Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow on June 7.Mikhail Metzel / TASS
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow on June 7, the official reason was the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Israel. However, some experts see a hidden agenda: Russia and Turkey are looking for a mediator to help them re-establish ties and Israel is perfect for this role.
The harsh rhetoric that has been exchanged between Moscow and Ankara since Turkey shot down a Russian jet along its border with Syria in November 2015 has shown signs of softening recently. For example, on May 27, during a trip to Greece, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly said that he wished to improve relations with Turkey.
"We have not heard any apologies. And we have not heard of Turkey's readiness to compensate for the damage. We have heard statements expressing the desire to re-establish relations,” said Putin.
“We also wish to re-establish relations. We did not destroy them. We had done everything possible in the last decades to elevate Russian-Turkish relations to an unprecedented level of partnership and friendship," he explained.
Turkey reacted three days later on May 30, when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu proposed creating a working group for normalizing bilateral relations. However, the Kremlin responded that a working group would not solve the problems – only Turkey's government can do this.
On May 31, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, replying to journalists' questions, said: "It is difficult for me to understand which first steps Russia expects us to take. We as a country are not at fault. We want to develop our relations with Russia."
Consequently, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov was forced, once again, to remind his Turkish colleagues of Moscow's requirements: an apology, compensation and punishment of those responsible for the downing of the Russian jet and the subsequent death of one of its pilots.
"Moscow has clearly stated its positions," said Viktor Nadein-Rayevsky, a Turkey specialist and senior scientific collaborator at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. "Turkey must act in accordance with these requirements."
However, Nadein-Rayevsky doubts that Turkey will make any concessions: "The Turks really want to improve relations with Russia. They are facing bigger economic losses – in agriculture and in tourism,” he said.
“Currently Turkey is actively looking for loopholes to normalize relations. But I don't think that Erdogan will apologize personally. This would be a big blow to his name."
In Nadein-Raevsky's view, without an apology from Ankara it is meaningless to speak about the normalization of relations between Turkey and Russia.
There has already been talk of regulating the Russian-Turkish conflict through a mediator. Names such as Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been proposed.
Nevertheless, Nadein-Rayevsky believes that the Israeli prime minister is not the best choice: "The choice of Netanyahu as mediator is completely illogical," he said. "Turkey and Israel themselves need a mediator. They still haven't re-established their relations 100 percent."
In May 2010 there was an incident involving Turkey's Freedom Flotilla, which was bringing humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip. As the ship broke through the blockade Israeli border guards opened fire and as a result eight Turkish citizens died. After the event relations between the two countries drastically deteriorated, becoming so poor that only low-ranking officials were entrusted to maintain them.
But in the opinion of Hasan Oktay, a Turkish analyst and head of the Ankara-based Caucasus Strategic Studies Center, Israel could play a successful role as a mediator in regulating the Russian-Turkish conflict, arguing out the appointment on June 7 of Tuğrul Türkeş, who is famous for his good contacts with Israel, as Turkish vice prime minister, was no coincidence.
“Israel can definitely become a mediator. Such a move would guarantee security in the region and both Russia and Turkey would only gain from this mediation," said Oktay.
Nadein-Rayevsky does not agree, however, describing talk of Netanyahu as a mediator as “just journalistic fantasies and nothing else."