The Gaza Attack soured the relationship so much that Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Israeli former President Shimon Peres had a showdown during the World Economic Summit 2009 in Devos, Switzerland.
The relationship reached its nadir when 10 Turkish social activists were killed aboard a ship Mavi Marmara by the Israili commandos in the international waters. Mavi Marmara was part of the flotilla which was going to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Palestinian enclave barricaded by Israel.
As a reaction to this action Turkey recalled its Ambassador from Israel and downgraded the diplomatic status. The relationship was restored after a lot of back channel meetings and the ambassadors were reappointed by both the countries in Sept 2016.
However after another deadly attack in May 2018 by Israeli forces in Gaza ,Turkey recalled its ambassador and expelled Israel’s ambassador from Turkey. In July 2018 there was a report that Israel and Turkey were holding backchannel talks in a bid to restore the fragile diplomatic relations between the two nations. However nothing came out of these discussions and these countries have still not restored full diplomatic status.
In mid-May 2020, there was some unverified news on a delimitation deal between Turkey and Israel, something these countries could not achieve in the 1990s when the relationship was excellent. However, the joy could not last for long and the news was denied by an Israeli official who called the claim a “complete nonsense” but at the same time said that Israel is looking to establish full-fledged diplomatic relations.
There were continuous backchannel efforts by the USA, EU, NATO and international bodies for the normalisation of Turkey and Israel relationship. A large segment of citizens in both the countries also want the relationship to improve.
According to the survey entitled “The 2019 Israeli Foreign Policy Index of the Mitvim Institute,” the number of Israelis seeking improved ties with Turkey increased to 53% in 2019 from 42% in 2018. It included 50% of Jewish Israelis and 68% of Arab Israelis.
Turkish media which was so critical of Israel has also been discussing a possibility of better relations, and both these point to a desire for reconciliation.
However all the positive news so far have turned out to be false starts. The key hurdle which time and again has put a spanner in any effort to bring the relationship back to normal is the Palestine issue in general and Israeli blockade of Gaza in particular.
As far as the possibility of an early thaw is concerned, a report of “The Middle East Eye” is a rude jolt of reality. As per this report, the Turkish officials who were asked about a thaw responded that it would be impossible as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is the prime Minister under whom oppression of Palestinians has increased manifold.
As Turkey under President Recep Erdogan and Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continue to play to their respective bases and keep the rhetoric high, any thaw in the frigid relationship between these two countries is likely to remain just a mirage.