Israel turns to Balkans amid rocky relations with Turkey

Tense relations between Turkey and Israel have contributed to an expansion of Israeli soft power in the Balkans, according to an article published in Spectator magazine.

Amongst the signs have been the restoration of Jewish monuments in the region, such as a cemetery in Macedonia’s second largest city and investments in Serbia that the Israeli embassy say top $1.8 billion since 2000. 

Along with the expanding business and cultural links come tourists, whose numbers shot up 171% in 2017 compared to the previous year. The increase is partly because Turkey is no longer a popular destination for Israeli Jews, who used to visit in large numbers, but no longer feel comfortable.  

Among the factors leading the increase in tension between the two countries are the “Mavi Marmara” incident of 2010, which led to a diplomatic crises. More recently tensions over Jerusalem, including Donald Trump’s decision late last year to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, Palestinian issues, anti-Semitism in Turkey and energy exploration have again exacerbated tensions between the two countries.