The restoration of diplomatic links between Turkey and Israel could be an ominous turn of events for Greece and Cyprus, which engaged with Israel in energy hunt plans as relations between the countries tightened.
Turkey has claimed waters around Greek islands and said it would again send energy research vessels, usually accompanied by warships, including off Crete and areas whose sovereignty it disputes.
Israel has been exploring a separate gas-export pipeline linking Cyprus and Greece but it was unclear whether the normalization of ties with Turkey would see a change in attitude of support for Greece and Cyprus, where the northern third has been occupied since unlawful 1974 Turkish invasions.
Turkey has been trying to counter Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ building international alliances and a growing arsenal to counter worries of a conflict over Erdogan’s constant belligerence and threats.
Turkey has also bought Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems that could be used against Greece in a conflict and undermines the security of NATO, to which Turkey and Greece belong.
Russia’s state news agency said Turkey had ordered more – which Turkey denied – as the initial purchase led the United States to bar Turkey from buying F-35 fighter jets that would give Turkey an advantage over Greece’s F-16’s.
But the wily Erdogan got US President Joe Biden’s pledge to sell Turkey more F-16 fighter jets and upgrade Turkey’s Air Force, which led Mitsotakis – in an address to the US Congress which must ratify any deal – to urge lawmakers to veto it.
That infuriated Erdogan, who broke all communications with Mitsotakis whom he said “doesn’t exist” for him anymore and there haven’t been any substantial talks between Greek and Turkish officials since.
US Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat aligned with Greek and Cypriot causes, was worried about reports of Turkey going to buy more Russian missile defense systems and said it shouldn’t happen.
He urged Turkey to “unequivocally demonstrate its commitment to NATO and to regional peace and security by fully rejecting any military cooperation with a war criminal like (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” reported Kathimerini.
“The United States must be clear: Any expansion of Turkey’s ties to the Russian defense sector would be a grave mistake that would further endanger the security of our NATO allies and partners throughout Europe,” said Menendez.
Israel and Turkey said they would exchange ambassadors again for the first time in four years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seen keen on bringing some stability as he faces re-election in 2023 with a rocky economy.
The move comes after Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, was received in March with pomp and ceremony by Erdogan in an apparent ice-breaker in the first highest-level visit of an Israeli leader to Turkey in some 14 years.
The resumption of relations with Turkey “is an important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel,” Israel’s Interim Prime Pinister, Yair Lapid, said. He added: “We will continue to strengthen Israel’s standing in the world,” The New York Times reported.
Lapid heralded the move as “an important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel,” even though Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who earlier this year became the first in that office in 15 years to visit Israel said Turkey would still back Palestinian rights.
“In this respect, it would be important to deliver our messages directly from Tel Aviv,” Cavusoglu said, and even Turkey’s support of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, didn’t interfere with restoring ties with Israel.
Turkey had been the closest Muslim country to Israel and big trading partner but cut ties after a deadly clash in 2010 between Israeli commandos and Turkish activists on a ship trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Erdogan, the paper noted, has pushed the Palestinian cause and strongly criticized Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, even comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and accusing Israel of genocide over the deaths of Palestinian protesters when the United States in 2018 moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Israel has a paramount interest in fully restoring its diplomatic ties with Turkey,” Dore Gold, President of the Israeli think tank Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told the paper. He had been Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
“Despite the setbacks in their relations in years past, both Israel and Turkey have shared concerns today about the spreading of Iranian influence in the Middle East, especially Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapons capability,” Gold said.