Israel, Turkey Agree to Talks on Direct Flights Amid Signs of Rapprochement
In the first visit by a Turkish foreign minister to Israel in 15 years, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his counterpart Yair Lapid agreed to start talks on a new civil aviation accord to allow Israeli airlines to fly to Turkey, as the two countries seek to normalize long-strained relations.
“The goal is to form and expand economic and civil cooperation between our countries, to create business-to-business and people-to-people ties, and to leverage our two countries’ comparative advantages regionally and globally,” Lapid stated at a joint press conference with Cavusoglu in Jerusalem. “Beyond diplomacy, Israelis simply love Turkey.”
“Every day, tens of flights depart Israel for Turkey with thousands of Israelis who love your culture and music, beautiful beaches, and colorful bazaars,” he enthused.
Despite tensions between the two countries, bilateral trade surpassed $8 billion in 2021, according to Cavusoglu.
“The figures for the first quarter of this year look very promising and there also is a record in our exports from Turkey to Israel of $1.8 billion as of the end of April,” the Turkish diplomat said. “We are determined to increase the trade volume and economic cooperation in areas such as clean energy, high tech, agri-tech, and tourism.”
Turkey and Israel have in recent months taken cautious steps toward rapprochement. Back in March, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog became the first Israeli head of state to visit Turkey since 2008, meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
Israel-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.
Cavusoglu said the two statesmen agreed that “despite our differences, the continuation of a sustainable dialogue will be beneficial not only for our bilateral relations but also for peace in our region.”
“During our discussions we also exchanged our views on regional issues and working on a positive agenda can also help address our disagreements in a more constructive manner,” he added, citing talks between Erdogan and Herzog during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, amid confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinian rioters around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
“We won’t pretend that our relationship has not seen its ups and downs, [but] nations with long histories always know how to close one chapter and open a new one,” Lapid said. “That is what we are doing here today.”
Lapid noted that following the US-brokered Abraham Accords to normalize ties with Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco, “a new partnership of strength has been created in the Middle East against terror and against attempts to undermine stability.”
Commenting on Cavusoglu’s visit, Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, a Turkey expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), pointed out that “once upon a time Israel was considered as a lonely state in the Middle East” — but that the agreements with its Arab neighbors helped foster a “U-turn” in Turkish foreign policy.
“Turkey is considered as a strategic asset for the national security of the State of Israel, but decision-makers in Jerusalem are not running into the arms of the Turks to hug them,” said Cohen Yanarocak in a Wednesday briefing.
“Decision-makers are coming to the table with certain conditions and from the Israeli point of view, the most important obstacle for achieving a genuine normalization is the close relationship between Hamas and Turkey,” he explained.
Operational activities by the Hamas terror group that are orchestrated on Turkish soil are causing “huge damage” for the future of relations between Israel and Turkey, according to Cohen Yanarocak. “Turkey needs to persuade the Israeli side that it is minimizing its relations with Hamas and that the terror group is no longer active inside Turkey, and only after that, I assume that Israeli leadership will decide to upgrade the relations and exchange ambassadors.”
Cavusoglu met Lapid one day after holding talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki, where he expressed support for Palestinian cause and concern over recent clashes in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli police.