NICOSIA: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid in a telephone call last Wednesday agreed to restore the diplomatic relations between the two countries which were suspended since 2016 and reinstate their ambassadors.
The big question that is raised is whether this time normal relations between the two countries will last for long and whether Erdogan will refrain from making insulting statements against the Israeli government in one of the frequent conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.
In a statement, Yair Lapid described the restoration of ties with Turkey as "an important asset to the stability of the region which bears great economic significance to Israel's citizens," while Israeli President Isaac Herzog described the renewal of diplomatic ties with Turkey as "an important development."
The complete normalization of relations could put an end to 12 years of tension between Ankara and Tel Aviv and Turkish- Israeli relations could become amicable once again, as they were before Erdogan decided in 2010 to project himself as a staunch defender of the Palestinian and Arab cause.
It is noteworthy, however, that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in statements announcing the restoration of relations between the two countries, went out of his way to reassure the Palestinians that Turkey would continue to "defend the rights of Palestine, Jerusalem and Gaza," stressing that Ankara's messages would be conveyed directly to Tel Aviv at the ambassador level."
According to several press reports, the restoration of diplomatic ties became possible after the Turkish government expelled officials and members of the Hamas Islamic Resistance Movement that rules Gaza and told them that they would not be allowed to engage military activities on Turkey's soil.
On 31 May 2010, nine Turkish activists were killed and many more wounded by Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmara ship, which was one of a six-vessel convoy "Freedom Flotilla" carrying 10 tons of aid and more than 650 activists from 37 nations.
The flotilla attempted to breach the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza. The Israeli raid took place in international waters in the Mediterranean, about 130 km from the shores of Israel. Erdogan, who was the Turkish Prime Minister at the time, described the raid as "state terrorism" and called Israel to be punished for its "bloody massacre."
Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara. Erdogan, who later became President of Turkey, on numerous occasions made offensive statements against Israel, for example saying, after an Israeli operation in Gaza, that "Israel keeps Hitler's spirit alive".
In December 2029, Erdogan accused the state of Israel of "openly executing and merciless murdering innocent girls, fathers, mothers, elderly people, children and young people on the streets of Palestine."
In March 2013 at the intervention of US President Barak Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Erdogan and apologized "for any errors that have led to a loss of life" and agreed to compensate the victims. The two countries agreed to normalize relations in June 2016.
Relations between the two countries slowly improved but broke down again in 2018, after the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Ankara, angered by the embassy move and the deaths of 60 Palestinians and the wounding of another 1200 in the clashes that erupted in May 2018, expelled the Israeli Ambassador, prompting Israel to reciprocate.
Erdogan accused Israel of carrying out a "genocide" and behaving like a "terrorist state". Responding, Benjamin Netanyahu described Erdogan as one of Hamas's biggest supporters and added that he cannot preach morality to Israel. Erdogan called Israel "an apartheid state which has occupied a defenceless people's lands for more than 60 years" and added that "Netanyahu had the blood of Palestinians on his hands and should not cover up his crimes by attacking Turkey."
Diplomatic Relations between the two countries remained frozen, but as the economic situation in Turkey kept worsening, Erdogan changed his foreign policy and, instead of openly challenging his neighbours and other countries, decided to mend relations with former adversaries. So, he tried to improve his relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel. In a sign of thawing relations between Israel and Turkey, Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a state visit to Turkey on March 9-10, at the invitation of President Erdogan.
Three months later the two countries worked together to foil Iranian planned attacks against Israeli tourists to Turkey, to avenge a series of strikes by Israel against Iranian targets. Later Ankara restricted the activities of Hamas in Turkey, allowing only political activities to take place. The Israeli government, however, demands the closing down of the Hamas office, which it considers to be a hub to direct terror attacks against Israel.
Israel's charge d'affaires in Ankara Irit Lillian in an interview with the Times of Israel, speaking about the normalization of relations between the two countries, said: "From the beginning, it was clear that we were building a process in which we agree to disagree. We know we are not going into a perfect marriage." Lilian added that the two sides are creating a "deconfliction mechanism" that will help them through almost inevitable disagreements.
"We want to do everything we can to build a structure that can withstand political earthquakes in the future," she added. The thing that worries Israeli politicians is whether President Erdogan will change his mind in the coming months about Turkey's relations with Israel.
They fear that in a new clash between Palestinians and the Israeli Army, Erdogan may once again accuse Israel of murdering innocent children and despite the exchange of Ambassadors, relations between the two countries will freeze again.
On August 8, although the process of restoration of diplomatic ties was well underway, Erdogan speaking to foreign Ambassadors said: "There is no excuse for killing children, babies in swaddling clothes. Turkey stands by the Palestinian people and their Gazan brothers."