Turkey softens Gaza embargo claim for thaw with Israel

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim

Turkish prime minister has offered a revised version of Ankara’s long demand that Israel lift embargo imposed on Gaza, softening its stance in the hope of winning its friendship with Israel back.

At a time when Turkey had been increasingly isolated in a region where it finally recognized its limits, the country’s new prime minister, Binali Yildirim, said on Tuesday that Israel met Turkey’s third demand of ¨loosening the embargo¨ over Gaza. Yildirim’s new description of the third demand stood in contrast to Ankara’s repeated claims in the past that Jerusalem must lift its naval, air and ground embargo on Gaza for any possible reconciliation with Turkey.

For decades, Turkey had been a precious ally for Israel, a small nation marginalized by its Arab neighbors for its invasion of Palestinian lands in the 1967 war. Turkey enormously benefitted from Israel’s cutting-edge military technology and its military modernization programs. The prospect of benefitting from Israel’s newly discovered gas reserves are viewed as a key motivation behind Turkey’s intention to speed up the reconciliation process.

The rupture between the two countries had been in the making since Israel’s military operation against Gaza in early 2009. Israeli raid on IHH-sponsored Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010 was the final straw that ended diplomatic relations. Trade between the two nations, however, saw little, if any, reductions in the six-year of the cold war.

In 2013, US President Barack Obama nudged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize to Turkey and Israel largely was on the same page with Ankara with respect to compensation to families of Mavi Marmara victims. Nine activists died on the scene while another activist succumbed to his wounds years later.

¨We had a condition [for the reconciliation] that [Israel] long resisted. And that was loosening the embargo on Palestine, particularly Gaza, and allowing humanitarian aid there under Turkey’s leadership. Negotiations over this issue were very intense and Israel agreed to this condition too.¨ Yildirim told a parliamentary group meeting in Ankara.

Yildirim’s remarks suggested a change of narrative on the Turkish side regarding its demands – a policy shift. In Turkey, where the anti-Israeli rhetoric is a significant political capital, politicians are walking a fine line in matters related to Israel. Since Turkey and Israel signed a reconciliation deal last month, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency as well as other pro-government media had been highlighting news reports about Gaza-bound convoys of humanitarian aid.

Yildirim lashed out at critics for Ankara’s reconciliation deal with Israel, claiming that it was significant in improving lives of Gazans, who have been living under crushing embargo by Israel and Egypt since 2006. The most stinging attacks came from Islamists, particularly relatives of Mavi Marmara victims, blasting the government for mending ties with Israel without a palpable change regarding the Gaza embargo. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a surprising about-face, slammed the IHH, Mavi Marmara flotilla’s organizer, arguing that the flotilla left Turkey without the government’s permission.

The Israeli-Turkey reconciliation deal is expected to be easily ratified in the Turkish Parliament, where the ruling party AKP holds the majority of seats.