Erdogan marks ‘turning point’ for Turkey and Israel as Herzog visits

Ankara cut diplomatic ties with Israel in 2010 and 2018

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, left, with his Turkish host President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. EPA
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday marked a “turning point” with Israel, as Ankara hosted its president for the first time in 15 years.

“Our common goal is to revive political dialogue between our countries based on respect for mutual sensitivities and interests. That is critical for regional peace,” Mr Erdogan said.

Following talks in Ankara, the Turkish capital, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the future relationship will be “judged by deeds reflecting a spirit of mutual respect”.

While the Israeli president’s trip was months in the making, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was high on the agenda as both countries are involved in mediation efforts.

“We cannot remain indifferent to such human suffering, and I welcome any endeavour that will lead to the end of the bloodshed,” Mr Herzog said, thanking the Turkish president for his engagement on Ukraine.

Turkey cut diplomatic ties after Israeli forces stormed a ship in 2010 which was leading a flotilla to Gaza, killing 10 Turkish civilians.

Those on board the vessel had tried to break an Israeli blockade imposed on the Palestinian enclave, which remains in force.

Relations were restored about six years later, only for Ankara to recall its diplomats in 2018 after Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Gazans in border protests.

In November, Turkey released an Israeli couple held for days on spying charges after they photographed Mr Erdogan’s Istanbul residence.

Although Mr Herzog’s role is largely ceremonial, he has been an advocate for renewed relations since taking office in July.

“We must agree in advance that we will not agree on everything,” he said on Wednesday. “But we shall aspire to solve our disagreements with mutual respect and goodwill.”

Before he arrived in Ankara, Mr Herzog travelled to Cyprus and Greece, which have long-standing strained relations with Turkey.

Israel has allied itself with the two EU nations in recent years, signing a pipeline deal in 2020 to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.

Both Turkey and the US have raised concern about the project, although it may gain wider support as countries seek to reduce their reliance on Russian exports.

Mr Erdogan on Wednesday expressed interest in co-operating with Israel on energy.

Turkey is scheduled to host the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine on Thursday, two weeks after Moscow launched its offensive on its eastern European neighbour.

Israel has also pursued a mediating role in the war, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett travelling to Moscow on Saturday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He has also held regular calls with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: March 09, 2022, 5:56 PM