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Herzog speaks to Erdogan after restoration of ties, hopes for ‘future progress’

Talking after countries agreed to return ambassadors, Turkish president thanks Israeli counterpart for his ‘significant efforts’ in promoting bilateral relations

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shows the way to President Isaac Herzog during a welcome ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shows the way to President Isaac Herzog during a welcome ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

President Isaac Herzog and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke over the phone on Friday after the countries announced earlier this week they were restoring full diplomatic ties following years of strained relations.

The leaders discussed the return of both nations’ ambassadors and the resumption of Israeli flights to Turkey, a statement issued by the President’s Office read.

Herzog also commended Erdogan for his efforts in mediating between Moscow and Kyiv and noted his “critical contribution” to the agreement for the export of wheat from Ukraine and for his recent meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Erdogan, in turn, thanked President Herzog for his “significant efforts” to promote Israeli-Turkish relations since he entered office, according to the Israeli readout.

Following their phone call, Herzog tweeted a picture of himself and Erdogan, taken during his trip to Ankara in March, and expressed hope for “future progress.”

Herzog has taken an active diplomatic role regarding Israel’s relationship with Turkey since taking office.

President Isaac Herzog (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outside the presidential complex in Ankara on March 9, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Announcing the full renewal of diplomatic ties on Wednesday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office credited much of the achievement to Herzog.

“This restoration of diplomatic relations is a continuation of the positive direction in the development of relations over the past year, since President Herzog’s diplomatic visit to Ankara, and the reciprocal visits of the foreign ministers to Jerusalem and Ankara,” the statement said.

After Wednesday’s announcement, Herzog said he hoped that beyond the economic benefits, the agreement would also promote “friendship between the Israeli and Turkish peoples.”

President Isaac Herzog, second from left, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, outside the presidential complex in Ankara on March 9, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The new agreement, which has ended over a decade of tensions with Ankara, is expected to contribute to growth in “economic, trade, cultural ties and strengthening regional stability” and has far-reaching potential for both countries.

Israel was once a long-time regional ally of Turkey, before a 2010 commando raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, part of a blockade-busting flotilla, left 10 Turkish activists dead after they attacked Israeli soldiers who boarded the ship.

Turkish and Israeli leaders criticized each other bitterly, with Erdogan calling Israel a “child-murdering” country and then-premier Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Erdogan of killing Kurdish civilians.

The long journey to Wednesday’s announcement began in May 2020, as an El Al plane landed in Turkey for the first time in 10 years as part of an operation to bring medical supplies to Israel at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the ensuing months, Turkey, facing regional isolation, economic woes and a potentially hostile president in the White House, showed itself the more eager partner. Israel, enjoying growing ties with Turkey’s rivals and insistent on seeing evidence that Ankara wouldn’t pull an about-face, was content to sit back.

The gradually renewed coordination between Israel and Turkey in recent months was on display after security forces from both countries worked together to prevent an Iranian assassination plot on Turkish soil in July.

Turkish forces tracked and arrested the Iranian agents as they attempted to kidnap and kill Israeli tourists in Istanbul in a revenge attack for Israel’s alleged assassination of a high-ranking Iranian military figure in May.

Lazar Berman and Ash Obel contributed to this report.

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