Since the deadly raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ship by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in international waters, Turkey's relations with its Middle East ally reached a stage where it cut all its diplomatic ties. Following the June 7 general elections in Turkey, some analysts stated that a coalition government might pave the way for a change in Turkey's foreign policy. However, experts stress that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will still dominate Turkey's foreign policy by having the largest stake in Parliament; thus, no softening steps are expected from Ankara.
The Israel-based Haaretz daily reported on Tuesday that Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu held a meeting behind closed doors with Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Dore Gold in Rome. Along with Israeli officials, Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also confirmed the meeting and indicated that there have been several secret meetings.
Consequently, a perception has reportedly emerged indicating a new era in Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations along with a coalition government, likely to be formed in the forthcoming days, in which both sides might break the ice in ties that have been frozen for almost five years.
However, Israel deported nine Turkish citizens, including journalists and activists, after holding them for over six hours at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday, allegedly causing Israel's sincerity in steps for a solution to be questioned. "It's Israel's turn to take a step; normalization is a situation that will come about only if Israel takes necessary steps," said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic in remarks made at a weekly press briefing on the same day.
When asked if the secret meetings signaled possible attempts to normalize mutual ties, Çavuşoğlu pointed to Turkey's demands. "One of our three demands [an official apology by Netanyahu] has been met. The other two demands – compensation to the families of victims [who were killed by Israeli Defense Forces in international waters] and removal of the blockade on Gaza – should be met in order to normalize relations," he said.
While Turkey still expects Israel to take a step towards normalization, experts also stress that Turkey is a country that Israel needs in its alliance in the region for both integration with the Muslim world and security matters in the middle of a hazardous region. Nimrod Goren, chairman of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, points out the importance of the Gaza blockade on the normalization agenda and said: "Better relations between Israel and Turkey will assist Israel to increase, broaden, and diversify its relations in the region. Israel-Turkey rapprochement may also be helpful to the improvement of the situation in Gaza and to prevent another cycle of violence there."
The isolated position of Israel in the region gradually becomes more salient as far-right politicians known for their harsh remarks against the Palestinian issue, such as Ayalet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, took a seat in the cabinet, and a UN Commission of Inquiry revealed that Israel committed war crimes in Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014. To overcome this isolation, Ceyhun Çiçekçi, an International Relations Researcher from Çanakkale 18 Mart University, points to Turkey's importance in the Muslim world and said, "Israel's need to gain legitimacy in the eyes of Muslim societies, is also carrying a permanent aim while located in the middle of the 'Arabian Ocean;' Muslim countries that have relations with Israel definitely transfer legitimacy to Israel."