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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The New Honeymoon between Israel and Turkey

Filed under: Israel, Turkey

The New Honeymoon between Israel and Turkey
The IDF search and rescue teams in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, February 12, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Turkey expressed great appreciation to Israel for the humanitarian aid it provided following the earthquake and promised to upgrade relations between the two countries.
  • Several international medical and rescue teams, including Israel’s, left Turkey earlier than planned because of an undisclosed “security situation.” In May 2022, Israeli citizens were warned of an Iranian attack targeting Israelis in Turkey.
  • The military wing of Hamas continues to operate from Istanbul and direct attacks against Israel. The serious test of the new relations between Israel and Turkey will be during the month of Ramadan.

The Israeli government made the correct political and moral decision to help Turkey following the earthquake disaster that struck it.

Israel can be proud of the military and civilian delegations it sent to Turkey. This is how a sovereign, moral, and democratic country ​​should behave, and the world watched and scrutinized Israel.

Turkey greatly appreciates Israeli aid in times of need, according to senior political officials in Jerusalem. President Erdogan told Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at their meeting on February 14, 2023, in Ankara that Turkey will never forget the aid it received from Israel and the fact that it saved 19 Turks from under the rubble.

Erdogan praised the professional work of the Israeli team and expressed deep appreciation for Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (left) met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, on February 14, 2023
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (left) met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, on February 14, 2023. (Israeli Foreign Ministry)

This is certainly another important political development in the process of Turkey’s rapprochement with Israel, which began about a year ago after a decade of deep crisis in relations between the two countries.

President Erdogan praises Israel for two main reasons: he appreciates Israel’s quick and effective humanitarian aid to Turkey during a crisis, and out of a desire to draw closer to the Biden administration.

IDF medical officers treat wounded Turkish civilians at a field hospital near Kahramanmaras, February 14, 2023
IDF medical officers treat wounded Turkish civilians at a field hospital near Kahramanmaras, February 14, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Turkish president believes that the road to the White House in Washington passes through Jerusalem, and he needs an open door in Washington.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu also praised Israel and said Turkey’s relations with Israel will be upgraded to a higher level.

At the meeting of the Israeli foreign minister with the Turkish president, Eli Cohen sought Turkey’s aid in securing the release of the two Israelis imprisoned and two bodies held by Hamas. President Erdogan has excellent relations with the leadership of Hamas. Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas commander, resides in Istanbul. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and former leader Khaled Mashaal are also frequent visitors to Turkey.

Erdogan expressed concern about Israeli actions on the Temple Mount and emphasized the need to maintain the status quo at the holy site, especially during the month of Ramadan. The Israeli foreign minister clarified that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo there and that it is committed to maintaining the freedom of worship in all holy places.

The re-normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey is progressing well at the moment, but there is still a cloud covering the relations between the two countries, especially because of the continued activity of the Hamas military branch from Istanbul.

The Palestinian terrorists who were released in the prisoner exchange deal in 2011 work out of Istanbul and direct the terrorist activities in Judea, Samaria, and pre-1967 Israel. Israel’s demand to close these offices is met by Turkey’s refusal and claims that the Hamas activity is purely political.

Israel has provided Turkey with intelligence evidence of Hamas’ terrorist activity in Istanbul, but the Turks insist on keeping the offices open. They have asked Hamas to lower its profile and avoid launching attacks that are directed from Turkish territory. Ankara also fears the reaction of the Biden administration.

Palestinian Concern

Israeli aid to Turkey after the earthquake will strengthen the strategic relationship between the two countries, and this is of great concern to the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement. They see Israel receiving praise from President Erdogan while the Netanyahu government takes decisions on the expansion of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

PA officials expressed surprise over Erdogan praising Israel, even though there were dozens of countries that provided humanitarian aid to Turkey.

The Palestinian Authority fears that Israel will take advantage of the aid to Turkey to improve its image in the world and present itself as a country that provides humanitarian aid to any country caught in a disaster.

A senior official in the PA estimates that the Israeli move was calculated to push aside the Palestinian problem that the Palestinians are trying to bring back to the top of the international agenda. He claimed that Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to help Turkey in order to advance the normalization process with other Arab and Muslim countries and to show that Israel has a lot to contribute to them if they sign normalization agreements.

Despite the renewed rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, Israel needs to be cautious in everything related to Turkey. Erdogan is known as someone who is mercurial and changes his views on Israel, especially concerning the Palestinians. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is approaching, and it is estimated that a major security escalation is expected in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. This will be one of the most important tests for  Turkey in everything related to its relations with Israel.