Good out of tragedy? Turkey and Israel after the earthquake

“Earthquake diplomacy” is a term coined after two huge earthquakes struck first Turkey, then Greece in 1999. Putting aside years of mutual distrust, the Greek government immediately offered aid to Turkey when a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck the major Turkish city of Izmit, with severe damage as far as Istanbul. Two weeks later a 5.9 earthquake struck in Athens, and the Turks quickly reciprocated. Ordinary Turks and Greeks rushed to donate blood and money to their stricken neighbors. Official relations between the two countries warmed considerably.

Now earthquake diplomacy may heal relations between former allies Turkey and Israel, seriously breached this May when Israeli forces attacked a Turkish ship attempting to run an Israeli blockade of Gaza, killing nine Turks in a botched attempt to take over the ship.

When a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey last week, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of homes, Israeli President Peres was the first to offer aid to his counterpart, Turkish President Gul. Yesterday Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan turned down an offer of aid from Israeli PM Netanyahu, apparently because Turkish authorities had not yet figured out how to cope with all the offers they had gotten, and wanted to minimize the chaos associated with the emergency response.

Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the Turkish Foreign Ministry asked that Israel send portable structures to be used as temporary housing for those who lost their homes in the quake.

Hopefully this is the beginning of earthquake diplomacy to mend relations between two important American allies in a dangerous part of the world.

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