In possible sign of thaw, Turkey’s Erdogan talks with new Israeli president

Isaac Herzog and Turkish president pledge to maintain contact ‘and ongoing dialogue’ despite differences, after years of strained ties

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and President Isaac Herzog (right). (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and President Isaac Herzog (right). (AP)

President Isaac Herzog spoke Monday evening with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a rare direct communication between leaders of the two countries after over a decade of fraught relations.

Erdogan congratulated Herzog on being sworn into his new role as president last week, according to the President’s Office.

“The presidents emphasized in their call that the ties between Israel and Turkey are of great importance to the security and the stability of the Middle East,” according to the Israeli readout of the call, “and there is great potential for cooperation between the countries in many fields, in particular the areas of energy, tourism and technology.”

The readout also stated that Herzog and Erdogan stressed “the great importance of maintaining contact and ongoing dialogue despite the differences of opinion, with the goal of making positive steps toward a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will also contribute to the improvement of Israeli-Turkish relations.”

The Turkish readout of the call largely mirrored that of Israel, though it noted Erdogan’s call for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be “settled through a two-state, lasting and comprehensive solution within the framework of UN resolutions.”

According to Walla News, the conversation between the two leaders lasted for about 40 minutes, and Herzog notified Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of the call ahead of time.

For more than a decade, Israel and Turkey have maintained fractious relations, and ties have significantly deteriorated over the past few years. But despite Erdogan’s public diatribes against Israel, Ankara has continued to maintain open ties with the Jewish state, including on tourism and trade.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Extraordinary Summit in Istanbul, December 13, 2017. (Yasin Bulbul/ Pool Photo via AP)

Recent months have seen signals of a shift from Turkey, with Erdogan stating that despite their many differences of opinion, “our heart desires that we can move our relations with [Israel] to a better point.”

Much of the tensions relate to Gaza and Turkey’s backing for the Palestinian Hamas terror group which rules the Strip.

After deadly clashes on the border with Gaza in 2018 — on the day the US embassy in Jerusalem was dedicated — Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and expelled the Israeli envoy to Ankara. The countries had only exchanged ambassadors less than two years earlier, following a six-year break in diplomatic relations spurred by the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, in which nine Turkish activists were killed during clashes with the IDF while aboard a ship attempting to break the maritime blockade of Gaza.

During the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in May, Erdogan accused Israel of “terrorism” against the Palestinians and said Israelis “are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They only are satisfied by sucking their blood.” His remarks drew a condemnation from the US State Department, which called the comments antisemitic.

Over the weekend, Erdogan hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Istanbul. During their meeting, Erdogan reportedly said Turkey will not remain silent against “the Israeli oppression of Palestinians.”

Erdogan had a particularly prickly relationship with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the two regularly accusing each other publicly of being terrorists or genocidal killers. Reuven Rivlin, Herzog’s predecessor, had been a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, though his term in the largely ceremonial role was marked by political moderation.

Turkey has reportedly been weighing appointing a new ambassador to Israel in recent months, although no official move has been made.

Analysts have speculated that Erdogan is looking to curry favor with new US President Joe Biden, who has taken a harsher approach to Turkey than his predecessor, and would view with favor Ankara adopting a more moderate tone on Israel.

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