The countries are facing a common enemy in Syria and eying the energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey-Israel relations froze in 2010 following Israel’s violent raid on a Turkish aid ship called Mavi Marmara, in which 10 social workers were killed. The bloody event led to the recalling of diplomatic envoys from both sides, dealing a serious blow to their bilateral ties.
A decade later, there are signs of a thaw in relations between the two countries. The Middle East Eye quoted an Israeli official as saying that both sides have common interests such as their involvement in Syria and investments in the Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves.
Earlier this week, as Egypt, Southern Cyprus, France, Greece and the UAE sent out a joint statement accusing Turkey of engaging in "illegal-activities” in the Eastern Mediterranean, Israel did not feature, a change that was noticed by regional experts and observers.
When asked about Israel’s absence, the Israeli official said Tel Aviv was never in the group comprising Egypt, Southern Cyprus, France, Greece and the UAE.
“We are only members of the Eastern Med Gas Forum, which is based in Cairo. That statement had two issues, one of them was Libya, whereas the saying goes, we have no dog in the fight,” said the Israeli official.
“We have never discussed anything related to a maritime delimitation deal with Turkey, even in the heydays of bilateral relations in the 1990s, the reports are complete nonsense,” the Israeli official added.
Advocating for the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey, he spoke along the lines of an ancient proverb: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
“The same Iranian proxy known as Hezbollah is challenging Turkey’s soldiers in Idlib, and it is challenging our soldiers in southern Syria. This is a common topic of interest, as well as energy,” the official said, according to the Middle East Eye.
Additionally, the Israeli public seems to desire a close relationship with Turkey. In 2019, according to a survey, 53 percent of Israelis are in favour of improved ties with Ankara, an 11 percent increase when compared to 2018.
Israel’s energy dreams in Mediterranean and Turkey
The discovery of large gas reserves off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea has shaped Tel Aviv’s diplomatic ties in the region. Prior to Israel’s war against Gaza in 2010, the two countries were close to a deal in the East Mediterranean which would have brought Israeli gas to Turkey.
On January 2, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attended a signing ceremony in Athens for the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline.
The 1,900 kilometre-long pipeline will run from Israeli waters to Greece and onwards to Europe. If constructed, it would be the world's longest subsea pipeline and cost anywhere between $7 billion to $11 billion.
However, Turkey was quick to respond, Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said: “Turkey will not permit any activity that is against its own interests in the region. Any plan that disregards Turkey has absolutely no chances of success.”
Turkey’s memorandum with Libya’s UN-backed government
Ankara also previously slammed Greece for playing a destabilising role in the Eastern Mediterranean by attempting to seize approximately 39,000 square metres of maritime waters that belong to Libya. Turkey says the infringement violates international norms as it is aimed at facilitating Israel's gas pipeline project backed by Athens, Cairo, Tel Aviv and the Greek Cypriot Administration, while completely sidelining Libya and Turkey.
While the route of the pipeline goes through Turkey’s EEZs, Ankara was not consulted on the implementation of the project, angering the Turkish state, which eventually developed its own plan to block the EastMed project by reaching an understanding with Libya’s UN-recognised Tripoli government.
The UN-backed Libyan government was completely sidelined by Israel and Greece even though the EastMed pipeline project is to pass through the Libyan maritime zone.
Thanks to the deal in place, Ankara and Libya are now working towards establishing control between Turkey’s southwestern coast of Fethiye-Marmaris-Kas and the Derna-Tobruk-Bordia coastline of Libya. Both parties aim to strengthen "security and military cooperation".
And, it means that any country that wants to realise its targets in the East Mediterranean should have a close relationship with Turkey, of which Israel seems to be aware.