Experts: Israeli-Turkish relations on brink of new crisis

Azerbaijan, Baku, July 19 /Trend, A.Tagiyeva/

A possible visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, would adversely affect the already strained relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv, which ultimately can lead to a complete rupture of relations between them, experts say.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to the Military Council of Egypt with a request to visit Gaza Strip July 25, Al Jazeera television channel reported, citing a diplomatic source in Israel.

Erdogan plans to visit Gaza through the Rafah Border Crossing on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

According to Arab political analyst on the Middle East Hosni Mahalli, if this visit is realized, a new phase of the crisis could begin in Turkish-Israeli relations.

"Erdogan's visit to Gaza would provoke a noisy scandal, as a result of which we can expect even a complete rupture of bilateral relations," Mahalli told Trend by telephone from Istanbul.
According to expert, already in 2006, when Turkey invited Hamas leaders to Istanbul, it caused a sharp reaction from the Israeli authorities. If Erdogan also visits Gaza, it will be understood by Israel as a support for Hamas, said Mahalli.

"Erdogan will be the first senior official of the Islamic world to visit Gaza, and this will certainly affect the Israeli-Turkish relations," he said.

According to the expert of the Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM) Hilmi Ozev, the main problem is that Erdogan's this step can be interpreted as recognition of the legitimacy of Hamas in Palestine.

"If Erdogan visits the Gaza Strip, and moreover, meet there with the representatives of Hamas, the world public can understand it as a recognition of the legitimacy of this movement," Ozev said by telephone from Ankara.

According to him, this visit could be interpreted also as the implementation of the intermediary role that Turkey has assumed in solving regional problems.

"After the call by the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to normalize Israeli-Turkish relations, Erdogan's visit to Gaza could be directed at resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict," he added.

Thus, according to Ozev, if after the visit, any progress can be seen on the issue of peace talks, then Turkey's relations with Israel will only improve.
The need to restore the partnership of the Turkish-Israeli relations was stressed at the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

According to Ozev, to prevent rupture of the Israeli-Turkish relations, Tel Aviv also has to change its policy.

"A series of changes take place in the Middle East which bring to changing the political course in the region. Israel is seeking to maintain its policy, and this may damage its relations with Turkey," said the expert.

The relations between Turkey and Israel, which until recently cooperated closely in the military-political sphere, deteriorated sharply after the Israeli military attack on the Marine convoy "freedom flotilla", which followed with humanitarian aid to Gaza on May 31 last year. After the attack, which killed nine Turks, Ankara announced a review of relations with Tel Aviv and demanded an official apology and compensation for the attack to the bereaved families of Turks.

Hope for the restoration of bilateral relations appeared in December last year, when Turkey sent two aircrafts to help Israel in fighting against largest forest fires in the history of the country that claimed the lives of at least 41 people. However, later, Turkish officials said Ankara will restore relations with Israel only after it makes an official apology which Tel Aviv refused.

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