Erdogan reportedly says Turkey and Israel could cooperate on gas shipments to Europe

Turkish president suggests energy cooperation will be on agenda during upcoming meeting with Israeli counterpart Herzog

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Turkey and Israel could work together to deliver natural gas from the Middle East to Europe, and the two countries would discuss energy cooperation during talks next month.

Erdogan told reporters on a return flight from Kyiv that energy cooperation would be on the agenda during President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Turkey in mid-March, Reuters reported.

“We could use Israeli natural gas in our country, and beyond that, we could also work together to carry it to Europe,” Erdogan said, according to Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah.

“We will hopefully have these issues on our agenda during Mr. Herzog’s visit to Turkey,” he said.

He added Ankara was also discussing signing a natural gas supply deal with Iraq, the reports said.

Turkey — battered by an economic crisis at home — has been seen taking steps to improve relations with regional rivals, after a reported drop in US support for a controversial Mediterranean gas pipeline.

View of the Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig as seen from Dor Habonim Beach Nature Reserve, on January 1, 2020. (Flash90)

Erdogan has indicated that he wanted Turkey to be involved in the import of Israeli gas to Europe, saying there had been “some progress” on the matter in the past.

Israel and a group of countries, including Turkey’s rival Greece, have been working on a joint pipeline to bring eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe. Turkey strongly opposed the project and staked its own territorial claims to the region’s energy wealth.

Officials quoted by Haaretz last week said that better ties with Turkey will not come at the expense of Israel’s alliance with Greece and Cyprus, who were reportedly already aware of the possibility.

“These two countries did not express opposition to a warming of ties. Israel made clear that security cooperation with them would continue and they themselves are advancing dialogue with Erdogan,” an official said.

Erdogan’s comments on Friday come after he announced he will host Herzog for an official visit in mid-March amid efforts to revitalize once-strong relations between the two countries.

A spokesperson for Herzog declined to comment on Erdogan’s announcement, but officials have previously confirmed talks on a visit, speaking on condition of anonymity

Erdogan has repeatedly said he is interested in hosting Herzog and recently predicted a visit in February.

Herzog this week made a first official visit to the United Arab Emirates, which normalized ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords in 2020.

Last week an Israeli official quoted by Haaretz described the potential meeting between Herzog and Erdogan as an “indicator” of the Turkish president’s intentions.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 31, 2022 (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

“A meeting at the presidential level is… a tool that can be used,” he said. “The president is a symbolic figure, not a political one, and in any case, Herzog is conducting his own talks with the Turks. One can start with such a channel and then check the developments and implications, all at a slow pace.”

Another official said: “The decision is being formed to change ties with Turkey from ‘frozen’ to ‘cool.’ All kinds of symbolic things can happen. For example, an exchange of ambassadors or economic deals. But we won’t move ahead without clear things in return from Turkey.”

Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey saw their ties fray throughout Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel, meanwhile, 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 boarded a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that attempted to break 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 United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its envoy from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.

However, one official quoted by Haaretz said that Erdogan has “demonstrated his seriousness” in several ways: the release of Natali and Mordy Oknin, an Israeli tourist couple arrested in Turkey last year for alleged spying, and recent efforts to restrict Hamas activities in his country.

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