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March 9: Turkey and Israel

March 9, 2015

IST1_2_Blue_mosqueIstanbulTurkey officially announced the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel on this date in 1950, after becoming the first majority-Muslim state to recognize Israel in March of the previous year. The two states promoted economic cooperation, with Turkey becoming a supplier for agricultural products and raw materials for young Israel, which was suffering under an Arab boycott and was not yet self-sufficient in food production, while Israeli construction companies built a highway connecting Istanbul’s city center to its airport, and an apartment complex for legislators in Ankara. Military, strategic, and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Turkey grew particularly strong in the 1980s and ’90s, but deteriorated significantly after Israel’s 2008-09 Gaza War and the 2010 Israeli raid on the Gaza relief flotilla that had sailed from Turkey. While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Ariel Sharon in 2005 that anti-Semitism is “a crime against humanity” and that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a threat to “the entire world,” he has also called Israel “a terrorist state” that “massacres innocent children.” Disaster assistance has also bonded the two countries: In 1999, Israel assisted in search and rescue efforts and set up tent hospitals following the Izmit earthquake, which killed more than 17,000 people in Turkey, and during Israel’s 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire, Turkey was among the first countries to send aid, including two firefighting airplanes.

“Israelis increasingly accept the Turkish view on the question of an Armenian holocaust during World War I. While officials or army officers had long advocated a pro-Turkish position, an informal survey of Israeli academics would find that they generally believed that the Armenian massacres fit the definition of genocide and held Turkey responsible for them. This is changing.” —Amikam Nachmani, The Middle East Quarterly, 1998