Recently elected (2021-) Israeli President Isaac Herzog is set to visit Turkey this week on 9-10 March, 2022. The visit will be made upon the invitation by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Israeli President’s wife, Michal Herzog, will also accompany him during the visit. The Israeli President Isaac Herzog and his wife will be welcomed to the Presidential Complex in an official ceremony at Ankara (Turkey’s capital), and then Istanbul to meet representatives of the Turkey’s Jewish community. The preparations for the visit started in February as a Turkish delegation visited Israel in last month to plan the visit. In this article, I will try to analyze Herzog’s timely visit from the perspective of Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-Western world relations.
First of all, this visit marks an official visit from Israel to Turkey after 14 years. In that sense, Mr. Herzog will be the first Israeli leader to visit Turkey since 2008 (after then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit in December 2008) and the first Israeli President since 2007 (after then-Israeli President Shimon Peres’ visit in November 2007). Thus, the visit represents a rapprochement between two states after a long break that was characterized by many political crises such as the Davos (One Minute) incident, low seat crisis, and most importantly the Mavi Marmara (Flotilla) case. It should not be forgotten that President Erdoğan was present and in charge of Turkey in all these crises; that is why, this represents a new approach to Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations on the side of Turkey’s long serving (2003-) leader. In fact, the rapprochement began with the 2016 Rome Memorandum and more recently with Turkish President’s call to Herzog in order to congratulate his election.
Secondly, the visit coincides with Turkey’s deteriorating relations with the United States (U.S.) and the EU and it might symbolize a restoring trust for Ankara in the Western alliance since Israel is a crystallized Western ally since its foundation. Thus, Turkey’s quest for restoring ties with Israel might be an effort to straighten up relations with these two centers. By fixing Turkish-Israeli relations, Turkish leadership might want to secure developing ties with the U.S. and the EU. On the other hand, it is a fact that with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Turkey’s geopolitical position has become a revalued asset for Washington and Brussels. In that sense, Turkey’s effort to fix relations might be timely this time to take more Western encouragement and support.
Thirdly, it must not be forgotten that the long Benjamin Netanyahu era is over in Israel and Israel has now both a new President (Herzog) and a new Prime Minister (Naftali Bennett). Thus, opening a blank page could be possible with fresh actors such as Herzog and Bennett instead of Netanyahu, to whom President Erdoğan had personal antipathy due to events in Palestine. Mr. Herzog’s spokesperson said the visit was being coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also supported President Herzog’s diplomatic efforts and said that “things are happening very slowly and gradually” between Jerusalem (Tel Aviv) and Ankara. That is why, Ben Caspit describes the recent rapprochement as “mini-golden age between the two states driven by interests rather than a desire to rekindle young love after a stormy decade”.
Fourthly, although two countries’ bilateral relations had ups and downs since the early formalization of relations in 1949, economic ties between two states have continued to develop despite of political crises. According to Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), in 2020, Turkey exported 4.5 billion dollar worth products to Israel and imported 1.42 billion dollar worth products from Israel. In 2021, export rate rose to 6.14 billion dollars and imports to 2 billion dollars. Two countries, by year 2021 has a bilateral trade volume exceeding 8 billion dollars which is an important asset for the continuation of diplomatic relations. In that sense, Sözeri defined AK Parti era Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations as “much valor and full-speed trade” (bolca hamaset, tam gaz ticaret).
Fifthly, recently discovered hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean is a potential area of collaboration between two states. Israel has transformed into a natural gas exporter in recent years and is a leading partner in Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. Recently, the U.S. withdrew its support from the Eastmed Pipeline Project, paving a way for alternative projects such as Turkish-Israeli Pipeline. Turkey on the other hand is in an economic crisis and wants to diversify its gas supplies by alternative projects. Thus, Turkish-Israeli cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean could be possible in the years to come although Israel will not want to jeopardize its developing political and economic ties with Greece and Cyprus Republic. During his visit to Nicosia last week and Athens the week before, Israeli President Mr. Herzog assured Cyprus and Greece that mending relations with Turkey would not come at the expense of excellent relations with them.
Lastly, Israeli President announced that his visit will be important opportunity to discuss and create a regional alliance on climate change. As two influential actors, Israel and Turkey’s contribution to global struggle on climate change is worthy and necessary. An unstated important subject during the visit could be Iran’s nuclear program since both countries are against Tehran reaching nuclear weapons.
To sum up, Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit could be a turning point for the commencement of a new era in Turkish-Israeli and Turkey-Western world relations, but we have to wait for substantial developments in terms of security and energy cooperation to reach such conclusions.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
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