Turkey holds secret talks to mend ties with Israel - report

Turkey’s national intelligence service chief Hakan Fidan has been backchanneling with Israeli officials in recent weeks as part of a Turkish-initiated effort to normalise relations, Al-Monitor reported on Monday, citing three sources close to the issue.

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and recalled its own in May 2018 over Israeli attacks on Gaza and the United States’ decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The sources said the latest round of secret talks was specifically aimed at upgrading ties back to ambassador level.

There is a window of opportunity for turning the page, Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, told Al-Monitor.

“I would think it would be in the interest of both states not to overstate the meaning of the step of bringing the ambassadors back,” she said. “As relations were not downgraded in 2018, it is from the diplomatic protocol point of view a simple step.”

The Turkish government has become concerned that the incoming Joe Biden administration will not provide the same allowances U.S. President Donald Trump afforded his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Trump has been lenient in the face of Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East, eastern Mediterranean and South Caucasus, as well as its purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defence systems and a legal case in the United States against Turkish state-run bank Halkbank, according to Al-Monitor.

“The calculation is that making nice with Israel will win (Turkey) favour with the Biden team,” Al-Monitor cited a Western official as saying.

Lindenstrauss said both Israel and Turkey can present the re-establishing of diplomatic ties “as a goodwill step for the coming Biden administration that is likely to be more interested in relaxing tensions between Israel and Turkey than the Trump administration, which didn't push this agenda at all.”

Jerusalem Post columnist Seth J. Franzman said Turkey may be preparing to use Israel as a “tool” to curry favour in Washington. The United States maintains Israel as its strongest ally in the Middle East.

“So Turkey thinks that being nice to Israel or Jews will now give it a new leaf in the United States,” he said in an op-ed on Tuesday. “This is a model that has been used before.”

One area of contention with the United States would be if Turkey continued to be the “global headquarters” for the Hamas movement, a Palestinian armed group based in Gaza, Al-Monitor said, citing one of its sources.

Israel maintains that hundreds of Hamas operatives have been offered sanctuary and, in some cases, Turkish nationality.

Franzman criticised Turkish officials’ effort to normalise relations with Israel after courting Hamas members and lambasting the country at every turn.

“Turkey’s far-right government has hosted Hamas leaders twice this year and backed claims that “Jerusalem is ours” and that it will “liberate” Al-Aqsa mosque from Israeli control, but now it wants to use Israel to escape its isolation from Washington,” he said.

It is uncertain if Israel will indulge Turkey and ignore its support for Hamas, Franzman said. He warned that the Israeli government may find “that not so far in the future Ankara will once again focus its sights on Jerusalem once it gets what it wants”.