After Israel was created in 1948, Turkey became its most important partner in the Middle East. Ankara recognized the Jewish state as far back as 1949, establishing official diplomatic relations with it, which clearly illustrated the direction of Turkey’s foreign policy. The first two Israeli prime ministers, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, spoke Turkish.
However, relations between the two countries over the past decades have often been characterized by periods of both rapprochement and distancing, the latter even leading to the emergence of a very significant wave of anti-Israeli sentiment in Turkish society. This was especially evident after the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, when a convoy of ships tried to break through the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Upon reviewing the history of relations between Israel and Turkey, one can say that the first significant blow to them occurred after 1973, when Ankara distanced itself from Israel because of the Arab oil embargo. The cool relations persisted for over two decades. In the 1980s, anti-Semitic sentiments in Turkey intensified and began to appear in official party platforms. The main ideological source of anti-Semitism in Turkey was Islamism, left-wing anti-Zionism and right-wing nationalist extremism.
Afterwards, Ankara aimed for rapprochement with Israel once more after the 1993 agreement between Tel Aviv and the PLO. Both parties hoped that the revival of their alliance would help change the strategic balance of power and the geopolitical situation in the oil-rich Middle East. In addition, Israel saw this as an opportunity to exit political and economic isolation, in the hope that other Muslim countries would draw closer to Tel Aviv as well.
However, despite the West’s support for this renewal of friendship, other countries in the region, such as Greece, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian National Authority began to accuse Ankara of a ‘Zionist and imperialist conspiracy’, especially with regard to its stance on the Middle East peacemaking process. Nevertheless, during this period Turkey saw its ties to Israel as more important than those to the Islamic world, hoping to gain access to new military technologies based on rebuilt relations. This was facilitated by the establishment of a close bilateral military strategic partnership. Israel, in turn, never stopped perceiving Turkey as a partner which it influenced in cahoots with the United States.