Israel-Turkey Relations, 1961–1967

On 13 December 1964 Zeev Shek, director of the Western European division in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, wrote to Moshe Sasson, the Israeli minister in Ankara, about Turkish-Israeli relations as he saw them, summing up: "The Turks want everything from us. They see the fact that they are kind enough to accept [what we give] – as a sufficient reward, and are not willing to give us anything more. This attitude does not arise, God forbid, from lack of love for us, but more from the desire not to lose what might be lost from the Arabs".
 
Shek's letter is a good description of the frustration of Israel's policy makers and diplomats with Turkey's stand. Despite Israel's efforts to normalize relations, Turkey preferred to keep a low profile. As a Muslim state in the Middle East, which needed Arab support, particularly in the Cyprus conflict which dominated Turkish foreign policy from 1964 onwards, it was reluctant to raise the level of diplomatic relations.
 
This is just one aspect making up the tapestry of Israel's relations with Turkey in the 1960s to be found in our latest publication, edited by Mr. Baruch Gilead, a veteran diplomat who served there himself. 314 documents from Foreign Ministry files tell the story of this complicated and sensitive relationship. Most are in Hebrew, but there are 22 documents or appendixes in English, and seven in French. The Hebrew documents include both the printed text and a scan of the original. There is a list of documents in English with a summary of the contents, and an English introduction.
 
For the last couple of years Israel's relations with Turkey have been at a low point. The documents show that even then relations between the two states were subject to sharp swings. In fact they were at the mercy of the Turkish leaders, who would warm up relations or cool them down as they saw fit. Sometimes pragmatic considerations were dominant. Turkey had an interest in economic cooperation with Israel, in trade relations, tourism and particularly in Israeli assistance in the field of development. The two countries were also both enemies of Nasser's Egypt. Thus in January 1963 Foreign Minister Golda Meir remarked on the "excellent relations". A few months later Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote to his Turkish counterpart Ismet Inönü, expressing his satisfaction over the Turkish decision to raise the level of relations to that of ambassadors – satisfaction which proved to be premature. In fact, the level of representation was not raised to ambassador level until 1991.
 
When relations were good Turkish government ministers visited Israel. These invitations also resulted in some amusing misunderstandings, as when the title of the visiting Turkish minister was wrongly translated and he was received by the minister of agriculture, Moshe Dayan, instead of Housing Minister Joseph Almogi.  Subsequently both ministers were invited to Turkey. Cooperation in economic development reached a height in 1964.
 
But these ties proved fragile when Turkish interests required improved relations with the Arabs and greater consideration for pro-Islamic elements in Turkey itself. Turkey wanted Israel to adopt a pro-Turkish policy in Cyprus while Israel preferred to remain neutral. Thus for example in August 1964 an apparently harmless reply by Israeli President Zalman Shazar to an appeal from President Makarios of Cyprus, in which Shazar expressed regret at the bloodshed resulting from the dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, led to a major crisis in relations. Turkey needed the votes of the Arab states at the U.N. debates on Cyprus, and Israel paid the price. In 1965 relations continued to decline and were in fact frozen, while Turkey's relations with the Arabs improved. The tone of Sasson's reports became sharper, even describing the Turkish ministers as unreliable and misleading.
 
Nevertheless, Turkey did not break with Israel. This position was particularly notable in the spring and summer of 1967, during the crisis period which preceded the Six Day War, the war itself and its aftermath. Despite Arab pressure, Turkey continued to maintain diplomatic ties and remained neutral. Although its votes in the General Assembly were not always favourable to Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Demirel declared that Turkey's position was neutral or even pro-Israeli.

These episodes are only a few examples of the wealth of information in the publication. See them on the website of the Israel State Archives:
http://www.archives.gov.il/NR/exeres/D74B293B-53F2-41FA-8BEF-D98675720EB6,frameless.htm?NRMODE=Published

View all publications of this project.