by Marie Shuqha
Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey – Eitan Naeh – arrived in the capital Ankara on Thursday, to serve as the first official envoy and restore ties between the two countries since a six-year stand-off put diplomatic relations on ice.
“I am very happy to be back in Turkey as ambassador. We have a lot of work to do,” he told reporters at the airport. “I want to thank Turkey for the support, the aid it sent Israel fighting fires last week. We have a history of helping each other.”
Turkey was among the several states that sent planes and other equipment to help Israel extinguish over 1,000 wildfires across the country.
Naeh, who had been serving as deputy head of mission at the Israeli embassy in London, was chosen as ambassador earlier this month by a government committee. As a career diplomat, he previously worked at the embassy in Ankara from 1993 to 1997. Naeh is the country’s first envoy since Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound ship – Mavi Marmara – which had activists on board in 2010. After the raid, which killed 10 Turkish activists, relations between the two countries plunged to an all-time low with both pulling their envoys out from the respective capitals. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the raid in 2013, acknowledging that “operational mistakes” had been made.
But the bitter rift came to an end in June after long-running secret talks in third countries with Israel offering $20 million in compensation, an apology over the raid and permission for Turkish aid to reach Gaza.
The process to normalise relations was strongly supported by the United States, which had long wanted to see NATO ally Turkey resume its once-close relationship with Israel.
The blockade on Gaza is to remain in place. But Turkey, which had initially demanded that it be lifted, will be able to deliver humanitarian supplies through the port of Ashdod in Israel.
Turkey had long been Israel’s closest ally in the region, but ties began to decline after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamist movement, became prime minister in 2003.
The reconciliation is as much driven by economics as politics.
However, the exact nature and degree of closeness of the Israel-Turkey relationship has been a matter of interest to analysts for quite some time now. The incident with the Mavi Marmara caused quite a stir between both countries and the ongoing blockade of Gaza isn’t helping the situation. Many do believe though that the reality consists of a far closer and co-operative relationship where goals of both countries are essentially the same regarding Syria and the entire Middle-Eastern region. So, does this mean that Naeh’s visit to Turkey is an improvement in the Israeli-Turkey relationship? It sure is a small step towards having both countries work side-by-side and may lay some ground fundamentals for peace in the entire region of the Middle-East.