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Recent history has led to a chilled relationship between the nations

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The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (l), lectured and hectored the president of Israel Shimon Peres (r) at a panel in Davos in 2009 before exiting the stage. (Screencap: YouTube)

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Things have become complicated in East Europe, with Russia attacking Ukraine. Sanctions have been imposed on Moscow, and nobody knows their scope of that impact. A global problem is being faced, and there is no straightforward solution for that. More than thirty years after the end of the cold war, countries are forced to reconsider their stand in the international community.

Thus other tensions are far from being the daily subject. However, in this time of uncertainty President Isaac Herzog is expected to visit Turkey and meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an effort of the  latter to rebuild the broken relations between the two countries. It is foreseen to take place on the 9th of March. If held, it will be the second visit of an Israeli president.

Shimon Peres had visited both Ankara and Istanbul in November 2007 as the guest of his counterpart, then-president Abdullah Gul. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was also invited for the tripartite meeting organized to inaugurate a plan to develop an industrial zone at the West Bank with Turkish funding.

I remember the moving sentiments we, the Jewish community in Turkey, had when Peres addressed the National Assembly in Ankara in a special session to the visitor’s honor. He was the first Israeli president to speak before the legislature of a Muslim country.

“We may be saying different prayers, but our eyes are turned toward the same sky and toward the same vision of the Middle East.”

These were warm words shared just before the Annapolis Convention that was to be held a couple of weeks later, under the auspices of the USA. Shimon Peres expressed optimism that the coming peace conference would help thaw decades of conflict. At that time, Ankara was the most important, if not the only Muslim capital holding good relations with both parties. Turkey was accepted as a reliable mediator on the ongoing issues between Israel and Palestinians. 

Things started to change at the World Economic Forum in January 2009 at Davos, Switzerland, after Prime Minister R.T. Erdogan walked off the stage after an angry exchange with Peres at a panel that included UN General Secretary Ban-Ki Moon and Amr Moussa, the General Secretary of the Arab League. Israel was strongly accused of the attacks made to the Gaza Strip. It was the case of the “Cast Lead” towards Hamas, which started just after the visit of PM Ehud Olmert to Ankara on the 22nd of December, 2008.

“Mr.Peres, you are older than me, “Erdogan said. “Your voice comes out in a very loud tone. And the loudness of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience. My voice, however, will not come out in the same tone.”

Resisting efforts by the moderator, columnist David Ignatius from the Washington Post, to end the session on time, Erdogan continued saying to Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.” Later, many observers would say that Erdogan’s frustration with Peres was more aimed at domestic policies. When Erdogan returned to Istanbul the same night, he was greeted at the airport by an immense crowd chanting, “Turkey is proud of you!”.

Turkey, especially Erdogan, a close ally and sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood, has always had excellent relations with Hamas. The long-standing diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel might have yielded a better understanding among Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. It unfortunately failed.

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The next level of disintegration of Turco-Israeli relations came in May 2010, when the Israeli army Stopped the Mavi Marmara, a ship bound to break the maritime isolation of the Gaza strip, with many activists on board. The Gaza Flotilla, it was called – as there were six ships in total – was stopped at international waters and boarded by Israeli commandos. In the end, nine people – eight of them \ being Turkish nationals and one a Turkish American – were killed onboard, and ten Israeli soldiers were injured, one seriously.

The flotilla was said to carry humanitarian aid and construction materials, however Israel had warned the flotilla to abort their mission, describing it as a provocation. Furthermore, Israel proposed the flotilla to accost to Haifa or Ashdod ports, where the material carried would be examined and later be sent to the Strip via land.

This was a significant event that let the bilateral relations between the two countries fade. Never in the past did Turkey or the Ottomans and Jewish people confront each other. Never in the past did Turkey and Israel face each other as rivals. On the contrary, being the two only democracies in the region, their cooperation had always built confidence among the disputing parties. Besides the cultural and economic relations, military and intelligence cooperation brought the two countries closer and closer.

However, the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents opened the door to a diplomatic crisis, and antisemitism, based on anti-Israel sentiments, rose considerably in Turkey. The written and oral media were full of articles condemning Israel to be an assailant, escalating the tension in the Middle East. PM Erdogan often started to accuse Israel of being a “terrorist state” that implemented severe, Non-proportional measures against Palestinians.

The ship formerly called the “Mavi Marmarma” was auctioned off due to a mortgage foreclosure while moored in the port of Mogadishu in late 2021. (Photo: BDSturkiye.org)

Turkey fell apart from its western allies, step by step, over the years. First, it went against Egypt, backing ousted president Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood counterpart in Cairo, claiming that General Sisso’s coup was against the public’s will.

Hamas, seen globally as a terrorist organization, has been praised by Erdogan’s government. As a result, doors were opened to many Hamas leaders expelled by other Arab countries, who lived till recently in Turkey, fully covered by the state.

Erdogan left aside Ataturk’s motto, “Peace at home, peace in the world” and found itself in complete engagement in Syria, Libya, where problems are still going on, putting itself at odds with its allies. Ankara’s many problematic diplomatic approaches have put Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt together in the East Mediterranean on the same side, while Turkey remained alone.

In Syria, it engaged itself in the bringing down of president Bashir Assad and came back to terms when confronted by Russia. Some politicians’ dream of re-conquering parts of the Ottoman lands failed. While ISIS and the Kurdish groups were fighting against each other in Syria and Iraq, Ankara found itself in discomfort. The US backed the Kurds, dropping aside the many Turkish reclamations.

And the Abraham Accords were not welcomed by Erdogan. The UAE and Bahrain signed to start diplomatic relations with Israel. This enraged him. He saw this as treason to the Palestinian cause.

Furthermore, UAE was targeted by Erdogan as the sponsor of the 15th of July 2016 coup attempt against him. Serious allegation!

Altogether, Turkey was driven into precious loneliness in the international arena. Turco –  American relations during President Trump’s term were also in a pretty tense mode. Europe already classified Ankara as an unpredictable candidate with bad scores on human rights. The tensions in domestic politics were translated into international politics and vice versa.

Turkish Israeli diplomatic relations suffered for nearly a decade. Despite the increasing numbers in bilateral trade, nothing was like the good old days. The strategic partnership was over.

Marsel Russo was born in Istanbul and was raised in a secular Jewish family. He holds a Chemistry degree and an MBA. His deep interest in the Jewish history of the 20th century, as well as other topics, has appeared since 2005 in Shalom, the weekly newspaper of the Jewish community of Turkey.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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