Israel and Turkey to restore full diplomatic ties and return ambassadors

Relations broke down in 2018 when the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem

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Israel and Turkey have agreed to restore full diplomatic ties and will return ambassadors to each other's countries after a steady improvement in relations, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Wednesday.

“It was decided to once again upgrade the level of the relations between the two countries to that of full diplomatic ties and to return ambassadors and consuls general from the two countries,” it said in a statement.

“Upgrading relations will contribute to deepening ties between the two peoples, expanding economic, trade, and cultural ties, and strengthening regional stability,” it added.

Once warm relations between Israel and Turkey disintegrated under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Israel, in turn, has objected to Turkey’s embrace of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The countries withdrew their respective ambassadors in 2010, after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. The incident resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.

The two countries broke off ties in May 2018, after the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and former US president Donald Trump said the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

There was a bitter exchange of remarks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after three days of rioting and Israel responded by closing Turkish diplomatic offices, including a consulate, in Israel.

Turkey reappointed an ambassador to Israel in 2020, but full relations were not restored.

Tensions worsened in subsequent years, with Israel blaming Turkey for stoking violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia during the Nagorno-Karabakh war — although both sides backed Azerbaijan — while Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz condemned Turkey for “invading” northern Syria.

Israel said on Wednesday that full diplomatic ties had now been restored. Turkey issued a statement that said despite the resumption of ties, it was “not giving up the Palestinian cause.”

“Following the understandings reached during Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s visit to Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Prime Minister Lapid’s conversation with Turkish President Erdogan, as well as the positive developments in Israel-Turkey ties over the past year, the two countries have decided to restore full diplomatic ties,” Mr Lapid's office said.

“The resumption of relations with [Turkey] is an important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel. We will continue to strengthen Israel's standing in the world,” it added.

Mr Cavusoglu said the two countries would reappoint their ambassadors.

“The steps we would take to normalise relations includes mutually reappointing of ambassadors. At the news conference we held with Lapid in this hall, we made a statement that we started the work on the appointment of ambassadors,” he said.

“As a result of these efforts, such a positive step came from Israel. Of course, we, as Türkiye, have decided to appoint an ambassador to Israel, to Tel Aviv,” Mr Cavusoglu said at a news conference with his Kyrgyz counterpart Jeenbek Kulubaev on Wednesday.

He said however, that Turkey would continue to support the Palestinians despite the normalisation process with Israel.

“We will continue to defend the rights of Palestine, Jerusalem and Gaza,” he said.

Updated: August 17, 2022, 9:02 PM