13 key moments in Turkish-Israeli relations

From recognition of the Jewish state to Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey and Israel have almost always come back to some form of cooperation benefiting mutual strategic interests

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Israeli President Shimon Peres addresses the Turkish Parliament during his visit to Ankara on November 13, 2007.

Updated Jun 28, 2016

Turkey and Israel have a history of political turbulence, often impacted by the Arab-Israel conflict and Middle Eastern politics. Even in periods of diplomatic crisis, the two countries understand there are mutual strategic and geopolitical interests at stake. Here's a look at the key moments in their relationship.

1.Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognise Israel

Turkey became the first Muslim majority country in the world to recognise Israel as a state in 1949.

This was in spite of Turkey voting against a UN Partition Plan for Palestine which recommended the creation of two separate Palestinian and Jewish states to coexist side by side.

During the 1950s, Turkey decided it was time to open the doors of its first diplomatic office in Tel Aviv but after the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, the office was downgraded to a low-level mission.

Dr Oswaldo Aranha of Brazil addresses the United Nations General Assembly's special session on Palestine at Flushing Meadows Park, New York on April 28, 1947.

2. 'Secret' top level meeting

Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion flew into Turkey late August 1958. The following meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes paved the way for the Peripheral Alliance. Some of the understandings were on cooperation in the "diplomatic, economic, and military" sectors. 

This improved relations and the Turks boosted their diplomatic mission to a much higher level in the 60s.

(L) Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and (R) Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes.

3. Arab-Israel conflict in 1967 damages relations

Israel and Turkey ties have almost always been impacted by the Arab-Israel relations. In 1967, their relationship took a knock after the Six-Day War in which Israel made significant territorial gains.

Turkey condemned Israel for its occupation of the Palestinian territories and demanded their immediate withdrawal. 

But, unlike its Arab counterparts, Turkey held back from calling Israel an “aggressor state”. It also rejected a demand by the Arabs to sever ties with Israel.

Israeli tank crew undergo training at an unidentified site in southern Israel on May 20, 1967 during the escalation of Middle East tensions leading up to the Six-Day War.

4. The shaky 80s

Turkey upgraded its diplomatic mission to a full-fledged embassy in 1980. But, this office didn't last a year.

Once Tel Aviv declared Jerusalem as its "eternal capital" and annexed East Jerusalem, Ankara downgraded the embassy to a mission of the lowest level.

In 1988, the two nations did however try to make peace by having discussions on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Turkish Foreign Minister Mesut Yilmaz discuss diplomatic relations at a UN General Assembly meeting in 1988.

5. Israeli-Palestinian peace process helps a friendship

During the 1990s, with the launch of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, ties improved and Turkey sent its first ambassador to Israel.

By 1993, then prime minister Tansu Ciller became the first head of Turkey to visit Israel. Her visit was soon followed by former Turkish president Suleyman Demirel's in 1996.

The same year, these two nations signed strategic cooperation and trade agreements.

US President Bill Clinton presides over a ceremony which marked the signing of the Oslo Peace Accord between Israel and Palestine. Shaking hands are Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat in September, 1993.

6. Erdogan continues trust-building efforts

In the early 2000s, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the conservative AK Party was elected as the Turkish prime minister, he continued the policy of building ties and also visited Israel.

During a visit to Israel in 2005, Erdogan told then-Israeli premier Ariel Sharon that AK Party considered anti-Semitism a crime against humanity.

Turkey even offered to mediate talks between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (L) shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) during a meeting in Jerusalem on May 1, 2005.

7. The historic parliamentary address

After Erdogan's visit, President Shimon Peres decided to make a trip to Turkey.

Peres met President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan and made history by addressing the Turkish Parliament. 

He was so overcome by the honour that he hailed it as an unprecedented moment in history. This is "the first time an Israeli official would make a speech at the Parliament" Peres said before his address.

But the high was short-lived. Soon after Peres’ visit, Israel's blockade of Gaza dealt a sharp blow to the relationship. 

Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul walk past a guard of honour at the Cankaya Presidential Palace in Ankara on November 12, 2007.

8. Gaza offensive tests Israeli-Turkish ties, again

Israel strengthened its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and Palestinian suffering intensified with shortages of food and medical supplies.

According to Amnesty International, over 1,000 Palestinians were killed during Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza which began in late December 2008 and ended in mid-January 2009.

This propelled Israel's relationship with Turkey into a downward spiral.

Palestinians assess the damage of their destroyed homes after an Israeli missile strikes the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza on January 1, 2009.

9. Erdogan slams Peres at Davos

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland saw one of the most public quarrels between the two countries' heads of state.

After Peres took to the stage and defended the Gaza offensive, Erdogan lashed out against the Israeli president. Much to the dismay of other leaders present, Erdogan stormed off after the moderator cut into his comments. 

One of the most memorable quotes from Erdogan was when he said to Peres: "Well, you killed people! I remember the children who died on the beaches!"

The episode which millions saw, took relations to an all-time low.

10. Israel attacks Gaza Freedom Flotilla

The Israeli commandos blitz on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, 2010 brought with it death, global condemnation and a historic low point in the unstable relationship between Israel and Turkey. 

In a bungled raid, Israeli commandos attacked a flotilla consisting of 3 cargo ships and 3 passenger boats which was heading to Gaza to distribute humanitarian aid and construction material. But it was the Turkish NGO-owned MV Mavi Marmara which was hit the hardest.

During the attack, eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish decent were killed while another Turk who was wounded died later in hospital.

The attack took place on international waters off the coast of Gaza and drew massive outrage from across the world.

Ankara immediately recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv after the incident. Erdogan described the attack as "state terrorism".

Turkey demanded an official apology, but Israel refused.

By 2011, relations were hanging by a thread after the Israeli ambassador was expelled from out of Turkey.

11. 2011 brings a business boom

Though political relations had hit rock bottom, both Turkey and Israel knew business must go on. Business and politics were separated by a Chinese-Wall like efficiency. Trade not only continued, but expanded by 26% compared to 2010. 

According to Israeli authorities, Turkish Airlines carried out more passengers from and to Israel in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, trade between the two countries was at $5.6 billion, stated Turkish Statistics Institute.

Exports from Turkey to Israel include cars, concrete, minerals, textiles, ceramics, plastic, rubber, asbestos and machinery while Israeli exports to Turkey include chemicals, electrical equipment and plastic and rubber products.

Trade between Turkey and Israel has been booming since 2010 though political relations have been in a state of crisis.

12. The Yes We Can moment

In 2013, US President Barak Obama intervened. He pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologise to Erdogan over the MV Mavi Marmara incident.

Netanyahu apologised to Erdogan over the telephone. The government followed and apologised to Turkey in March 2013, offering $20 million in compensation for the attack.

Israel also eased its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

In return, Turkey accepted Israel's apology.

President Barack Obama is greeted by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 20, 2013.

13. 2014-2016: A new horizon

By late July 2015, Turkey's foreign ministry confirmed a secret meeting in Rome between the two countries' top diplomats. 

In April 2016, Turkey said some progress had been made between Ankara and Tel Aviv in improving ties. 

Finally a new deal was announced in Ankara by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on June 27, 2016.

According to the terms and conditions, the Israeli government will allow Turkey access to Gaza through the port of Ashdod. In addition, Turkey is also going to have access to build a hospital in Gaza and a plant to supply water.

The first shipment of aid will be dispatched to Gaza on Friday, July 1, 2016, under the auspices of AFAD, a Turkish government aid agency, containing 10,000 tonnes of relief goods. 

In a less elaborated-upon move, Israel and Turkey have also made some headway on Hamas. 

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses the media in Ankara, Turkey, June 27, 2016

Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu meet in Rome, Italy in late July 2015.