The two once close regional allies, fell out after a deadly confrontation in May 2010 between Israeli commandos and Turkish activists on a passenger vessel seeking to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
In May 2010, Israeli commandos intercepted the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla dispatched to Gaza by the Turkish Islamist-linked relief agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). The commandos were violently attacked by those on board, with several soldiers seriously injured. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when the commandos opened fire in what Israel said was self-defence, and one more died last year from injuries sustained in the incident.
Under the agreement, Israel would create a compensation fund expected to be at $20 million for the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara, and in turn Turkey would drop criminal charges it has filed against Israeli officers and agree to prevent a leader of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, from entering Turkey.
Turkey’s ruling Islamist AKP government has been accused of harbouring Hamas terrorists by allowing them to mastermind attacks from the group’s Istanbul headquarters. Last August, Saleh al-Arouri, boasted during a conference in Istanbul that the group’s military wing was behind the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.
The two countries would also return ambassadors to each other’s capitals and would discuss building a pipeline to bring natural gas from Israel to Turkey.
According to a senior Israeli official, the reconciliation agreement still requires final signatures. The official said the pending agreement grew out of a recent meeting in Switzerland attended by Mr. Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Yossi Cohen; a special Israeli envoy, Joseph Ciechanover; and Feridun Sinirlioglu, a senior Turkish diplomat.
The emerging deal was announced a few days after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that reconciliation “would be good for us, Israel, Palestine and the entire region”.
Ambassador Dore Gold, the Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, responded in a statement: “Israel has always aspired to stable relations with Turkey and is constantly examining the ways to achieve that goal”.
The White House has praised the agreement. Speaking anonymously, a senior Obama administration official said: “We would welcome this step in improving relations between two of our key allies in the region, particularly given our common interests and the challenges we face”.
On Sunday, Turkish Jews lit the menorah during the first public celebration of Hanukkah in the country’s history, which was held in Istanbul with the attendance of state officials.
Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognise the State of Israel in 1949, and the two countries have historically had strong military, strategic, and trade ties.