BICOM Briefing | Israel-Turkey reconciliation: a progress report

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Last summer’s Turkish-Israeli reconciliation agreement appears to be holding steady, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shifts his focus to the constitutional referendum, scheduled for April 16, to determine whether the powers of the presidency should be expanded. For the first time since the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, neither Israel-Turkish relations, nor the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are being utilised to drum up public support.

The BICOM research team has produced a briefing on the reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, evaluating the strengths of the process, the potential threats to the reconciliation, and implications for Britain and Europe.

Key points

  • Having consolidated his authority after a failed coup attempt in June 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to gain sweeping new powers with victory in the forthcoming referendum.
  • Erdogan’s campaign has featured some extraordinary populist rhetoric against European powers, rather than against his usual target Israel, following the recent restoration of Israel-Turkey relations.
  • The return of Ambassadors in December came at a moment when Turkey was seeking to mend foreign relations on a number of fronts. Specific drivers for cooperation with Israel include the potential for Israel to supply gas to Turkey.
  • Whatever the outcome of the Turkish referendum, Israel-Turkey relations will remain delicate, in particular due to Erdogan’s and the ruling AKP’s Islamist affinities and support for Hamas. The strength of Israel-Turkey reconciliation will be severely tested if and when a fresh round of conflict occurs between Israel and Gaza.
  • Another source of deep uncertainty is the fast changing and unpredictable regional role of the Trump administration, which has sought to position itself as more pro-Israel than Obama, but whose relations with Turkey are fraught with difficulties, including US support for Kurdish fighters in the battle against ISIS.
  • From a European perspective, Turkey’s reconciliation with Israel, whilst welcome, should be interpreted as a pragmatic move rather than signalling a change in Erdogan’s world view, which builds on populist Islamist and anti-Western tropes. Furthermore, the increasingly repressive character of the Turkish government, which has contributed to souring relations with Europe, seems unlikely to change.

The full briefing is available as a PDF below.

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