Natural Gas Could Be Key To An Israeli/Turkish Rapprochement

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The economic war being conducted by Russia against Turkey provides some opportunities for the United States if it chooses to take advantage of them. However, according to Al-Monitor, a website that covers all aspects of what is going on in the Middle East, Israel is already poised to make a diplomatic and trade breakthrough with Turkey.

Israel has uncovered a great deal of proven natural gas reserves in its offshore Tamar and Leviathan fields. The Jewish state has enough gas to supply its own needs and have plenty left over for export, an astonishing turn of events, as Israel has traditionally been an energy importer, dependent on Iran before the fall of the Shah and then the United States.

The problem is that the Israelis have had difficulty finding customers for their natural gas. Egypt had been a possibility, but then another gas field was discovered off the coast of that country. Now Egypt will become self-sufficient in energy, as well. In any case, the worldwide glut of natural gas has depressed prices, casting doubt that developing Israel’s gas fields for export would be worthwhile.

The dust-up between Turkey and Russia, as a result of the shootdown of a Russian jet by the Turkish Air Force, has been a godsend for Israel. Turkey would be a ready-made customer for Israeli natural gas. The trick will be to repair relations between the two countries that have been strained since the Israel Gaza War of 2008-2009 and have turned positively chilly because of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.

Israel and Turkey have actually been traditionally friendly, with Turkey being the first majority Muslim state to recognize the State of Israel in 1949. However, with the ascension of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as prime minister and then president of Turkey, relations took a turn for the worse.

Erdogan, head of an Islamist Turkish party, took an interest in Hamas-ruled Gaza and began to issue harsh rhetoric against Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian-inhabited enclave. The tensions reached a flash point when a so-called “freedom flotilla” set sail from a Turkish port, bound for Gaza, with hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists and humanitarian supplies on board. Israel has been maintaining a blockade of Gaza, in cooperation with Egypt, to prevent the smuggling of weapons, including missiles, which Hamas has rained down on Israeli territory.

The “freedom flotilla” attempted to run the blockade. Israel duly boarded one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara. In the ensuing fight, nine of the activists were killed, and many others wounded, as well as seven of the Israeli naval commandos. Erdogan downgraded relations with Israel and continued to condemn the Jewish state with rhetoric that bordered on the anti-Semitic.

Fast forward over five years, and it looks like Turkey wants to be friends with Israel again, not so much because it is in a forgiving mood, but because it needs Israeli natural gas.

According to Al-Monitor, the agreement is as follows:

“The five-point memorandum of understanding negotiated between Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold looks promising: Ankara and Tel Aviv would restore full diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors; Israel would pay $20 million to the families of the victims of the May 2010 Mavi Marmara raid; Turkey would pass a law ending all current and future legal cases against Israeli soldiers involved in Mavi Marmara; the two sides would begin negotiations on exporting Israeli natural gas to Turkey; and finally — and perhaps most important — Turkey would expel high-ranking Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri and curtail the activities of the militant Palestinian group on its territory.”

The sticking point remains Gaza. According to the International Business Times, Erdogan is demanding full and unrestricted access to the Hamas-controlled region. Israel seems disinclined to grant it. The demand is no doubt a last-minute negotiating tactic. It is hoped that a face-saving compromise can be found.

Stratfor suggests that an Israeli-Turkish reconciliation is all but inevitable, because of a convergence of economic interests. Some are even talking of building a pipeline from the Leviathan Field to a Turkish port. Turkey would have access to natural gas that Russia’s Putin cannot cut off. Israel gets a huge source of trade income.

Finally, Turkey and Israel have a common problem in the form of ISIS, as well as with Iran and its nuclear ambitions. The restoration of military cooperation between the two countries would go a long way toward addressing both problems.

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