Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday sent his condolences to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin over the deaths of three Israelis in a suicide bombing in Istanbul on Saturday, in an unusual correspondence between leaders of the two countries.
Although Israeli-Turkish ties have been in shambles since 2009, Erdogan’s letter came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent a similar letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The messages came as officials noted increased cooperation and communication between Ankara and Jerusalem in the wake of Saturday’s bombing in the heart of Istanbul.
Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold on Sunday met with Turkish officials in Istanbul and thanked them for their assistance after the deadly bombing Saturday, in which four people, three Israelis and an Iranian, were killed.
“With yesterday’s heinous attack, it has again been seen most clearly that it is an absolute necessity for the international community to conduct a joint, united and determined fight against terrorism, which targets the whole of humanity and fundamental human values and constitutes a crime against humanity,” Erodgan wrote in a letter to Rivlin.
The Turkish president wrote he was “greatly saddened” to hear of the Israeli casualties.
“I would like to convey my deepest condolences to the people of Israel and to the families of Israeli citizens who lost their lives in this treacherous attack which happened in Istanbul, where they were visiting our country to get better acquainted with our culture, and wish a speedy recovery to the injured,” he added.
Erdogan’s last official communication with an Israeli president came in early 2009, when he stormed off a stage at Davos shared with then-president Shimon Peres, calling him a killer over Israel’s war against Gaza-based fighters, which had just ended.
Ties between the countries had been stuck in a tailspin for years amid a series of diplomatic tussles, including the deaths of 10 Turkish nationals during a melee with Israeli troops aboard a Gaza blockade-busting ship in 2010.
Israeli and Turkish officials have been negotiating a resumption of once-warm relations over the last several months, with some reports indicating the sides are close to reaching a deal.
Gold’s trip to Istanbul Sunday afternoon was the highest-level visit by an Israeli since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident — which had sent bilateral ties into the abyss — and was seen by some as a sign of increased efforts to reach detente, as all Israelis killed and injured in the attack had been flown back by the time he arrived in Turkey.
Gold met with Turkish Foreign Ministry official Feridun Sinirlioğlu, a former foreign minister, and Istanbul governor Vasip Şahin and thanked them both for their help.
“Both figures said that there is no justification for the use of violence as a tool to advance a political agenda,” a statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. “Turkey and Israel stand united in the front against terror and in dealing with the shared regional challenges.”
Gold will meet with Israeli officials in Turkey on Monday.
The victims of Saturday’s bombing were identified as Yonathan Suher, 40, Simha Dimri, 60, and Avraham Goldman, 69. Suher and Goldman were also named as United States citizens by the State Department. The three were slated to be buried in Israel on Monday afternoon.
Turkey identified the bomber as an Islamic State-linked Turkish national named Mehmet Öztürk.
Eleven Israelis were hurt in the bombing on Istiklal Caddesi, a bustling two-kilometer-long pedestrian street usually thronged with shoppers, tourists and buskers. Turkish medical officials said that among the Israeli wounded, two were in critical condition, two were in moderate condition and six were lightly injured. The condition of one more injured Israeli was not immediately clear. All of the victims were transported to Israel in an IDF plane.
Addressing reporters in the Foreign Ministry’s situation room Saturday night, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel is constantly trying to reach an agreement that will lead to normalization of ties with the Turks.
“This matter is being delayed not because of frivolous reasons,” he said, “but because of fundamental issues about which we are trying to reach an understanding with them. There was a certain progress, and I hope that it will continue.”
Talks are reportedly stuck over Ankara’s demand that Israel lift its naval blockade of the Strip, which Israel opposes adamantly — as well as Jerusalem’s demand that Turkey prevent any Hamas activity from its territory as a precondition to normalization.
In addition, some important players in the region — Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Russia — are skeptical over an Israeli detente with Ankara.