The real motives behind Erdogan’s sudden interest in Israeli Relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R). (AFP)

The latest rapprochement attempts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to mend Turkish-Israeli ties have not garnered real interest. In fact, many Israeli officials and media outlets are merely questioning the reasons behind Erdogan’s sudden interest in repairing the rift and building better ties with Israel under these particular circumstances without devoting much attention to Turkey’s new stance.

There are those who believe that Joe Bidens victory as President of the United States means that the grace period Erdogan had enjoyed during the Trump era has come to an end. There is no denying that Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump appeared to have built a good working relationship and personal chemistry; however, now with Biden in the White House, the tides might be shifting.

Therefore, rapprochement with Israel may be one of the means through which the Turkish president is attempting to utilize with the aim of forging close ties with the White House in the next four years.

US President Joe Biden speaks on racial equity before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2021. (AFP)

Moreover, EU-Turkey relations seem to be strained, which can be attributed to the recent temperamental nature of Turkey’s positions and actions, especially in terms of Turkey’s insistence on carrying out oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as its military intervention in Libya and against the Kurds in northern Syria.

Not to mention the Turkish military support for Azerbaijan in its war against Armenia and the latest tussle between Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron after calling for a boycott of French goods in the Islamic world under the pretext of the re-publication of offensive Prophet Mohammed cartoons in France.

All of these factors played a role in further solidifying Turkey’s growing geopolitical isolation, whether this is with regard to the European Union or the Arab world. With the exception of Qatar, tensions seem to prevail between Ankara, the Gulf states, and Egypt.

Turkey’s rampant political and military intervention during Trump’s term may have strengthened Ankara’s influence in the region, but it also left it with many enemies.

A Turkish soldier walks near Turkish military vehicles in Hazano near Idlib, Syria, February 11, 2020.

It is safe to say that Erdogan’s hostility towards the West and the US has gone out of hand and beyond Turkey’s capacity. For example, the insistence on purchasing the Russian S-400 air defense system led to unprecedented tensions with Washington, and despite Erdogan’s good relationship with Trump, Trump had to approve Congress’s decision to punish and exclude Ankara from participating in the F-35 fighter jets program.

US officials could not dissuade Erdogan from his Russian missile deal, even though they offered Turkey their Patriot missile defense system instead, but to no avail.

Similarly, Erdogan has launched unilateral gas exploration missions in the eastern Mediterranean, and he went to Libya to sign an agreement with the Government of National Accord (GNA) to demarcate the maritime border between Turkey and Libya in exchange for military support to confront the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Libya’s internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul, Turkey, September 6, 2020. (Reuters)

Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt have seen this move as a dismissal of their rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, and, subsequently, these countries took a firm stance which was supported by France. The matter was discussed by the European Union, which first warned Erdogan against unilaterally proceeding with the exploration project.

However, this warning fell on deaf ears, which forced Brussels to impose the first round of sanctions on Turkey last December.

US and European sanctions began to negatively affect Turkey’s economy, which was already in a vulnerable position. This resulted in the Turkish lira losing more of its value against the dollar.

Turkey’s close ties with Russia and Iran do not make up for the losses it has suffered as a result of its strained relations with the West, especially in the economic aspect.

A money changer counts Turkish lira bills at an currency exchange office in central Istanbul, Turkey, in this August 21, 2015 file picture.

In light of this isolation, and with Biden’s arrival to the White House, Erdogan seems to be reconsidering his stance. For instance, he agreed to conduct direct negotiations with Greece over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

If we are to rightly assume that the negotiations with Greece aim to send messages of appeasement to the European Union, then we can also say that these rapprochement efforts with Israel are a means for Turkey to build bridges with the new US administration. In other words, Erdogan wants to get on Biden’s good side by cozying up to Israel.

Israel found Turkey’s new position as an opportunity to put forward a series of demands and conditions on Erdogan. At the forefront of these conditions is cutting ties with Hamas and refraining from using hostile language towards Israel in the Turkish political discourse, especially in terms of interfering in Israeli policies related to the Gaza Strip.

At some point, when Israel was regionally isolated, Turkey was Tel Aviv’s only outlet. However, after the latest normalization deals with Arab countries, Israel sees itself in a position to dictate its conditions to Ankara and not the other way around.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.

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