Turkey has taken a stand against the UN resolution calling for the creation of two separate states for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples by dividing the Palestinian territories. Nevertheless, after Israel declared its independence as an independent state on 14 May 1948, on 26 March 1949, Turkey recognized Israel as an independent state, the first Muslim-majority state in the world. This formal recognition marked the beginning of diplomatic relations between the two countries. However, on January 8, 1950, Israel officially set up Turkey’s first diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv.
In 1958, Turkey withdrew its diplomatic mission from Israel in response to Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula and its attempts to occupy the Suez Canal. At the time, a diplomat with the rank of ‘Charge the Affairs’ was acting head of the Turkish embassy. In August 1956, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, arrived in Turkey on a “secret visit.” During that visit, he met with the then Prime Minister of Turkey, Adnan Menderes. At that meeting, the two prime ministers agreed to strengthen diplomatic, economic, and military cooperation between the two countries. In 1973, significant progress was made in diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel. As a result, Turkey upgraded the ongoing diplomatic mission in the country to the level of ‘consulate’.
At various times since its inception, Israel’s war with the Arab countries has had an impact on the diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel at that time. Turkey strongly protested Israel’s occupation of large swathes of Arab territory, including the city of Jerusalem, in 1967. It also called on the country to return the occupied territories immediately. However, despite the demands of Arab countries, Turkey has not severed diplomatic relations with Israel.
The burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, occupied by a group of extremist Zionists on August 21, 1969, provoked strong reactions from the entire Muslim world, including Turkey. In 1965, Turkey formally recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1980, Turkey’s diplomatic mission in Israel reached its peak. At that time, Turkey appointed a diplomat at the level of ‘ambassador’. However, Turkey’s diplomatic relations with the country deteriorated again in 1960 when Israel occupied parts of East Jerusalem and declared Jerusalem as the country’s capital. However, in 1978, diplomatic relations between the two countries again made some progress. At the time, Turkey had appointed a diplomat in charge of the affairs of the country.
The Turkish government expressed support for the Palestinians when the first “intifada” against Israel began in 1967, the Palestinian uprising. At this stage of the 1967 UN General Assembly negotiations, representatives of Israel and Turkey met to try to resolve their differences. Turkey recognized Palestine as an independent state on November 15, 1986, while maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel. Turkey is one of the first countries in the world to recognize Palestine as an independent state.
With the start of the Middle East peace process in 1991, Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations began to improve again. On January 25, 1994, Israeli President Ezer Weizmann visited Turkey. On November 3 of the same year, Turkey’s first and so far only female Prime Minister, Tansu Seila, paid her first visit to Israel as Prime Minister. Then on March 11, 1997, the then President of Turkey Suleiman Demirel arrived in Israel on a state visit. Turkey-Israel diplomatic relations have been further strengthened through the ongoing visits of the two countries’ top leaders and bilateral talks. A number of agreements on security, defense, and economic cooperation were signed between the two countries between 1994-96.
Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations deteriorated again in 2000 when the second intifada began in response to the visit of the influential Israeli politician, and later Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Holy Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, has been following in the footsteps of his predecessors in maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel since taking office on March 14, 2003. He arrived in Israel on May 1, 2005. During the visit, he held bilateral meetings with the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on various issues of mutual interest. In a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Erdogan offered to mediate peace talks between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.
When Israel launched an attack on Lebanon in 2006, Turkey strongly condemned the attack. On November 11, 2006, the then President of Israel Shimon Peres visited Turkey. During the visit, he met with the then Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the then President of the country Abdullah Gul, as well as Shimon Peres had the rare opportunity to address the Turkish Parliament. Turkey protested against Israeli atrocities when Israel launched an attack on ordinary Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on December 26, 2006. More than 1,400 Palestinian civilians were killed in the Israeli airstrikes.
At a discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 29, 2009, then-Israeli President Shimon Peres argued for an attack on the Gaza Strip, and then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was sitting next to Shimon Peres, spoke. He walked out of the discussion, alleging that he had been given less time to speak.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries deteriorated drastically as civilians were killed. In response, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador on September 1, 2011. In a phone conversation with Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 22, 2013, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed regret over the attack on a Turkish aid ship and expressed hope that diplomatic relations between the two countries would return to normal. On September 30, 2016, Israel agreed to the demands of the Turkish government and paid compensation to the family members of those killed in the attack on the Turkish aid ship. On December 6, 2016, Turkey rejected the United States’ unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its move to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul
Most recently, on March 9, 2022, Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Turkey. During the visit, he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The visit by the Israeli president could help strengthen diplomatic ties by resolving differences between the two countries.