Dan Arbell, a scholar of Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, wrote in December of small signs that Turkey and Israel might finally be moving toward a rapprochement.
Turkey, he wrote, had tired of watching the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt “take center stage” in orchestrating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and felt marginalized on the most recent negotiations on Gaza. In addition, Arbell added, as the Syrian crisis encroaches on Turkey’s borders, the Erdogan administration would seek improved intelligence cooperation with Israel.
“Turkey’s recent moves can be attributed to a growing realization that it has hurt its interests and hampered its diplomatic efforts by not maintaining dialogue and open channels with Israel,” Arbell wrote.
In recent months, Israeli officials have expressed increased concern that the ongoing civil war in Syria could spill out onto Israel’s borders, and that the vast weapons stockpiles – including chemical weapons and anti-aircraft systems – could make their way into the hands of hard-line Islamist movements. Turkey shares similar concerns, especially as hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have sought refuge in southern Turkey and used the border between the two countries to plan attacks and move weapons into the hands of opposition forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israeli officials have pushed, in the past, for a contingency plan to be formed that would secure not just Syria’s chemical weapons, but also other weapons systems.
"Israel does not want to see a situation like that which happened in Libya when (former Libyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi fell, when the weapons went to the highest bidder. They do not want a free for all," said retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog.
In addition to Obama’s efforts, Secretary of State John Kerry spent his first month in office also trying to nudge the two U.S. allies toward rapprochement, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a State Department briefing Friday. She said U.S. officials had hoped the meeting would be the site of such a move and were “gratified” that the reconciliation had occurred.
However, Nuland didn’t have a ready answer on the reasons for the timing or other underlying reasons for Israel’s apology three years after the deadly incident.
Political analysts floated several competing theories on their Twitter accounts, blogs and online policy journals: Was it necessary so that Israel could enlist Turkish support for any potential action against Iran over its outlaw nuclear program? Was it to strengthen ties between two of Syria’s neighbors who are equally concerned with the bloodshed spilling across borders and further inflaming an already precarious region? Then there were the even more nuanced hypotheses. Was it to entice Turkey back toward the European fold as new Islamist-led Arab governments court Erdogan’s administration? Or maybe it was so that Turkey would stop opposing joint NATO-Israel exercises?
Meanwhile, cynical Arab observers issued tongue-in-cheek congratulations to Obama via Twitter, commending him for brokering a peace agreement in Israel that had nothing to do with the Palestinians. They also criticized Turkey for accepting the apology when Israel’s blockade of Gaza is still in effect.
“So it appears that Obama was in Israel to push for peace efforts between Israel and Turkey – not Palestine!” tweeted the London-based Iraqi journalist and commentator Mina al Oraibi.