By all accounts, Turkey and Israel have come very close to restoring diplomatic relations — as well as business ties, strategic discussions, and perhaps even joint projects of the kind that were potent but never publicized — but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t feel like doing it. Not yet.
Erdogan is now quoted as saying that relations cannot be normalized until Israel swears, in writing, that it is lifting “the siege” around the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials this week had thought it would be sufficient for them to permit the food and other supplies — originally on the Mavi Marmara — to be delivered by truck to Gaza.
That was the Turkish ship — part of a protest flotilla — stopped by Israeli commandos in May of 2010: a botched raid that resulted in the deaths of 9 of the protesters (eight Turkish men and one U.S. citizen).
JTA (the former Jewish Telegraphic Agency) had reported on Monday: “Turkey and Israel are close to normalizing bilateral relations for the first time since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey’s foreign minister said.”‘ In the view of Turkish officials, Israel had apologized for the raid on the ship and was offering to pay millions of dollars to the familiesof the dead men.
But what really matters is what Erdogan feels like doing. He is still exploring all ways of being a hero in the Muslim world. His efforts in Egypt were rebuffed last year, when his supposed friend President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the Egyptian military. Erdogan is still a fairly regular visitor, and an apparently friendly one, to Iran.
In Syria — sandwiched between Turkey and Israel — chaos and bloodshed continue. Israel is far from clear as to the outcome it prefers in Syria, and it seems that Erdogan has not firmly chosen sides either. He has the extra problem of Syrian refugees who are crowding camps on the Turkish side of the border.
But if Erdogan wants to be a populist hero, which side should he take? Which Syrian factions might he back? For now, it seems, he does not see any value in reconciling with Israel — at least not publicly.