Turkey and Israel have launched the process to raise mutual diplomatic relations to the ambassadors level, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Thursday while Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid paid a visit to the capital Ankara as the two countries enter a new phase in bilateral relations after a decade of animosity.
Both countries will continue mutual visits and political negotiations at various levels, Çavuşoğlu said at the joint press conference.
Turkey is in close contact with Israel on threats against Israeli citizens in the country and will not allow any terrorist attacks on its territory, he added.
Turkish intelligence recently foiled an Iranian plot in Istanbul and these efforts are ongoing, Lapid said.
The lives of Israeli citizens have been saved in recent weeks thanks to the security and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries, he added.
Within the scope of Turkey’s normalization policy with the countries of the Gulf and the Middle East, Lapid arrived in the capital Ankara just days after urging Israelis to leave Turkey over threats of attacks by Iranian operatives.
This is the first foreign minister-level visit from Israel to Turkey in 16 years. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited Ankara in May 2006. The trip follows Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Israel last month, which marked the first visit at the foreign minister level in 15 years.
The mutual appointment of ambassadors and energy cooperation were expected to be the main agenda items in the contacts to be held within the framework of Lapid’s visit. The political situation in Israel, bilateral relations and regional issues were also to be discussed.
Turkey also wants the problems between Palestine and Israel to be resolved as soon as possible and believes that the solution for lasting peace between Palestine and Israel is to establish two states within the parameters of the United Nations.
Ankara, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policy toward Palestinians, while Israel has called on Turkey to drop support for the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which runs Gaza. Turkey also said it would not abandon its commitment to Palestine in order to broker closer ties with Israel.
The announcement of the visit came after Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke by telephone with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday and “thanked” him “for the efforts to thwart terrorist activities on Turkish soil,” according to a statement from the Israeli presidency.
During the call, the two leaders “agreed on maintaining cooperation for peace and stability as well as dialogue in the two countries’ relations and regional matters, including security and the fight against terror,” according to a statement by the Turkish Communications Directorate.
Last month, during a visit to Israel, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey and Israel demonstrated a “common will” to improve relations in every field. “Even though there were difficult days, we decided to continue our relations,” Çavuşoğlu said. Earlier, in March, Herzog visited Ankara and met with Erdoğan.
Last week, Lapid urged Israelis in Turkey to leave “as soon as possible,” saying they faced “a real and immediate danger” from Iranian agents.
The stark warning came amid the latest surge in tensions between bitter rivals Iran and Israel, with Tehran blaming the Jewish state for a series of attacks on its nuclear and military infrastructure, inside Iran but also inside Syria.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry dismissed Israel’s calls urging its citizens to leave the country over fears of Iranian attacks, saying that Turkey is a safe country.
Turkey is a popular tourist destination for Israelis. The two countries have been mending their ties after more than a decade of strained relations.
Israel was a long-time regional ally of Turkey before a 2010 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla left 10 Turkish activists dead. In 1996 Israel and Turkey signed a “strategic partnership,” under which their air forces can train in each other’s air space. Relations took a downturn when Erdoğan, who was the prime minister at that time, walked out of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009, in protest at Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza against Palestinians. The 22-day operation cost the lives of 1,440 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
A full-blown crisis erupted in May 2010, when Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on the Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla trying to ferry aid to the Gaza Strip in defiance of a naval blockade. Ankara recalled its ambassador and scaled-down economic and defense ties with Israel.
In November 2021, Erdoğan held telephone talks with Israeli President Herzog and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the first such discussions between the Turkish leader and an Israeli leader since 2013. Erdoğan declared that Turkey was considering “gradual” reconciliation with Israel.
In January 2022, he announced that Turkey was ready to cooperate with Israel on a gas pipeline project in the Eastern Mediterranean. Following the 2010 crisis, Israel created a strategic alliance with Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, two actors with long-standing acrimony toward Turkey, and in recent years held regular trilateral meetings and conducted joint military drills. The trio was part of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum established in 2019 with other states, including Egypt and Jordan, without Turkey. In 2020, Israel, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration signed the EastMed deal for a pipeline to ship gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, triggering objections from Ankara. The United States has since also raised concern about the project, citing possible issues over its “commercial viability.”
Turkey has recently been working to improve relations with several countries in the region as part of a normalization process launched in 2020.