Turkey

   From independence, Israeli officials saw the need to establish positive relations with the Muslim, non-Arab countries of the Middle East to offset Israel's isolation from and encirclement by hostile Arab neighbors. As part of this strategy, ties were developed with prerevolutionary Iran, Ethiopia, and Turkey.
   Because of pressure from its Arab and Muslim neighbors, Turkey voted against the partition of Palestine in 1947, however it did extend recognition to Israel in 1949 and established diplomatic relations. A bilateral trade agreement was signed in 1950, followed by a transportation agreement in 1951. Early on, the Turks viewed Israel as a potential military ally in their ongoing territorial disputes with Syria (especially over the Sanjak of Alexandretta and the distribution of the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates River system) and in combating Kurdish and Armenian terrorism.
   Beginning in the mid-1950s, Turkey began to move closer to the Arab countries and to diminish relations with Israel. In the wake of the Sinai War (1956), it reduced to charge d'affaires the level of its diplomatic representation in Israel, however Arab pressure for a complete severing of relations was resisted. Turkey joined much of the Arab and Muslim world in criticizing Israel's occupation of Muslim territory in the Six-Day War (1967), and there was a perceptible softening of Ankara's attitude toward Palestinian terrorist groups operating on Turkish soil. In 1971, the Israeli consul in Istanbul, Ephraim Elrom, was kidnapped and murdered, and in September 1986, 22 Jews were massacred in an Istanbul synagogue by members of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal Organization.
   The Knesset's passage of the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel (1980) led to a further reduction of Turkey's diplomatic representation in Israel to the level of second secretary. However, by the mid-1980s, the decline in the importance of the Arab market and Arab and Islamic oil opened the way for an improvement in Turkey's bilateral relations with Israel. The first expression of this new attitude was in trade. Bilateral commercial exchange totaled $54 million in 1987. By 1998, this figure had increased to approximately $750 million, with expectations of trade reaching $2 billion by the year 2000. In November 1993, Turkey's foreign minister Hikmet Cetin became the highest-ranking Turkish official to ever visit Israel. During Cetin's visit, the two countries set up working groups to establish a bilateral free-trade zone. (This agreement was formally ratified in April 1997.) In addition, Cetin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signed a memorandum of understanding laying the foundation for future cooperation between the two countries, particularly in economic matters. There were also high-level discussions about cooperation in security and the combating of terrorism.
   In late January 1994, President Ezer Weizman became the first Israeli head of state to visit Turkey, at the head of a large Israeli trade delegation. Subsequently, reciprocal visits by top Israeli and Turkish officials and by commercial delegations became routine.
   In addition to commercial exchanges, significant growth occurred in security cooperation, joint military training, and counterterrorism. The first joint training exercise involving the air forces of Israel and Turkey took place in June 1994. Also in 1994, the two sides reached a draft agreement on joint efforts to combat international terrorism. In 1996, it was revealed that Turkish and Israeli officials had quietly forged a series of secret military and intelligence agreements. These improving strategic relations were sustained in the mid-1990s (often at the insistence of the Turkish military) during the brief tenure of the Islamist government headed by Necmettin Erbakan. Beginning on 6 January 1998, Israel, Turkey, and the United States participated in large-scale naval search-and-rescue exercises in the eastern Mediterranean. The exercises, code-named "Reliant Mermaid," were observed by the commander of the Jordanian navy. Israeli and Turkish officials were at pains to emphasize that the exercises were designed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the performance of humanitarian services and were not meant to threaten third parties. Nevertheless, the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance was strongly criticized by many Arab countries, such as Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, as well as by Iran.
   In the summer of 1999, there was speculation that Turkey's ties with Israel would be scaled back following moves by Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to resume long-stalled peace negotiations with Syria, an opponent of increasing Turkish-Israeli security cooperation. Turkish president Suleyman Demirel made an official visit to Israel for talks with Barak aimed at reaffirming the U.S.-backed strategic partnership between the two regional powers to show that the recent change in government both in Turkey and Israel would not affect their core relations. In December 1999, Turkish, Israeli, and U.S. naval forces again participated in joint search-and-rescue exercises in the eastern Mediterranean. In recent years, the Israeli-Turkish relationship has endured strain resulting from two major sources: the election in October 2002 of the AKP, a conservative Turkish party with Islamic roots, and criticism from Ankara of measures adopted by Israel in responding to the Palestinian mass-casualty suicide bombings of the Al-Aksa intifada. In addition, the bombings of two synagogues in Istanbul on 15 November 2003 by groups associated with al-Qaeda threatened to adversely affect relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. However, the bilateral relationship proved resilient, driven in large measure by the similar regional concerns shared by Israelis and Turks, including Syrian and Iranian military adventurism the instability in post-Saddam Iraq, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the challenge of Islamic radicalism, and the geopolitical destiny of central Asia.
   Bilateral trade between Israel and Turkey grew to $2 billion in 2004, up from $200 million in 1993, and Turkey since the mid-1990s has been one of the prime foreign destinations for Israeli tourists. In addition, the post-9/11 international war on terror has brought the two states closer together. At the instigation of Turkish prime minister Re-cep Tayyip Erdogan, intelligence and security cooperation was widened following the November 2003 synagogue bombings in Istanbul. The Turkish arms market has remained open to Israeli firms. The AKP-led government did not cancel the Turkish military's contract to have Israeli firms upgrade M-60 tanks, despite election campaign promises to do so. In April 2005, Turkey selected an Israeli consortium for the Heron Unmanned Air Vehicles project, estimated to be worth $200 million. In addition, joint military exercises continued as planned; "Reliant Mermaid 7" was held in January 2005. Turkish prime minister Erdogan visited Israel on 1-2 May 2005.
   See also Foreign Policy; Foreign Trade.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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