Turkey: Two Years After Flotilla Incident, Relations with Israel Still Sinking
Yigal Schleifer May 31, 2012
Two years after Turkey-Israel relations broke down because of the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists during a botched raid of an aid ship heading to Gaza, the two countries remain estranged with little indication that a breakthrough in the diplomatic impasse between them is forthcoming. The Turkish government continues to demand that an apology for the event be given and that compensation to the families of those killed be offered. Although Israel appears ready to pay compensation, it has refused to apologize, seeking instead to express its "regret" over the incident.
That said, there are still some signs of life left in the relationship. Israeli tourists, who once flocked to Turkey but then stopped coming in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident, are slowly returning to Turkish resorts. Trade relations between Turkey and Israel, meanwhile, have continued to flourish, despite the tension, leading some to suggest that it's in the economic sphere where the two countries might be able to find a "fresh start."
For now, though, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives, making a "fresh start" unlikely in the near future. Only a few days ago, a Turkish court approved a prosecutor's indictment which seeks several life sentences for Israeli military commanders involved in the Mavi Marmara raid. Turkey also made it a policy to veto Israeli participation in NATO events. Meanwhile, tension between Jerusalem and Ankara has also been building over the issue of oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and over Israel's growing cooperation over energy issues with Greek Cyprus. Earlier this month the Turkish military accused an Israeli aircraft of violating the airspace of the Turkish northern part of Cyprus, while Turkey's state-run news agency ran an inflammatory item that suggested the Israeli government has asked the Greek Cypriot administration to allow it to place 20,000 commandos on the island to protect any energy facilities that might be built there. Israeli officials denied the report. The level of mistrust between Turkey and Israel has reached such a high level that, as reported earlier on this blog, the recent discovery by Turkish farmers in southeast Turkey of a bird with a band on its leg that read "Israel" led to an investigation in order to make sure the bird was not fitted by the Mossad with spying equipment.
Considering the destabilizing nature of recent regional developments, particularly the crisis in Syria, fixing their relationship would appear to be in the interest of both Turkey and Israel. But with Ankara's continued insistence on a full apology and Israel's refusal to give that apology has left both countries painted into a corner that neither seems able to get out of. It's a situation that requires more than strong trade ties and growing tourist numbers to fix.