Turkey Was One of Israel's Most Important Allies: Then Came the Raid on the Mavi Marmara

Moment, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

Turkey Was One of Israel's Most Important Allies: Then Came the Raid on the Mavi Marmara


Two views from Ankara and Jerusalem

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Rise and Fall (?) of the Israel-Turkey Alliance

Israel's raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as it tried to break the blockade of Gaza, leading to the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, has drawn international attention to the Israel-Turkey alliance. The story is more than a clash between Israel's conservative Likud government and Turkey's Islamist-influenced Justice and Development Party (AKP), although it is that, too. It is a tale of a strategic partnership between two outliers in the region, fueled by shared security concerns and complementary economies.

In 1949, Turkey--a modern democracy with a secularist military that was willing to intervene to keep it that way--was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Israel. Despite its largely Sunni Muslim population and the disapproval of its Arab neighbors, Turkey kept business and diplomatic channels open with Israel, though not on the ambassadorial level.

The breakup of the Soviet Union followed by the Oslo Accords emboldened Turkey's leaders to upgrade their ties with Israel to an alliance and appoint an ambassador, moves welcomed and encouraged by the United States. The 1990s saw massive military sales by Israel to Turkey, groundbreaking joint military exercises and booming bilateral commerce. The relationship stayed strong even after the anti-Zionist Justice and Development Party came into power in 2002.

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Turkey Was One of Israel's Most Important Allies: Then Came the Raid on the Mavi Marmara
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