By Ufuk Ulutaş
SETA Policy Brief, January 2010
When Turkish-Israeli relations were formalized in March 28, 1949, Turkey became the first Muslim state to recognize the state of Israel; however, relations were kept at a minimum level for decades. From 1949 to the early 1990s, relations were very fragile and followed a fluctuating pattern. This pattern was replaced by the “honeymoon years” starting from the late 1990’s. The late 1990s marked by the soft coup of 1997, also known as the “February 28 Process,” constituted an exception in the pattern and level of relations between Turkey and Israel. Since 2000, relations regained its historically fluctuating pattern and this continues to characterize the nature of relations between Turkey and Israel today.
The Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in 2008 is a turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations. During the period from the Gaza attack to Ehud Barak’s recent Turkey visit, Turkey’s Israel policy has been consistent and well-organized, while Israeli policies toward Turkey can be characterized as chaotic and disorganized. The mise-en-scène of the most recent “chair crisis” is a clear indicator of this disorganization and chaos. The bigger picture of the crisis between Turkey and Israel suggests a structural difference between the two countries’ foreign policy orientations and visions regarding the future of the Middle East. The Turkish-Israeli relations would continue to fluctuate without Israel’s willingness to deal decisively with the key issues of peace in the Middle East, such as the settlements, status of Jerusalem, and Lebanese and Syrian tracks, and most urgently, the improvement of humanitarian conditions in Gaza.