What strained ties between the once erstwhile allies? What is the agreement expected to include? And why is this important? An explainer.
An announcement was expected Monday noon that Israel and Turkey will finally reach a reconciliation agreement normalizing their relations. Here’s the background on the issues involved, issues that have vexed relations between the two countries for six long years.
What soured the relationship?
Israel and Turkey enjoyed years of close economic and even military ties, but they gradually deteriorated under the rule of Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now Turkey’s president. But it was a clash on the high seas in the Mediterranean in 2010 that brought ties with Turkey, which is predominantly Muslim, but not Arab, to a low.
In May of that year, a Turkish flotilla of ships, including the Mavi Marmara, set sail with the announced intention of breaking the Israeli naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In an effort to stop the Turkish flotilla, which refused to change course, on May 31, 2010, Israel Navy commandos boarded the ship. In the violent confrontation that followed, nine Turkish passengers were killed. A tenth, who was injured, died a considerable time later. The following year, after the issue remained unresolved, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in Ankara.
skip – Close-up footage of Mavi Marmara passengers attacking IDF soldiers.
Close-up footage of Mavi Marmara passengers attacking IDF soldiers. Israel Defense Forces
Why has it taken six years for a deal to be reached?
Though Netanyahu has since apologized for the death of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara and Erdogan accepted the apology, a reconciliation agreement was never sealed. The ties were strained even further during the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014, as Turkey severely criticized Israel’s actions in the Strip.
Turkey has since been conditioning a reconciliation with Israel on lifting the blockade on the Strip. The Turks have been seeking access to the Gaza Strip to engage in development and reconstruction work.
On its part, Israel has insisted that the Turks shut down Hamas’ offices in Turkey and ensure that members of the Israel Defense Forces are not subject to international legal action in connection with the Mavi Marmara incident.
What does Israel stand to get?
Under the agreement, Turkey would reportedly pass a law barring claims against Israeli soldiers and officers and preventing future claims from being filed. The agreement also includes normalizing the diplomatic relations between the two countries and returning the ambassadors to Ankara and Tel Aviv.
But mainly, the Turkish government has committed that Hamas will not carry out any terrorist or military activity against Israel from Turkish territory, although the organization is not barred from maintaining a diplomatic presence in the country. Turkey has also promised to seek the return of two Israeli citizens and the remains of two soldiers held in the Gaza Strip.
What does Turkey stand to get?
Under the agreement, Israel would deposit some $20 million in a humanitarian fund as compensation for the families of the Turks who were killed or injured on the Mavi Marmara. Turkey has waived a demand for the removal of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, Israel would enable Turkey to set up infrastructure projects in Gaza, including the construction of a hospital, a power station and a desalination facility. All the materials for these projects would be transported via Israel’s Ashdod Port.
What comes next?
The details of the agreement, if it is announced, are not expected to be released until Monday. Israel’s security cabinet is scheduled to vote on any agreement on Wednesday.
Why is all this important?
Turkey is a highly important Muslim country, with a population of close to 80 million, around the same as Germany’s. In the past, it was an ally of Israel’s in the Middle East and a bridge to the Arab world. It is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, technically at least allying it with the United States and Western Europe, although its efforts to join the European Union have stalled.
For more on the Israel-Turkey reconciliation deal, follow Barak Ravid on Twitter.