New Beginnings in Turkish - Israeli Relations: Expectations and Realities

On March 29, THO hosted “New Beginnings in Turkish-Israeli Relations: Expectations and Realities” in NYC with a distinguished panel of speakers: Prof. Dr. Gulnur Aybet (Professor of International Relations at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul), Dr. Raphael Danziger* (consultant/expert on Turkish-Israeli relations), and Dr. Brenda Shaffer (Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and Visiting Professor at Georgetown University). The discussion was moderated by the Chair of THO’s Advisory Board, Dr. Mark Meirowitz, who is also an Assistant Professor at SUNY Maritime College.

The speakers discussed the recent rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, which began in earnest last summer. The two countries broke off relations in May 2010, after a raid by Israeli commandos on a Turkish aid ship attempting to break the Gaza blockade killed ten activists and wounded ten Israeli soldiers.  



From crisis to rapprochement

Dr. Shaffer emphasized that despite outward appearances of the crisis between Turkey and Israel, relations between the two countries did not drastically deteriorate. At a deeper level, they even saw growth. Trade cooperation between the countries increased by the year thanks in part to investments in strategic areas such as power plants and other major infrastructure projects. She noted that cooperation on such significant projects indicated that, even during the breakdown in relations, trust between the two countries continued. 

Dr. Aybet, who was recently made an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, explained that the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Israel at the governmental level marks a broader trend in Turkish foreign policy as Ankara pursues normalization with other countries in its region. "Reconciliation with Israel is an indicator of creating a balance between pragmatic realpolitik and the spiritual hinterland," she said. 



Natural gas offers new opportunities

Dr. Aybet noted that shared security concerns were a key motivating factor for the rapprochement and mentioned that Turkish-Israeli relations going forward will likely include cooperation on natural gas projects.

Drawing on her expertise in the energy sector, Dr. Shaffer explained that the potential for Turkish-Israeli cooperation on the transport of natural gas from Israel’s newly discovered Leviathan field has opened a strong avenue through which relations between the two countries can continue to improve. 

She noted that both governments are committed to realizing a potential joint natural gas pipeline – which would bring gas to both Turkey and Europe – but cautioned that such a project in and of itself has limits in terms of influencing geopolitical realities on the ground. Peace can produce pipelines, but pipelines do not necessarily produce peace. 

Dr. Shaffer noted that security concerns rather than trade potential in the energy sector pushed Turkey to normalize relations with Israel as part of a broader realpolitik perspective in its regional foreign policy.

Nonetheless, Dr. Shaffer noted that there are many opportunities for energy cooperation between both countries. She explained that a pipeline project linking Israeli gas with Europe through Turkey’s Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) could support the improvement of the gas and electricity infrastructure in southern Turkey. Turkey has also taken an active role in improving access to electricity and water in the Gaza Strip, including through contributions to the development of the small Gaza Marine field. Finally, she noted that improved relations with Israel might eventually offer the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) an opportunity to invest in projects abroad, helping it to transition from a national to an international company.

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* Dr. Danziger requested that his remarks be off the record.