Friends or Enemies? An Overview of Turkey-Israel Relationship

16 January 2010
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Both Turkey and Israel had close militaristic and political relations but after the war in Gaza in 2009 the relationship has been harmed. On 29 January 2009 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan requested “one minute” from the moderator at World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and another crisis began between Turkey and Israel:

“One minute! One minute! No! One minute!.. Mr. Peres you are older than me. Your voice is very loud. I know that you are speaking aloud because of the requirement of a sense of guilt. My voice will not be that loud” (1).

After this tense dialogue Erdoğan walked off the stage where Turkey was expected to be the negotiator between Israel and Syria. While some accepted this rebuke as the symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s Gaza policies which 13 Israelis and 1400 Palestinians were killed; some used it as a material for jokes. In any case it is a fact that “one minute” made the relationship between Turkey and Israel even tenser.

Firstly the drama series called Ayrılık showed soldiers brutalising Palestinians. This incident was carried to a diplomatic level and the relations between the two countries have been severely strained. Then the popular television series named Kurtlar Vadisi pour oil on fire by showing Mossad agents as child-snatchers. After this incident Israel attempt to take revenge by preparing a scene for the Israeli press. In this respect Israel called Turkey’s ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol. The aim of this scene was to prove that Israel is superior to Turkey by humiliating the Turkish ambassador. First a seat which is lower than Israeli side’s was offered to Çelikkol to sit on. Secondly there was only an Israeli flag on the table. There were no treats, handshakes nor refreshments for the ambassador. There was the Israeli press which Çelikkol ignorant of. Moreover Çelikkol waited a while for Ayalon to take him inside. According to The Guardian (2), Ayalon said to the Israeli television journalists and photographers in Hebrew that: “The important thing is that people see that he's low and we're high and that there is one flag here.” Then the journalists requested Ayalon to shake hands with Çelikkol. The answer was: “No. That's the point” (12th Jan 2009). Furthermore according to the Turkish sources, the ambassador to Israel had no opinion what the meeting was about beforehand. This diplomatic reproach encountered reactions from Israeli army. After a conflicting statement of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon Turkey warned Israel by recalling the Turkish ambassador. After the second apology from Israel it seems like the crisis is settled.

All in all it is clearly seen that Israel and Turkish governments are on opposite sides. They compete with each other to have the power in the Middle East. It is a fact that Israel lost its very own prestige while it was trying to damage Turkey’s. When we look at people’s reactions to this incident most of them think that this is collusion between the two states. The antagonistic relationship revolves around the crises which encompass Middle East and Mediterranean zone. The only platform that the two countries became together is the Barcelona Process: Union for Mediterranean. This act united the European Union with the Mediterranean countries with the aim of fighting with terrorism, human trafficking, and smuggling.

According to Lochery (3) Turkey is the “natural choice of ally for Israel” to stand up in the Arab world. Turkey is a secular, democratic country and also has strong bonds with NATO and the USA. Also both Turkey and Israel are neighbours with Syria but Israel does not have a coherent relationship and have problems with it. Moreover Turkey is not a member of the EU but it has a political and commercial relationship with Europe. As Lochery emphasizes Israel is looking for partners in Europe for the benefit of its economic interests. Contrary of Erbakan government’s anti-Semitist approach Justice and Development Party adopted a different discourse than The Welfare Party’s. As Çelik underlines, Prime Minister Erdoğan has claimed that “Israel’s right to exist should be recognized and that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity” (4). Also in response to the occupation of Ramallah in 2002 Erdoğan reacted against Ariel Sharon government not Israel. Moreover, as Çelik highlights that

"Erdoğan has declared himself in favour of strategic agreements with Israel when Turkey’s interests necessitate. In short, Erdoğan and the AK Party are using a language closer to the centre-right parties in Turkey on the Israel issue, far from the discourse of political Islam."


In this sense if the factors above are considered it would be expected that Turkey and Israel would be the one of the closest allies in world politics. With the large and modern military, educated elite class, dynamic market, and being a bridge between the East and the West; Turkey is like the most appropriate partner. However, as Kaya underlines, conflict in the area can be explained by Israel’s realpolitic strategies (5). According to Israel’s practical considerations the most important thing is to control the power balance in Middle East. In this respect, Kaya mentions that, even if there would not a problem about nuclear weapons, the relationship between Tehran and Ankara would bother Israel anyway.

Two days after the low sofa scandal occurred and a year after Erdoğan rebuked as “one minute”, on 13 January 2010, Israeli Deputy Ayalon officially apologized from ambassador Çelikkol and another crisis between the two states ended by this act. However the hostile relationship between Turkey and Israel seems like to outlast for many years. The alliance between Turkey and Israel has become essential component of the geopolitics in Middle East. The agreements which had signed in 1996 and resulted in a strategic alignment between the two countries were considered as a threat to Arab World. Even according to some parts, the alignment which brought a Jewish and a Muslim state for the first time was seen as “Turkey’s second betrayal of the Arabs in 50 years” and was called as called as “anti-Arab alliance” (6). The alignment between Turkey and Israel which could be the hope to peace in Middle East is becoming much looser. Consequently the last crisis which encompassed series of diplomatic reproaches harmed the relation between Turkey and Israel which were already damaged at WEF in 2009. And it is still questionable that if an apology from the aggrieved side is enough to save the shaken prestige after a diplomatic scandal.



1-Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech is available at:    [Accessed: 14 January 2010].

2-The Guardian (2009): ‘Israel-Turkey Rift Resurfaces over TV Show’, 12 January.

3- Lochery, N. (1998): ‘Israel and Turkey: Deepening Ties and Strategic Implications, 1995-98’ in Israel Affairs. Vol: 5, No:1, p:45-62. Available at:         [Accessed: 13 January 2010]

4- Çelik, O: Turkey and the Fate of Political Islam. P. 61-84. Available at:    [Accessed: 13 January 2010].

5- Kaya, E. (2010): Türkiye İsrail İlişkilerinde Yeni Dönem. 13 January. Available at:     [Accessed: 14 January 2010]

6- Bengio, O and Özcan, G. (2001): ‘Old Grievances, New Fears: Arab Perceptions of Turkey and Its Alignment with Israel’ in Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 37, No. 2, April, p.50-92.

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