How UK became mediator between Israel and Turkey

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 9, 2012

Britain has joined a US initiative to mediate between Israel and Turkey in an effort to repair relations between the two countries.

Restoring complete diplomatic ties and a strategic partnership between Israel and Turkey — which only a few years ago were strategic allies — has long been an objective for the Americans.

The issue was raised last week in Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s talks in Israel and will come up again this weekend as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Ankara.

The relationship soured in recent years as the Islamist government of Prime Minister Reçep Tayyep Erdogan sought closer ties with Turkey’s Muslim neighbours including Syria and Iran.

The British involvement has been at the highest levels only, without the involvement of the countries’ embassies. According to a report in Haaretz, Prime Minister David Cameron passed on a personal message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Mr Erdogan when he came to London two weeks ago to attend the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

An Israeli diplomat said: “Britain is the only senior member of the EU with relatively close ties to the Turkish government. Unlike the French and the Germans, the British government was not opposed to Turkey joining the EU.”

Mr Erdogan severely criticised Israeli leaders following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza three years ago, and Turkish authorities were involved in organising the flotilla to Gaza two years ago, in which nine Turkish activists were when Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara ferry. The UN-appointed Palmer Commission ruled that Israel had been within its rights to board the flotilla and, following the Palmer report, Turkey further downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Israel.

The chaotic situation in Syria is of serious concern to its neighbours, Israel and Turkey, which are both worried about border violence, and the use of chemical weapons by elements within Syria.
This has added impetus to attempts to rebuild bridges.

Last updated: 11:17am, August 9 2012