The measures actively taken by Ankara in its chess gambit at the end of 2020 to rapidly develop and reinforce its relations with Tel Aviv have so far, unfortunately for Turkey, not scored it any victories.
The Turkish president himself noted that by the end of December, “the main problem now is the individual people that are present in the relationship with Israel. If there were no problems at the highest levels, bilateral relations could be completely different.” According to him, Ankara cannot come to terms with Israel’s policy towards Palestine, although it continues to hope for an improvement in its relations with Tel Aviv.
Nonetheless interaction between Ankara with Tel Aviv, according to Turkish media reports, continues at the level of the intelligence services, despite the existing problems Turkey has with Israel’s leadership.
As reported by US media, the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev is making active attempts to reconcile Ankara with Tel Aviv, whom he considers his loyal allies in the war for Nagorno-Karabakh against Armenia. In conversations with their Israeli colleagues, advisers to the Azerbaijani president emphasize that, despite the anti-Israeli rhetoric, Erdogan personally has nothing against Israel, but “simply listens to his assistants, who are not advising him now.” Along with that, in the wake of the steps taken by the Trump administration in recent months to push Muslim countries to restore diplomatic relations with Israel, Baku is pursuing a policy towards Ankara and Tel Aviv to elucidate to them that good conditions are now surfacing to establish a bilateral dialogue.
At the end of December, former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Pini Avivi (from 2003 to 2007) published an appeal for a rapprochement between Tel Aviv and Ankara on the pages of the Israel Hayom newspaper. In particular, he stressed that the Turkish leader publicly announced on December 25 his interest in restoring normal relations with the Jewish state, taking into account “some common security interests” between the two countries – for example, in regard to Iran and Syria.
Although there has been no reaction or comments on any rapprochement with Turkey from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs or its official authorities in recent weeks, the pro-government Israeli media has still leveled very sharp criticism at Ankara’s policies, and the actions taken by President Erdogan. For example, The Jerusalem Post stressed that in recent weeks Turkey has attempted to take advantage of its ties to foreign media to promote its position on how it allegedly wants to reconcile with Israel, even as its own media spread extremist, anti-Israeli statements. At the same time, Israeli observers have even made references to the Turkish newspaper T24, which declared that Turkey could “go into Tel Aviv within 48 hours,” which was perceived as a threat accompanied by a blatantly sarcastic jeer at the inability of other Arab armies to defeat Israel in 1948, and then in 1967. On top of that, Israeli observers emphasize that hatred toward Israel, and promises to destroy Israel, invade Jerusalem, “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” and the dissemination of extremist, nationalist, and anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic statements are becoming more commonplace in Turkey.
It should also be recalled how in March 2018 one of the main Turkish daily newspapers also suggested that Ankara form an Islamist army to destroy Israel, and in 2019 a retired Turkish general named Adnan Tanriverdi, who manages the consulting firm SADAT, also spoke of the need to “free Jerusalem from Israel.”
Israeli observers also note that even Turkey’s new representative in Israel said that Zionism is racism, and accused Israel of displacing millions of people and committing “many mass murders,” while the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised to free the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and declared that “Jerusalem is ours.”
At the same time, the number of extremist critical comments targeted against the Turkish media, and Ankara’s army of social media activists, has increased noticeably in Israeli society as of late. It can be witnessed more frequently in the Israeli media that the narration on Turkish “reconciliation” with Israel is largely groundless, and Ankara’s frequent meetings with Hamas show that Turkey’s ruling party has adopted a worldview similar to the Iranian regime, with an approach toward Israel as the main adversary.
Under these conditions, Israel over the past few months has begun to draw closer to all of Turkey’s regional adversaries at breakneck speed, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean: Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt. A vivid example of this is not only the preparation work for Benjamin Netanyahu to make an official visit to Cairo, but also the upswing in relations between Israel and Greece over the past few weeks, against a backdrop of a standoff between both countries and, according to Tel Aviv and Athens, Turkey’s “expansionist” policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. One specific result of this “rapprochement” was, according to the Israeli company Elbit Systems, the signing of an intergovernmental agreement between the Israeli and Greek defense ministries on January 5, 2021, and the Israeli side creating an International Flight Training Center for the Greek Air Force modeled on the Israeli Air Force Flight School. In addition to having the Israeli defense company Elbit Systems create and operate this center, the agreement provides for Athens to purchase of ten Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master (Lavi) supersonic training aircraft, do maintenance work on T-6 (Efroni) aircraft, and provide simulators, training pilots, and logistics support. The scope of this agreement, whose implementation is designed to be accomplished over 20 years, is estimated at $1.68 billion. It is the largest defense procurement agreement between the two countries to date, according to Israeli media, and allows the parties to move forward in negotiations that could lead to signing new weapons contracts.
According to not only Israeli but regional observers, Israel’s demonstration of “growing friendship” with Greece and Egypt is clearly aimed at curbing Turkey’s “expansionism”, and not only in the Eastern Mediterranean region.