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Turkey, Israel End 6 Years of Diplomatic Strain

  • Dorian Jones

A Turkish flag flutters atop the Turkish embassy as an Israeli flag is seen nearby, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 26, 2016.

A Turkish flag flutters atop the Turkish embassy as an Israeli flag is seen nearby, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 26, 2016.

The Israeli and Turkish prime ministers announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations, frozen for six years following the killing of Turkish activists who sought to break Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the countries will restore their ambassadors as soon as possible. The re-establishment of full diplomatic relations follows more than a year of secret negotiations.

Relations collapsed when Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists who tried to sail to Gaza, which was under a naval blockade in 2010.

The new deal

Under the deal, Yildirim said Israel will pay families of the dead activists $20 million in compensation.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking simultaneously in Rome, said the naval blockade of Gaza would continue. He said it is vital to preventing arms delivery. Ankara had been demanding Israel lift the embargo in return for full diplomatic relations.

Yildirim said under the agreement Turkey would be allowed to deliver aid to Gaza, through Israel. He said the first ship loaded with more than 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will leave for the Israeli port of Ashdod on Friday. He also said Turkey would build a 200-bed hospital in Gaza.

Istanbul-based political consultant Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners said powerful forces of mutual interest are driving the deal.

"There are political as well as economic reasons, obviously the dynamics of the Syria war have compelled both Israel and Turkey for a reconciliation," he said. "Israel was afraid that its border with Syria would be occupied by radical fundamentalist organizations."

Israel and Turkey were once allies whose relationship extended to close military ties.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the move. Washington has been lobbying hard for a rapprochement between two of its most important allies in the region.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University said little more than pragmatism supports the relationship.

"This is the sheer and cold interests of states and no more," he said. "Turkey remains deeply anti-Semitic and probably Israel remains a deeply anti-Muslim country."

Observers point out that despite recent tensions, bilateral trade has continued to grow. Netanyahu said the deal will have an immense impact economically for Israel.

Analyst Yesilada said the deal will likely see deepening economic cooperation.

"Economically, Israel wants to transport its natural gas discovered offshore to Europe and Turkey clearly wants to reduce its gas dependence on Russia," he said. "So that urgency is still there."

Ankara has been seeking alternative gas suppliers to Russia, since a collapse in relations with Moscow. Observers point out the deal with Israel is also part of a wider strategy of repairing relations with neighbors and former allies, which has seen Ankara become increasingly isolated in the region.

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