ANKARA: Turkey and Israel are set to forge closer ties on various fronts, including military cooperation, after months of rapprochement.
For an official visit to meet his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is due to visit Turkey next Wednesday.
A few days before the elections in Israel, this visit will be the first of an Israeli defense minister to Turkey for a decade.
Two months ago, the director of the Political Bureau and POL-MIL Brig. General (retired) Dror Shalom also visited Turkey “to reopen the channels of defense ties between the countries”, the Israeli Defense Ministry said, preparing the framework for the next ministerial meeting.
Ankara and Jerusalem had already developed close ties in the defense industry since the 1960s, while engaging in security cooperation, intelligence sharing and joint military training.
Last June, joint security coordination between the two countries made it possible to organize the arrest of several Iranians suspected of planning attacks against Israelis in Turkey.
Turkey was also among Israel’s top arms customers for Heron armed drones as well as electronic reconnaissance and surveillance systems. But, following the Mavi Marmara crisis in 2010, Turkey stopped all its military and industrial defense cooperation projects with Israel.
As part of a NATO patrol in the region, a Turkish warship, the TCG Kemalreis, docked at Haifa port in September along with an American destroyer.
“Turkey-Israel normalization is moving forward. After the two countries announced their choice of ambassadors, ministerial visits began,” Dr. Nimrod Goren, president and founder of Mitvim – Israel’s Institute for Regional Foreign Policy, told Arab News.
“It’s important to diversify cooperation channels and inject content into the relationship,” he added.
“It allows countries to renew previous mechanisms that have been shelved during years of crisis, such as the Joint Economic Commission, and to identify new issues for cooperation in light of changing regional realities, for example in the area of security,” he added. said.
According to Goren, the timing of these visits, shortly before the Israeli elections, shows that engagement with Turkey is something that Israeli politicians believe enjoys public support in addition to serving national interests.
An annual opinion poll conducted by the Mitvim Institute recently revealed that 72% of Israelis polled want stronger relations with Turkey.
For Gabriel Mitchell, a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech University and policy researcher at Mitvim, Gantz’s visit to Ankara must be seen in several contexts.
“Firstly, this marks the first engagement between senior officials since Lapid and Erdogan met at the United Nations General Assembly in late September, and the announced appointment of new ambassadors, affirming once again the continuation of the process between the two country to get relations back on track,” he told Arab News.
Second, Mitchell suggests tempering expectations for security cooperation.
“While there are clearly points of common interest between the parties, including developments in Ukraine, Syria and Iran, my assumption is that the process will be gradual and largely dependent on the successful restoration of relations between the elites of security,” he said.
This is why the meeting between Gantz – a potential candidate for prime minister – and Akar is so important, Mitchell added.
According to Mitchell, regional initiatives will likely take longer to form given the political uncertainty in both countries and the mixed sentiment in the region towards Erdogan.
Finally, Mitchell drew attention to the timing of the meeting in light of the domestic political situation in Israel.
“With elections taking place on November 1, government actors like Gantz must look abroad in order to demonstrate their good faith to voters,” he said.
“While a visit to Turkey is unlikely to sway many voters, Gantz hopes to bolster his image as a responsible political actor and with very thin margins, every gesture can have an impact,” he added.
Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said the visit was surprising for two main reasons.
“The first is that the elections in Israel at the time of the visit will take place in less than a week, and therefore it is not insignificant that Gantz is visiting Turkey at such a critical time,” she said. at Arab News.
Second, Lindenstrauss added, it was assumed that Israel and Turkey would find it difficult to cooperate on defense again, as the two countries continue to be suspicious of each other.
Israel has invested in strategic relations in the region amid the growing security threat from Iran.
In early October, Gantz visited Azerbaijan, a major customer of Israeli military technology, to deepen security ties with Baku, a close Turkish ally. During the meetings in Baku, the development of Israel’s ties with Turkey and other countries in the region were also discussed.
“What may explain the visit is that the current government sees rapprochement with Turkey as one of its achievements during its short tenure,” Lindenstrauss said.
“Furthermore, while the tensions between Iran and Turkey are not to be exaggerated, there are clearly growing tensions between the two. In this regard, Gantz’s visit to Turkey can be linked to his visit earlier this month to Azerbaijan,” Lindenstrauss added.