Gantz meets Erdogan, Turkish counterpart: ‘Clear signal for positive developments’

Defense minister thanks Turkey’s leader for authorities foiling attempted Iranian attacks over the summer; countries look to renew defense ties, in highest-level summit in years

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in Ankara on October 27, 2022. (Turkish Press Office)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in Ankara on October 27, 2022. (Turkish Press Office)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday held a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential residence in Ankara.

Gantz landed in the Turkish capital Wednesday evening for the first official trip to Turkey by an Israeli defense chief in over a decade, a sign of revived ties between the countries.

According to Gantz’s office, the pair discussed a “series of strategic issues, and the two countries’ commitment to work for stability, prosperity, and security in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.”

His office said that Gantz thanked Erdogan for Turkish authorities managing to foil a series of attacks by Iranian cells that were planning to assassinate or kidnap Israeli tourists in Istanbul in late July.

“This activity against terrorism has great significance for the ability to strengthen cooperation and renew the official defense relations between the countries,” Gantz’s office added.

Gantz was accompanied by his counterpart, Hulusi Akar, with whom he met earlier in the day for a discussion on renewing defense ties between the countries.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) meets with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, in Ankara on October 27, 2022. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

In a statement following his meeting with Akar, Gantz said “it is no secret that our ties have faced challenges,” but he added that the landmark trip, the first in a decade, is a “clear signal for positive developments ahead.”

“I am glad to say that Turkey is one of our top five trading partners. Over the years, our economic ties have grown,” Gantz said.

“On the diplomatic front, the return of our ambassadors has set the stage for us today. In fact, my visit to Ankara is the third by an Israeli leader in less than a year. The gates have opened and there is great potential for cooperation in trade, tourism, industry, and more,” he said.

“Turkey and Israel have both built modern, advanced societies on a foundation rich in history. Our future is promising, yet dependent on our shared interest to maintain security and stability in the region and the world,” he continued.

“I believe a lot more can be done together in order to reduce the influence of those who destabilize our regions by supporting or carrying out terrorism against innocent civilians,” Gantz added.

Gantz noted Israel’s ties with Turkish rivals Greece and Cyprus, before saying that “moving forward, we must adopt a steady, positive approach in our relations, maintaining [an] open dialogue.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz touches down in Ankara, Turkey, ahead of a meeting with his counterpart Hulusi Akar, October 26, 2022. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

The trip, aimed at renewing official defense ties, marked another step in a year-long process that has seen the countries inch back toward full diplomatic relations after over a decade of frayed ties.

The trip came two months after Dror Shalom, who heads the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Bureau, met Turkish defense officials to “renew the lines of security relations between the countries” after a decade, the ministry said.

On Wednesday, ahead of Gantz’s flight, a defense official told the Walla news site that the trip would likely not see any weapons deals being signed between the sides.

“A race of procurement should not be expected here… we are very, very careful to continue this [process] with measured and careful steps. We made it clear and it will be made clear as part of the minister’s visit,” the official said, noting the sensitive ties Israel has with Cyprus and Greece.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (R )walks with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, in Ankara on October 27, 2022 (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

Defense ties were once a mainstay of Israel’s relations with Turkey, but unraveled as diplomatic ties soured.

Last month, for the first time in a decade, a Turkish warship anchored at an Israeli port.

Also last month, Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting. It was the first such meeting between an Israeli premier and the Turkish leader since Ehud Olmert met Erdogan in Turkey in 2008.

September’s discussion came just over a month after the two leaders held a phone call and agreed to move forward with the full restoration of ties and to return ambassadors to each other’s capitals, ending years of antagonism that was largely rooted in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem has also long pressed Ankara to crack down on Hamas’s activity in Turkey, arguing that the Gaza-based terror group uses its representatives there to orchestrate terror attacks against Israelis.

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