The History of Turkish-Israeli Relations
Turkey and Israel have had longstanding relations dating to the first years of the formation of the state of Israel. While Turkey voted against the UN Partition Plan for Palestine resolution in November 1947, in May 1949 Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel. In 1950 Turkey opened its first diplomatic mission in Israel. Following the 1956 Suez war Ankara downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel but in 1958 Israel Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, and Turkish Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes, secretly met and formed what was to be called the Peripheral pact, including also Iran and Ethiopia.
Subsequent to the passing of the Jerusalem law in the Israeli parliament in 1980, Turkey again downgraded its diplomatic representation level, but in 1992 following the Madrid Peace Process Turkey and Israel upgraded their relations to full diplomatic level. Following the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, a series of bilateral agreements were concluded between Turkey and Israel, including the Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1996. The 1990’s are considered the golden age in Turkish Israeli relations: there were growing economic relations, military cooperation, academic collaborations and hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists began flocking tourist destination in Turkey.
After the rise to power of the Justice and Development party in 2002, relations overall remained firm with then Turkish Prime Minster, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visit to Israel in 2005 and Erdoğan’s personal involvement in five rounds of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria in 2008. The deterioration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in particular the situation in Gaza, negatively affected also relations between Israel and Turkey. The Davos incident, in January 2009, in which Erdoğan angrily left a joint panel with Israel’s President at the time, Shimon Peres, was one of the first public manifestations of deteriorating relations.
In May 2010 the most severe incident in the history of relations occurred. The Mavi Marmara which sailed as part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla refused demands to halt and Israeli naval commandos raided the ship. Ten Turkish citizens were killed in the incident (nine died in action and the tenth died later on from his wounds). In March 2013, during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Erdoğan and in June 2016 a normalization agreement was signed between the two states including compensation for the families of the deceased in the Mavi Marmara incident. In December 2016 Israel’s Ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Na’eh, presented his credentials to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and in January 2017 Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel Kemal Ökem presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, thus marking the renewal of full diplomatic relations.
In May 2018 following the US decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and events surrounding the “Great March of Return” in Gaza, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel for consultations and instructed Israel to do the same. This led to a chain of reactions that has caused a situation in which there were no ambassadors and counsel generals in the respective countries.
In December 2020, Erdoğan, while referring to Turkey-Israel relations, stated that “we would have liked to bring our ties to a better point”. Despite a setback during operation “Guardian of the Walls” in Gaza in May 2021, in which Ankara was one of the most vocal critics of Israel’s actions, the two states moved ahead with improving relations. In March 2022, the President of the State of Israel, Isaac Herzog, came for a two-day state visit in Turkey. During the visit, in a joint press conference in Ankara, Erdoğan stated that “…this historic visit will be a new turning point in Turkey-Israel relations” and Herzog said that “Israel and Turkey…can and should collaborate in the many fields that have a dramatic impact on this region, which we all call home.” In August 2022, the two countries decided to restore full diplomatic ties and reappoint respective ambassadors. Economic relations continue to flourish and in 2021 the volume of mutual trade reached almost seven billion dollars, a significant increase from five billion dollars in 2019. In September 2022 Erdoğan and the Prime Minister of Israel, Yair Lapid, met in New York – the first high level meeting of the kind since 2008.
After the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria in February 2023, Israel dispatched a large aid and rescue mission to assist Turkey. Israeli and Jewish NGO’s also sent assistance and aid delegations. In addition, Israel’s manufacturers’ association organized an orchestrated shipment of aid.