Turkey and Israel have seen their share of ups and downs but there has never been a break in their decades-old ties, a former Israeli envoy to Turkey has said, warning that it would be a tragedy if that were to happen this time.
Former Ambassador Alon Liel said the Turkish-Israeli ties “collapsed” during the past two years. Relations deteriorated sharply amid severe criticism by Turkey of the Israeli policies in Gaza and came to a standstill when Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza on May 31 this year. Turkey has demanded an apology to mend the ties, while Israel has refused, saying its commandos acted in self-defense.
Liel, speaking on Sunday to a group of Turkish journalists during a trip organized by a private construction company operating in Israel, Yılmazlar İnşaat, said Israel's hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's recent harsh remarks targeting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu did not help this situation.
“After the Karmel fire there was an attempt to repair relations but with Lieberman`s comments today, I think it will fail again,” Liel said, referring to a fire in northern Israel that killed more than 40 people earlier this month. Turkey sent two firefighting aircraft to help Israel extinguish the fire and subsequent talks between Turkish and Israeli officials raised hopes of a recovery in ties. Liel said Lieberman's remarks complicated efforts toward peace but said, “We can not leave Turkey-Israel relations to a right wing party leader.”
“The two countries have had dealings for 62 years and I have been covering Turkey closely for 30 years. During this time there have been ups and downs but ties were never severed. If this was to happen now it would be a tragedy,” Liel said. “If relations are ruined it will be difficult for Israel to live in this neighborhood and also it will be difficult for Turkey.”
The former envoy added that a possible improvement in Turkish-Israeli ties will positively influence efforts for peace between Israel and Syria and between Israel and Palestinians. Referring to peace talks in Geneva -- attended by Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Israel's representative in a UN panel investigating the May 31 raid, Yosef Ciechanover -- Liel said the diplomats agreed on a formula on the wording of an Israeli apology but the initiative failed when Turkish diplomats presented the deal to politicians in Ankara for approval.
According to Liel, the Turkish government's policy of reaching out to countries in the Middle East, Asia and the Balkans -- contrary to the previous government's policies of solely emphasizing a commitment to Western objectives -- was a reason behind the deterioration in recent years of Turkish-Israeli ties. Referring to former prime ministers who repeatedly uttered words like, “We love you, we are brothers,” during their trips to Israel, Erdoğan has said that he visits Israel because there is hope for peace in the region.
Meanwhile, the crisis in bilateral ties is also taking its toll on businesses. Yılmazlar İnşaat's Ahmet Arık told journalists that the Turkish government's refusal to renew an existing business contract in Israel will result in about 800 Turkish workers losing their permission to stay in Israel. The visas will expire by end of the year and Israel has refused to renew them on the grounds that the business agreement will be expiring.