Al Jazeera World

Fall Out In The Mediterranean

Turkey and Israel were once good friends but ties have slowly soured, creating new geopolitical tensions in the region.

Filmmakers: Mariam Shahin and George Azar

Turkey used to be Israel’s most important Muslim ally. The two Mediterranean countries were good friends at one time.

Military, strategic and diplomatic co-operation between Turkey and Israel was accorded high priority by both countries.

For almost 500 years, Istanbul was the capital city of a great empire. From here on the Bosphorus, the Ottomans ruled much of southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.

For centuries, the Ottoman rulers were custodians on the places in Jerusalem sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews. 

In 1922, the Ottoman sultanate was formally abolished and a year later Turkey became a secular republic with Kemal Ataturk as its president.

Turkish-Jewish ties strengthened when Turkey recognised the State of Israel in 1949 – the first mainly Muslim nation to do so. The relationship developed over the next half a century, with strong military and trade links.

Ofra Bengio, from Tel Aviv University, says: “The fact that Turkey was willing to have a relationship with Israel had to do with its relationship with the West and the fear of the Soviet Union. And Israel was part of the West.”

Changing geopolitics

But changes in the geopolitics of the region have led Turkey to rediscover its historical ties to the Arab world.

“The areas where we are going to produce gas has nothing to do with Turkey. And yes we look very much forward to being less dependent on imports and hopefully returning to exporters.

– Brigadier-General Yossi Kupperwasser, Israeli ministry of strategic affairs

Relations between Turkey and Israel began to sour after the 2008–09 war on Gaza and the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, in which nine Turks were killed.

Turkey’s burgeoning economic interests in the Arab world and its support for the Palestinians is causing a clash between the two allies.

“Turkey’s relationship with Israel is indexed to the Palestinian question. And then we have 1,400 people killed by the Israeli forces in attacks on Gaza, so many of them civilians,” explains Hugh Pope, from the International Crisis Group. “He [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan] could’t take it anymore. This [to sour ties] was not a Turkish decision.”

In addition to that, the discovery and drilling of natural gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus is exacerbating tensions between these two key US allies as they manoeuvre for control of the gas and natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

So could this falling out increase tensions in the region? Or can the relationship that has been historically important for both Turks and Jews be restored?

Fall Out In The Mediterranean assesses the gas dispute and the state of relations between the two countries today and how it affects the geopolitical balance in the region.


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