February 28, 2013 - 12:00am

Ties between Israel and Turkey have been strained ever since the Israel intercepted the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in May 2010, however lately there have been signs that an improvement might be in sight.

Last week an Israeli defense contractor Elta exported equipment for four Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircrafts to Turkey, however the equipment was part of the deal Turkey signed with the American company Boeing and Elta is a sub-contractor for Boeing.

Although the news of the export showed an improvement compared to the deadlock of the past two and half years, analysts told Xinhua that there is still a long way to go before relations go back to normal.

"There are definitely several positive signs, especially that the Israeli side is interested in repairing relations, this has been the Israeli position from the start but it needs more serious efforts to repair the relations," Dr. Gallia Lindenstrauss of the Tel Aviv University told Xinhua on Wednesday.

Mutual interests

Prof. Dror Ze'evi of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said that recent improvement can not be seen as reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, instead it's the realization that the two have a number of common interests in the region.

The Turkish side isn't very keen on reconciliation right now; in fact it still wants to be portrayed as very tough on Israel for its own internal and Middle Eastern purposes," Ze'evi said.

"But, it has realized recently that there are many common interests and many things that it somehow needs to coordinate with Israel, chiefly of course being Syria and the Syrian crisis," he added.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has placed anti- missile system on the Turkish Syrian border and allowed Syrian opposition groups to operate from Turkey, he has been very critical of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from failing to respond to an Israeli air raid into Syria.

Erdogan has been adamant that Israel issue a formal apology that takes responsibility for the death of the Turkish national onboard the Mavi Marama, and Israel has been willing to compensate the families of the activists Jerusalem has refused to take sole responsibility for the events.

There have been attempts in the past to get the two sides to agree on the wording for an apology and it seems unlikely that Erdogan would backtrack from his previous demand, especially given the backing that this position have among Turks.

Israeli politics

Dr. Alon Liel of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former senior Israeli diplomat in Turkey said that while the recent news does intricate that there are economic ties between Israel and Turkey, there is still no security cooperation or coordination and the politics problems aren't going away.

Liel said that while United States President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to visit the region in March, is very interested in finding a way to solve the problems between Israel and Turkey, who both are important allies, it's hard to say if he will be successful as there is still no Israeli government in place after elections were held in January 2013.

"I don't know how the government will look like especially who will be foreign minister and I think that as long as Lieberman is supposed to hold this portfolio it will be very difficult to settle the relations with Turkey," Liel said.

Lieberman was foreign minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous government but he chose to step down after being indicted for fraud and breach of trust. And whereas he can't sit in the cabinet while being on trial Lieberman has called for Netanyahu to reserve the post of foreign minister in his next government on the virtue that their two parties, Netanyahu's Likud and Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu, formed a join bloc prior the elections.

Liel added that if the next foreign minister "will be somebody else, especially not from Likud-Beiteinu, there might be an agreement on a apology that will bring the ambassadors back and renew the dialog."

However, although renewed dialogue is a step in the right direction it is still a long way to go before the relations return to those of past decades, when the armies held join exercises annually and Israeli tourists flocked to Turkey for vacation.


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