Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu had planned to meet with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, and then travel to Ankara for a summit with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the trip was postponed due to the Israeli prime minister’s recent health problems. Both visits, however, are expected to be rescheduled. Eran Lerman assesses the possibilities of a further thaw in Israel and Turkey’s vexed relations, and how reconciliation with Ankara can be balanced with Jerusalem’s now-solid ties with Athens and Nicosia:
The recurrent hints and pressures Erdogan and his government used to persuade Israel to export the gas from its Mediterranean fields via Turkey (helping it establish itself as an energy hub) are ultimately pointless. Such a project would immediately run into conflict over the use of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone [in the eastern Mediterranean]. Israel has no wish to become tethered to a mercurial leadership in Turkey which still harbors hostile sentiments and might turn radically against Israel at times of crisis, particularly a confrontation with Hamas. Moreover . . . there are viable alternatives.
What, then, should be on the agenda during Netanyahu’s visit to Ankara if he rejects (no matter how politely) Erdogan’s push for a pipeline to Turkey? There are, as things stand, significant other fields over which the two countries—despite the bitter differences of the recent past—can find common ground. . . . The scope of trade—distinctly skewed in Turkey’s favor—keeps growing, and may do so even more (albeit marginally) if the present Israeli government proceeds with its plans to lower the cost of living by allowing agricultural imports.
At the strategic level, Israel shares with Turkey—as demonstrated in mid-July by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s visit to Baku—a keen interest in Azerbaijan’s ability to defend itself during growing tensions with Tehran. A traditional ally of Turkey (and speaking a Turkic language), Azerbaijan has enjoyed a strong security relationship with Israel over the years and recently opened an embassy after years of hesitation and delay. Turkey may take an ambivalent position toward Iran, but in Syria—as well as over the future of Azerbaijan—Ankara and Tehran are on the opposite sides of the conflict.