How a gas pipeline to Europe is transforming the Turkish-Israeli relationship
The relationship between Turkey and Israel has never been an easy one to understand. Since formal relations crystalised in 1949, with Turkey becoming one of the first majority Muslim countries to recognise Israel, both countries have found themselves at an arm’s length with the rest of the Middle East.
By the time Israel sent medics to assist victims of Turkey’s tragic earthquake in 1999, the two countries were sharing military technology and bilateral trade was booming. The relationship then took a sour turn, at least rhetorically. A war of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a fever pitch over the last decade and seemingly threatened the foundations of this unique partnership.
Many observers, however, believed the alliance was never really at risk, due to the sheer amount of trade that moves between the two countries.
But now, all that has changed. The discovery of massive natural gas fields off Israel’s northern coast more than a decade ago and subsequent attempts to export this gas to Europe have highlighted the true fault lines in the Turkish-Israeli alliance. Recent events reveal a fundamental shift in the alliance is undeniably underway.
As part of his phenomenal rise to power, Erdoğan convinced Turks that Turkey was set to re-emerge as a new Ottoman empire, with Istanbul as its beating heart. With his conservative religious background, Erdoğan saw himself a new type of sultan for this neo-Ottoman state, one who understood how to blend neo-liberal economic policy and socially conservative politics. While the economy was booming, Erdoğan had few reasons to create enemies. In the late 2000s, ultra-low interest rates opened up cheap cash flows that were used to fund mega projects across the country. In Istanbul, a new bridge across the Bosphorus, a new airport, and even plans for a new canal were dreamed up.
Turkey also espoused a unique form of soft power that privileged a policy of “no problems with neighbours.” Then, the Arab Spring swept across the region and, sensing a shift in power dynamics, Erdoğan bet squarely on the Muslim Brotherhood. It proved to be a losing proposition and the policy of “no problems with…