Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Isaac Herzog on Thursday to offer condolences over the death of his Israeli counterpart’s mother earlier this week.
Erdogan has recently shifted to a more positive tone toward Israel, saying on several occasions that he would like to improve ties after years of acrimony. His personal call was a step beyond a letter he already sent to Herzog.
Aura Herzog, who was also the widow of Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog, was laid to rest at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery on Wednesday.
“Having sent a letter of condolence a few days ago, the President of Turkey called to offer his personal sympathies to the President and his family,” Herzog’s office said in a statement.
Erdogan said that he “understands the pain of losing a mother” and mentioned he had heard “wonderful things” about Aura Herzog.
“I believe that you gave her pride in your service to the citizens of Israel,” Erdogan told Herzog.
He also spoke of his sadness at the death of Rabbi Ben Zion Pinto, a leader in the Turkish Jewish community, according to the statement.
Other leaders have also offered condolences to Herzog, including US President Joe Biden and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Erdogan has in recent months spoken several times of his desire to rebuild ties with Israel.
In December he told a delegation of visiting Jewish leaders that relations with Israel were “vital for the security and stability of the region” and spoke optimistically about the potential for improving ties.
Erdogan told the members of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States that he welcomed recent dialogue with Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, while saying a sincere Israeli effort to advance peace with the Palestinians “will undoubtedly contribute to the normalization process” between Ankara and Jerusalem.
Earlier in December, he said he was open to improved relations, but that the country must first display “more sensitive” policies toward Palestinians. Erdogan told a group of journalists in Qatar that better ties with Israel would be “beneficial” for peace in the wider region.
Once robust regional allies, relations between Israel and Turkey frayed throughout Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Israel, for its part, is upset by Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.
The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. Though most of the participating vessels were boarded without incident, those onboard a Turkish ferry boat violently resisted the Israeli action, resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.
Relations slowly improved but broke down again in 2018, after Turkey, angered by the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its ambassador from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.
In a sign of improving ties, however, Erdogan has recently held telephone calls with Herzog as well as with Bennett — during which the new Israeli prime minister thanked the Turkish leader for his role in the release of an Israeli couple who were arrested in Istanbul on suspicion of spying.
The steps toward a rapprochement with Israel comes as Turkey has been trying to end its international isolation by normalizing its troubled ties with several countries in the region, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Agencies contributed to this report.