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Israel International Relations:
Turkey-Israel Relations

(Updated August 2014)

Israel IR: Table of Contents | Trade Agreements | Humanitarian Relief

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Turkey and Israel have maintained some form of diplomatic relations since the Ottoman state recognized the Jewish State in 1949. Turkey’s first diplomatic mission in Israel was officially inaugurated on January 7, 1950, and the first Turkish Chief of Mission, Seyfullah Esin, presented his credentials to Chaim Weizzman, President of Israel. However, the Turkish Legation was downgraded to the level of “Charge d’Affaires” after the Suez-Suez Crisis in 1956.

In 1958, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes met secretly to discuss a “peripheral pact" which included public-relations campaigns, exchange of intelligence information and military support. Possibly as a result of these meeting, the Turkish mission in Tel-Aviv was upgraded back to the level of "Legation" in July 1963.

In 1967, Turkey joined the Arab condemnation of Israel after the Six-Day War and called for Israel’s withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, but it abstained from voting in favor of a clause referring to Israel as an “aggressor state.” At a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Rabat, Morocco, Turkey opposed a resolution calling for severing diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Turkish Legation in Israel was further upgraded to the level of “Embassy” in January 1980. In March 1992, the mutual diplomatic relations were raised once again to the Ambassadorial level and a Turkish Ambassador presented his credentials to Israeli President Chaim Herzog in Tel-Aviv.

Israel, meanwhile, has maintained two diplomatic missions in Turkey: an embassy in the capital city of Ankara, and its Consulate General in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul. 

In 2005, Turkish Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Israel offering to serve as a Middle East peace mediator and looking to build trade and military ties with the Jewish State. Erdoğan met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Moshe Katsav and also laid a wreath at Yad Vashem. Erdoğan told Sharon that his Justice and Development Party regarded anti-Semitism as “a crime against humanity.”

In early 2006, the Israeli Foreign Ministry described its country's relations with Turkey as "perfect." In November 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, and addressed the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Relations between the two nations began to strain following Turkey's condemnation of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-2009. In October 2009, Turkey barred Israel from participating in the joint Anatolian Eagle military exercise, to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying Turkey could no longer work as a peace mediator, stating "Turkey can't be [an] honest broker", between Syria and Israel.

In early 2009, Erdoğan harshly criticized Israel's conduct in Gaza at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland. In front of Israeli President Peres, Erdoğan said: "I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. You killed people. And I think that it is very wrong."

Relations between the countries further soured following the Gaza Flotilla Incident of May 2010, when eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American were killed by Israeli troops while aboard a convoy attempting to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. Erdoğan described the raid as "state terrorism" and Turkey immediately recalled its ambassador from Israel and summoned the Israeli ambassador to demand an explanation. The Turkish Foreign Ministry stated that the incident could lead to irreparable consequences in bilateral relations.

On September 2, 2011, Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and suspended military cooperation after the UN released its report on the flotilla incident. Turkey demanded an Israeli apology and compensation for the dead; Israel refused. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Turkey's opposition leader, condemned the downgrade in relations with Israel while Faruk Logoglu, a deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party, also criticized Erdoğan for the diplomatic severing of ties.

Although Turkish and Israeli intelligence agencies have been working together since 1958, strategic intelligence cooperation came to prominence between Turkey and Israel in the early 1990's, with signed agreements between the Mossad and Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT).  While carrying out missions in neighboring countries, the Mossad would use Turkey as a buffer zone to ensure their safety and security while returning from or travelling to their objectives. Pursuant to these agreements, Mossad members were able to enter and leave Turkey with their spy equipment without going through border crossings and security procedures, and avoided passport and customs checks as well. This security and intelligence relationship has been under high stress since October 2012, when it was revealed that Turkey had leaked to Iran the names of 10 Iranian spies working for Israel.  These Iranian spies would use Turkish territory as a meeting place with their Mossad "handlers".  If these allegations are true, that means that Turkey blew the cover of the Iranian spies and betrayed the strategic trust of Israel, violating the unwritten rules of international intelligence conduct and relations.  Following these events as well as the Gaza Flotilla incident in May 2010, Turkey's intelligence chief Hakan Fidan is attempting to cancel agreements with the Israeli Mossad that allow the Mossad members to operate freely on Turkish soil.  The Israeli intelligence agencies are upset at this prospect because Turkey has been a strategic ally for Israeli operations in the region for a long time. 

In March 2013, during a speech at a United Nations event, Erdoğan described Zionism as "a crime against humanity" saying, "It is necessary that we must consider—just like Zionism, or anti-Semitism, or fascism—Islamophobia."

Following US pressure on both sides, reconciliation between Israel and Turkey took off in early 2013. In March 2013, Israeli Prime Minister  Netanyahu apologized for the Gaza Flotilla incident and an official statement by the Israeli government said that Netanyahu expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral relations and described the flotilla incident as unintentional, regretful and involving "operational errors". Mr. Erdogan later issued a statement where he accepted the apology on behalf of the Turkish people.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Jerusalem Post

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