Turkish aid for forest fire brings diplomatic thaw

The aid sent by the Turkish government to help fight the blaze on Mount Carmel offered an opportunity to improve the relations between the two countries.

In the wake of the fire, discussions took place this week over an Israeli apology for the Gaza flotilla incident and compensations to the families of nine Turkish citizens killed by Israeli naval commandos.

On Friday, Turkey sent two firefighting planes to take part in the international effort to end the fire on the Carmel at the request of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Over the weekend, Mr Netanyahu called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to express Israel's gratitude; this was the first direct conversation between the two leaders for over a year. Diplomats on both sides lost no time in using the opportunity to repair relations between the two nations, who were strategic allies not long ago.

The ties between Israel and Turkey took a nose-dive two years ago during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, during which Mr Erdogan and his government severely criticised Israel and suspended joint military exercises.

Relations became even more strained in May this year, when the Israeli Navy commandeered the Mavi Marmara ferry, part of the flotilla to Gaza, and nine Turkish citizens were killed in the fight.

Turkey recalled its ambassador and has insisted on an apology and compensations as a condition for resumption of normal relations.

Israel so far has steadfastly refused the Turkish demands, claiming that the Turks on the Marmara belonged to a radical Islamic movement that intended to violently break the blockade on Gaza and fight the Israeli forces but, this week, senior diplomats from both countries have met in Geneva and achieved progress on an agreement.

The talks have revolved around
a draft in which Israel will apologise without taking full responsibility for the incident, and agrees to compensations. In return the Ankara government will resume full diplomatic
relations.

"The Turks are also very interested in ending the crisis," said a senior Israeli official, "as it has severely damaged their ties with the US. Even if we reach an agreement, it won't change the current government's basic hostility or closeness to countries like Iran, but we have to take a long-term view. Turkey is a regional power and we need to make sure we have a relationship with them also after Erdogan is gone."

The Palestinian Authority also sent aid, in the form of three fire engines and crews, but in their case, it does not seem to have thawed the diplomatic impasse, with the PA still demanding a full freeze on all building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a precondition to resuming direct talks with Israel.

Last updated: 1:50pm, December 9 2010