Despite Turkish FM Visit, Israel Is Still Treading Lightly With Erdogan

Israel, Turkey, are considering strengthening coordination on Syria strikes and actions against Iran

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks in Ramallah, West Bank, Tuesday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks in Ramallah, West Bank, Tuesday.Credit: Majdi Mohammed /AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Despite moves toward rehabilitating Israel-Turkey bilateral relations in recent months, Israel continues to harbor suspicions about Turkey's own efforts to that end. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, arrived on Tuesday for a two-day visit of Israel and the West Bank, and Jerusalem does indeed perceive the visit as a significant step toward putting ties back on track. Still, the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has declined to commit to an exchange of ambassadors in the coming days.

In particular, Israel sees Turkey’s attempts to strengthen ties with other countries in the region, such as Egypt and the Emirates, as intended to help Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan extricate his country from the severe economic crisis. Israeli political figures are worried that more flip-flopping on the part of the Turkish leader, especially concerning the Palestinian question, might lead to another breakdown just after an ambassadors exchange. One of Israel’s main demands ahead of advancing ties is that Ankara work harder to stop Hamas activities in Turkey, and that it take a hard line against Hamas actions against Israelis.

At the same time, Israel and Turkey both want to strengthen coordination with each other when it comes to their attacks in Syria. Both see the Iranian presence in Syria as a threat to their stability, each is active in the air over Syria and each is dealing with the Russian military presence there. Both countries hold an interest in improving dialogue on this issue to prevent Turkish harm to Israeli aircraft and vice versa. They have also recently been discussing the possibility of cooperation in what has been defined as “regional architecture,” in an attempt to restrict terror by Iranians who are working to gain a foothold in Syria.

Nevertheless, Israel believes that Turkey, which has good relations with Iran, would prefer to keep a low profile on the matter and that it will not position itself at the forefront of a struggle against the regime in Tehran, thus risking being branded an enemy country.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Isaac Herzog, March.Credit: Murat Cetinmuhurdar / Presidenti

Cavusoglu is expected to meet on Wednesday with his Israeli counterparts to discuss an initiative to lay a gas pipeline between the two countries. Israel has made it clear that such a project, which would require long-term investment, would be launched only after diplomatic officials are convinced that ties with Turkey have stabilized. The foreign minister is also expected to discuss agreements regarding flights with Israeli Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, as well as a demand by Israeli airlines to work alongside Turkish airlines in flights to various parts of the country.

Also on Wednesday, Cavusoglu is expected to visit the Temple Mount in what has been described as a “private” visit, a gesture to the Palestinian Authority that will permit the minister to visit East Jerusalem unaccompanied by Israeli diplomats. This is not the first such visit of a foreign diplomat at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Turkish delegation has confirmed to Israel that the delegation will be responsible for the minister’s security, and that security on the Temple Mount will be transferred to the Waqf, the Islamic trust that manages the site. Israeli officials said they believed Israeli police would be able to intervene in case of an attempted assault on the minister or some other security breach in the complex.

Turkey has been critical of Israel’s policies concerning the holy site, sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Cavusoglu said reports of the clashes had upset Turkey. “It is important for all Muslims that the sanctity and status of Al-Aqsa is protected,” he said.

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