Turning over a new leaf in Turkish-Israeli relations

Published 22.06.2016 00:42

For a while now, we have been talking about Turkey and Israel holding senior-level talks on re-establishing bilateral ties, which have been frozen since the Mavi Marmara raid, but have begun improving, and that both parties have achieved solutions to many issues including the removal of the blockade on Gaza, Israel's payment of compensation to the families of the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid and issues regarding Hamas in Turkey. However, there is no final conclusion as of yet. Meanwhile, an important development that Reuters reported on Monday is that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Israeli National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in March, and that it was positive. This is the highest top-level talk tahat the two countries held since the Mavi Marmara raid.

The energy issue came to the fore in this meeting. Let us note that there are hundreds of billions of dollars of natural gas reserves off the Israeli and Cypriot coasts and that Israel definitely needs Turkey's supports to be able to make use of these reserves. Israel and Cyprus sit off of 3,450 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. The financial value of these proven reserves amounts to $700 billion, and some research companies argue that the value of probable reserves might amount to several times more. But why does Israel need Turkey's help?

It is a costly and arduous process to drill underwater natural gas reserves. Before starting to drill, Israel needs to find markets to sell these reserves in, because if the natural gas remains unsold, the process does not work due to high costs. Does Israel have enough markets to enter? Jordan, which is already an importer of Israeli natural gas, is the first market that comes to mind. However, it is not adequate. Neighboring Syria and Lebanon are not promising at all as Israel is at loggerheads with the two. Therefore, Israel needs two main players - Turkey and Egypt - to extract natural gas and market it in an efficient way. Israel wants a pipeline that runs to Turkey, which would reach Europe in addition to Turkey.

This equation indicates that restoring ties with Turkey is crucial for Israel. Certainly, Turkey also attaches importance to forming new alliances as it is becoming isolated in the region because of regional challenges and the West's persistent bad policies on the Democratic Union Party (PYD). After all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the Mavi Marmara raid and agreed to pay compensation. Furthermore, important developments are taking place regarding the mitigation of the blockade on Gaza. Although Hamas is still a controversial issue, it is not considered an obstacle for the talks to end in success at a time when Israel is making great effort to restore relations because of its concerns over selling its natural gas. Israel's Haaretz daily has reported that the talks will reach a settlement this weekend and the last issue left for discussion is the closure of Hamas's office in Istanbul.

The process is progressing quickly. The shuttle diplomacy is being managed by former Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who has been recently appointed as Turkey's permanent representative to the U.N.; Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and Netanyahu's special envoy Joseph Ciechanover. It would appear that natural gas, which is literally one of the main sources of heat, will also break the ice between Turkey and Israel.

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