In an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, energy and security analyst Emre İşeri said the human factor is emerging as the main trend of Turkey’s policies on Israel. The deadly Mavi Marmara raid conducted by Israeli commandos in 2010 greatly improved “Turkish prestige in the international arena.”
Calling “prestige” one of the most important determinants of Turkey’s regional power, İşeri considers the Mavi Marmara incident to be a predicament that has brought the country’s relations with Israel to a standstill.
Turkey has been publically pressing Israel to issue an official apology over its botched raid of the MV Mavi Marmara during its attempt to carry humanitarian aid through Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Israeli naval commandos stormed the ship, killing eight Turkish civilians and a US citizen. Israel has refused to issue an apology, expressing only regret, claiming that its soldiers acted in self defense.
Turkish-Israeli ties were already strained by the time of the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, and the killing of the Turkish activists plunged the relationship between the former Cold War allies into disarray. Turkey imposed a set of sanctions on Israel last year after a largely pro-Israel UN report found the Gaza blockade legitimate. “Ankara put itself into a deadlock when it tried to get what it wanted from Tel Aviv by closing dialogue channels,” İşeri said, adding, “Turkey is likely to continue with its ongoing anti-Israeli rhetoric.”
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız, reiterating Turkey’s stance once more, said on March 11 that Turkey would assist in the transportation of the natural gas Greek Cyprus and Israel are due to exploit in the eastern Mediterranean only if Israel apologizes for the deadly Mavi Marmara raid.
İşeri argues that at present it is the Obama administration that can break the deadlock by putting pressure on Israel; however, he does not expect this to happen before the forthcoming elections in November.
Israel is looking to make use of recently discovered offshore gas resources in cooperation with Greek Cyprus, which pushed Turkey to take a firm stance against Israel. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last year that Turkish warships could be sent to the eastern Mediterranean at any time in order to stop Israel from exploring offshore gas fields.
Talking to Sunday’s Zaman, Osman Bahadır Dinçer, a researcher studying developments in the Middle East with a focus on Turkey-Israel relations at the International Strategic Research Center (USAK), reiterated that because the Turkish government has maintained its anti-Israeli politics, it will be “very difficult for the country to step back even if it wants to.” Dinçer says that both in relations with the West and with respect to being a regional power, the political problems in Turkey are not working in favor of the country, especially in economic terms, adding that “the situation is costly for Israel as well.” The collapse of relations between Turkey and Israel did not bypass trade between the two countries, seriously damaging state-run businesses in particular. Commenting on the anti-Israel card the Erdoğan government is using to gain political power in both domestic and foreign politics, İşeri says Ankara is not up to stopping energy exploration in the region. “Ankara has limited ability to block energy developments in the region,” the analyst says, highlighting that he does not see any prospective U-turn in the Turkish stance on the issue in the near future. Israel is expected to be the main gas exporter from the eastern Mediterranean, as it has more than 25 trillion cubic meters of hydrocarbon resources within its territories. Another 230 billion cubic meters of these resources lie in Cypriot waters.
Considering the abundance of potential oil and gas reserves, Israel’s marriage of “energy security convenience” with the Greek Cypriots, and the presence of the US-backed Noble Energy Company in the off-shore gas fields, energy analyst İşeri does not seem optimistic, saying, “Tel Aviv is unlikely to come to an agreement with Turkey, regardless of the potential extra costs involved in exporting those resources to Europe.” Texas-based Noble Energy is currently cooperating with both Israel and Greek Cyprus, carrying out drilling operations in the gas reserves of the eastern Mediterranean.