Israel and Turkey restore full diplomatic relations

Move ends six-year rift that followed killing of ten Turkish activists by Israeli commandos

Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi at Chigi Palace in Rome, where Mr Netanyahu announced a restoration of Israel’s full diplomatic relations with Turkey. Photograph: EPA/Tibero Barichelli/Palazzo Chigi press office

Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi at Chigi Palace in Rome, where Mr Netanyahu announced a restoration of Israel’s full diplomatic relations with Turkey. Photograph: EPA/Tibero Barichelli/Palazzo Chigi press office

 

Israel and Turkey have reached an agreement to fully restore diplomatic relations, ending their six-year rift after Israeli naval commandos raided a Gaza-bound Turkish ship trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, killing ten Turkish activists.

Formal announcements on the restoration of ties, which followed months of arduous negotiations, were made on Monday afternoon by Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during a visit to Rome, and his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim in Ankara.

Mr Netanyahu said the agreement was of “strategic importance” and would promote stability in a turbulent Middle East. “Israel and Turkey are two major regional powers,” he said. “The disconnect between us prevented necessary cooperation.”

Mr Yildirim said the two countries would appoint ambassadors as soon as possible after the agreement is signed on Tuesday.

He also revealed that a Turkish ship loaded with over 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid for Gaza will leave for the Israeli port of Ashdod on Friday.

Under the terms of the deal Israel has apologised for the killing of the ten activists on board the MV Mavi Marmara and will pay €18.2 million compensation to the families of those killed. Turkey is dropping all criminal charges it had filed against Israeli soldiers who participated in the raid.

Important ally

Israel refused initial Turkish demands to lift its economic blockade on Gaza but will allow Turkey to ship humanitarian aid to Gaza via Ashdod, and Turkey is also to build a 200-bed hospital, power plant and water desalination facility in Gaza.

Turkey was once Israel’s most important ally in the Muslim world and the two countries enjoyed a very close military and economic relationship.

Since the flotilla interception in May 2010 relations have been tense as Ankara withdrew its ambassador from Israel and developed close ties with Hamas. Mr Netanyahu said Turkey had committed to preventing plans for terrorism against Israel from its territory.

Washington, a key ally to both countries, had urged reconciliation, stressing important shared strategic interests, notably the need to contain Iran in Syria.

There was significant criticism within Israel of the reconciliation, and defence minister Avigdor Lieberman was expected to vote against. Hamas still holds the remains of two soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war and has failed to provide information on the fate of two Israeli civilians who went missing after crossing the border into Gaza.

Families of the missing Israelis had urged the government to postpone signing the deal and relatives of one of the soldiers set up a protest tent in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu said Turkey had promised to help return the soldiers’ remains and the captives from Gaza.

Turkey’s move toward rapprochement with Israel comes amid its deepening isolation in the region following a breakdown of ties with Russia and Egypt as well as the turmoil in neighbouring Syria.

The reconciliation deal is also expected to boost prospects for Israeli sales of natural gas to Turkey and for the laying of pipelines via Turkey to European markets.