TURKEY AND ISRAEL: REBUILDING ON EGGSHELLS

Netanyahu and Erdogan Photos YouTube screenshots IsraelPm and Ruptly TV channels LOGOAs Israel and Egypt renew diplomatic ties, significant differences remain between the two states. As one ambassador arrives in Tel Aviv and the other in Ankara, both are walking on eggshells.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself announced the appointment of his nation's new ambassador to Israel. A moment before boarding a plane, he faced the media and said, “After they (Israel) made a selection, it’s our turn to fulfill the agreement.”

He was referring to Israel's appointment of Eitan Na'eh as its ambassador to Turkey.

Turkey's man for the job is Kemal Ökem. Fifty years old, he is an expert in Middle Eastern affairs. Snatched from his position as foreign policy advisor to the Turkish prime minister, he was sent to do his homework regarding Israel. Ökem has previously served as a diplomat in Britain and Saudi Arabia.

Journalists in Turkey — those who survived the arrests and the shutdown of leading media outlets, that is — are covering the Israeli ambassador’s appointment with kid gloves. Na'eh is getting headlines and has been defined as a worthy appointment. His Turkish hosts are especially interested in one of his former positions as Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan. In Turkey, as in Israel, Azerbaijan is seen as a country with strategic importance because of its proximity to Iran. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is almost as preoccupied with Azerbaijan as is Erdoğan.

All at once, after six years of a diplomatic crisis, Erdogan wants to turn over a new leaf. Still, there are many things about which Ankara and Jerusalem do not see eye-to-eye.

Erdoğan wants to get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Netanyahu is indifferent.

Erdoğan suspects that Israel is luring the Kurds behind his back, and Israel isn’t denying it.

Turkey is stuck in a deep crisis in its relations with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is consistently rejecting Ankara’s courting efforts because of his quarrels with the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not surprise, then, that Erdoğan is gritting his teeth over collaborations between Egypt and Israel in Sinai.

The reconciliation agreement between Turkey and Israel has not been fully resolved, either.

Erdoğan insisted on lifting the Gaza blockade, while Israel only agreed to have limited Turkish presence in the strip.

On the other hand, Israel's demand that Turkey expel Hamas’ military wing from its borders is being ignored. Saleh al-Arouri, who is responsible for the abduction of the three teenagers murdered on the eve of Operation Protective Edge, remains a “guest” in Turkey along with his friends. While their activity has been limited, and there are no signs pointing to terrorism attacks originating in Turkey, Erdoğan has firmly refused to distinguish between Khaled Mashaal’s Hamas “political bureau” and the “military wing” led by al-Arouri, who moves freely between Qatar, Sudan and Turkey.

The reinstatement of ambassadors in Ankara and Jerusalem aims to indicate a normalization of relations. Specifically, it signals the promotion of exports and imports, economic deals and the agreement to transfer gas through Turkey, which has been signed by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.

We should also pay attention to the fact that Stenitz's Turkish counterpart, Berat Albayrak, is one of the strongest figures to come out of the presidential palace. The same Albayrak is married to Esra, Erdoğan’s daughter. He would not have signed an agreement with Israel without the sultan’s blessing.

Then too, there is the matter of Turkey and Israel's competition for attention in the US and Russia.

In recent months, Israel has surpassed Turkey at the top rungs of government access in Washington DC. Apparently, Erdoğan’s advisors were stressed out by Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election. According to sly Erdoğan’s analysis, Netanyahu beat him in building ties with the new power brokers in America's capital.

Erdoğan has been rebuilding relations with Russia, but so has Netanyahu. Indeed, the Israeli Prime Minister’s position is secure both in Washington and in Moscow.

Israel's ambassador to Ankara will not have an easy time.

Islamist newspapers there intentionally ignored his appointment. Also, Erdoğan’s Turkey is continuing its witch-hunt against those marked as secret supporters of the exiled oppositionist Fethullah Gülen.

It will be interesting to see if both country's defense industries resume cooperation, if Israeli Air Force planes go back to performing “exercise flights” in Turkey’s airspace, and if shared interests can blur differences between the two nations.

As one amassador arrives in Tel Aviv and the one leaves for Ankara, both are plotting careful paths. Turkey and Israel have sent their ambassadors to walk on eggshells.

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Smadar Perry is the Middle East Editor of Yediot Ahronoth, a.k.a. YNet News

This is a lightly edited version of the original article published by YNet News at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4881975,00.html

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