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March 9, 2022 4:35 pm
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Meeting Erdogan, Herzog Declares New Era of ‘Mutual Respect’ in Israel-Turkey Ties

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog review a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bid to put an end to long-strained bilateral ties, coming as both countries have sought mediating roles in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

At Erdogan’s invitation, Israel’s president arrived in Ankara and became the first Israeli head of state to visit Turkey since 2008. Herzog thanked Erdogan for the “warm welcome” at the presidential complex, where the national anthems of both countries were sounded.

“Bridges and ties with Turkey are an Israeli and regional interest,” Herzog said after a closed-door meeting. “Unfortunately, relations between our countries have experienced something of a drought in recent years.”

“Now, I believe that the relationship between our countries will be judged by deeds reflecting a spirit of mutual respect and will enable us to better confront the regional and global challenges that are common to us all,” he added.

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Israel and Turkey relations have remained tense since the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, which saw the death of 10 Turkish activists aboard a ship attempting to breach the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, and since another rupture in 2018 after the US moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Herzog revealed that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Israel next month to hold talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid and discuss new mechanisms for working out disagreements.

Erdogan described Herzog’s visit as marking a “new turning point in Turkey-Israel relations,” hailing them as “important for regional stability and peace.”

“It is in our hands to contribute to the reestablishment of the culture of peace, tranquility and coexistence in our region,” Erdogan remarked. “As long as we can advance our bilateral cooperation and regional dialogue through a positive agenda, it will be easier for us to address the issues on which we differ.”

Commenting on Herzog’s trip, Israel’s former Consul General in Istanbul, Moshe Kamhi, said that Turkey is in the process of reevaluating how it conducts international relations as part of a broader policy to improve regional relations.

“Restoring ties with the State of Israel, beginning with such a high-level visit, is a clear signal to other countries — mainly the US and Europe — that Turkey is now no more on the path of conflict of confrontation, but of dialoguing and making progress towards cooperation with all its neighbors and beyond,” Kamhi told reporters Wednesday.

Erdogan said he sees opportunities in areas including tourism, science, agriculture, the defense industry, and energy. Trade volume with Israel — which increased by 36 percent to $8.5 billion last year — is expected to jump to $10 billion dollars in 2022, he said.

Ahead of the visit, Erdogan spoke about energy cooperation between Turkey and Israel, as well as the prospect of bringing Israeli natural gas to Europe. Joint efforts on gas would help position Turkey as an alternative export energy hub for Europe, should sanctions halt Russian gas sales to the continent. Turkey now acquires more than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia.

Erdogan and Herzog also broached Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and issues in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish leader said.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), called the conflict in Ukraine a “game changer” for Israeli-Turkish relations.

“I don’t see how the two states can afford a crisis between them in the near future,” Lindenstrauss said, noting that both Turkey and Israeli have already attempted to play mediating roles in the conflict so far. “This war is really going to change many of our assumptions about the current international system and in this respect, I think Israel and Turkey will see more common ground in the future.”

Erdogan and Herzog also discussed the Palestinian conflict, with the Turkish president emphasizing the preservation of the two-state solution and improving the social and economic conditions of Palestinians.

“Israel sees great importance in limiting Hamas terror activities that are orchestrated onto Turkish soil,” Lindenstrauss said at a briefing. “We see logistical activity of Hamas, we see terror planning activities going on Turkish soil — and in this respect, Israel wants to stop some of this military activity of Hamas on its territory.”

She noted that the Palestinian issue has been the elephant in the room concerning the Israel-Turkey relationship, with past flare-ups of violence typically delivering a crisis with Ankara.

“The 2023 planned elections in Turkey both presidential and for the parliament are coming up,” Lindenstrauss said. “If we see that Erdogan’s calculations point to the benefit of chilling again relations with Israel, then there again might be cause for concern about Turkey-Israeli relations.”

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