Erdogan says hopes to soon start work with Israel on energy drilling, networks

After meeting with Netanyahu, Turkish leader says the two spoke of establishing a mechanism to boost bilateral cooperation

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) gestures as he unveils the country's new cabinet at Cankaya Palace after he was sworn in as President in Parliament in Ankara on June 3, 2023. (Adem ALTAN / AFP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) gestures as he unveils the country's new cabinet at Cankaya Palace after he was sworn in as President in Parliament in Ankara on June 3, 2023. (Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Days after meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish media he hoped to soon start cooperation with Israel on energy drilling and energy networks, as well as on tourism and technology.

“Hopefully, we will take this step without too much delay and we’ll start on energy cooperation with Israel, including drilling,” Erdogan said in comments cited by multiple outlets.

He said the countries also aim to “start operating energy transmission lines not only to Turkey, but also from Turkey to Europe.”

He added that he and Netanyahu had agreed to act to raise the volume of trade between the countries from the current $9.5 billion a year to $15 billion.

“At the same time, of course, we had the opportunity to discuss and talk about what we can do together in international politics,” Erdogan said.

He also spoke of establishing a mechanism between the countries’ ministries to boost work on energy, tourism and technology.”

Erdogan’s sit-down with Netanyahu Tuesday was the first-ever known meeting between the two leaders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 19, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

It came a day after Erdogan told reporters he supported the Biden administration’s initiative to broker an Israeli-Saudi deal, saying it would lower tensions in the region.

Netanyahu and Erdogan agreed to coordinate mutual visits in the near future, according to Netanyahu’s office.

Erdogan is interested in arranging a trip to Israel as soon as possible to pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Channel 12 news reported, without citing a source. The prayer would mark the 100-year anniversary of the Turkish Republic, founded on October 29, 1923.

According to the Turkish readout of Tuesday’s meeting, the leaders discussed developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations. It also said that Erdogan urged cooperation in energy, technology, innovation, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

Turkey’s foreign minister, energy minister and intelligence chief were also present for the meeting.

Erdogan tweeted out pictures of the sit-down, expressing hope that “our consultations will be beneficial for our country and the region.”

Signs of improved ties were also evident in Erdogan’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

In contrast with previous years, Erdogan refrained from condemning Israel and offered only a few words of support for the Palestinians.

“In order for peace to ring in the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be brought to an eventual solution,” he said. “We will continue to support the Palestinian people and their struggle for legitimate rights under international law.”

Without a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders “it is difficult for Israel to find the peace and security it seeks in that part of the world,” he said.

“We will continue to pursue respect for the historic status of Jerusalem,” he added.

In past years, Erdogan has used the podium to sling harsh censure at Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. In 2020, he prompted a walkout by the Israeli envoy after saying that “the dirty hand that reaches the privacy of Jerusalem, where the sacred places of the three great religions coexist, is constantly increasing its audacity.”

The past year has seen a warming of ties between Israel and Turkey after years of animosity between the two countries’ leaders. President Isaac Herzog was hosted by Erdogan last March in Ankara — the first high-level Israeli visit since 2008 — and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met the Turkish leader in February. Then-prime minister Yair Lapid met with Erdogan in New York during last year’s General Assembly.

Both Netanyahu and Herzog called Erdogan in May to congratulate him on his victory in the presidential elections and urged a continued improvement in ties between the two regional powers.

Israel was a long-time regional ally of Turkey before Erdogan came to power, but ties imploded after a 2010 Israeli commando raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship, part of a blockade-busting flotilla, that left dead 10 Turkish activists who attacked IDF soldiers aboard the ship.

Netanyahu and Erdogan repeatedly aimed brickbats at each other in the ensuing years, including leveling charges of genocide at each other. In July 2014, Erdogan accused the Jewish state of “keeping Hitler’s spirit alive” during a war with Gaza.

Ties later saw a moderate improvement, but both countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2018 amid violence in Gaza and the Trump administration’s relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem.

Facing hardening diplomatic isolation and economic woes, Erdogan began to publicly display an openness toward rapprochement in December 2020. In August of last year, Israel and Turkey announced a full renewal of diplomatic ties.

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