Gantz takes off for Turkey to meet counterpart in first official trip for a decade

Official says no weapons deals expected, as defense chiefs meet in bid to renew ties following a year of warming relations

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

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)
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)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz took off for Turkey on Wednesday for an official trip, the first by an Israeli defense chief in over a decade, his office said.

According to a schedule published by his office, Gantz is slated to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, on Thursday morning.

The meeting will mark 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 comes two months after Dror Shalom, who heads the 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.

During Shalom’s meetings in Turkey, the issues that would be discussed between Gantz and Akar were agreed upon, the ministry added.

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 Turkish rivals Cyprus and Greece.

Israeli and Turkish flags from a press conference between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Israel’s President Isaac Herzog in Ankara, Turkey, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

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

Renewed defense ties between Jerusalem and Ankara were said to have been made possible after Turkish authorities managed to foil a series of attacks by Iranian cells that were planning to assassinate or kidnap Israeli tourists in Istanbul in late July.

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 Turkish President Recep Tayyip 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 2008.

That 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 largely surrounded Israel’s relationship 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 the foreign office to orchestrate terror attacks against Israelis.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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