even if it means facing isolation. It is clearly personal, ideological, and near and dear to his heart.

Turkey has taken the most strident anti-Israeli position within NATO, with Erdoğan organizing pro-Palestinian rallies himself and slamming both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the United States. But he may have gone overboard this time. Erdoğan has called Hamas a “liberation movement” — openly stating “Hamas is not a terrorist organization” and accusing Israel of committing “genocide.” Of course, this is very different from what many Arab leaders have done, which is criticizing Israel for its disregard for Palestinian civilians while also keeping their distance from Hamas.

I was shocked to discover how strongly Turkish diplomats and officials, including secularists, felt about the U S. S. approach they were. The West is often accused of using double standards in how it responds to civilian casualties in Gaza and Ukraine.

These talks also revealed to me that Turks do not believe the threat of regional war has diminished. They see the U. S. military buildup in the Eastern Mediterranean, contrary to what the Biden administration believes, as a provocation for Iran and Russia They seemed to think that this could still become a watershed moment in the region, with Russia or Iran’s proxies getting more involved, or even a new intifada.

Turkey’s Erdogan Remains an Enemy of Israel


What did Turkey say about Israel?

NATO member Turkey, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has criticised Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza, called it a “terror state” and said its leaders must be tried in international courts.

Could Turkey go to war with Israel?

Can Turkey take on Israel from the military point of view? No because outside of the US, China and Russia, most countries cant fight a full war at long distances. Turkey would have to go through Lebanon and Syria to attack Israel with logistics being a major problem.

Does Turkey support Hamas?

Since he first came to power more than 20 years ago, Turkey has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinians, including Hamas.

Who is stronger Turkey or Israel?

Originally Answered: How strong is israel? Surprisingly strong. The Israeli Defense Force is ranked #11 among the world’s militaries, right after Turkey, which has the second largest military in NATO.

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