Israeli, Turkish think tanks to hold joint session in Tel Aviv ahead of Herzog trip

Moshe Dayan Center to host regime-aligned SETA amid thawing of relations between the former allies

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

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

As President Isaac Herzog prepares for his trip to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, experts from two think tanks — one Israeli and one Turkish — will gather for a daylong seminar in Tel Aviv on Thursday to discuss ties between the two nations.

The Turkish SETA (Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research), known to be aligned with Erdogan and financed by the Turkish government, will be hosted by the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

The event will be closed to both the press and the public. It also isn’t listed on either of the institutes’ websites.

Topics scheduled for discussion include the schism between the two countries, the energy market and other relevant matters.

The Times of Israel has learned that diplomats and governmental officials will participate in the session, the purpose of which is to restore ties and connections among mid-level officials from the two countries.

The Israel participants will be led by Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak and Nir Boms, both researchers at the Moshe Dayan center, while the Turkish side is to be led by SETA head Burhanettin Duran.

In late January, Duran published a paper on the SETA website that was also carried by the Turkey’s regime-supporting Daily Sabah newspaper, titled “Pursuit of normalization in Turkey-Israel relations.”

In it he detailed how Turkey plans to open a new chapter in relations with the US, the European Union, Greece, Armenia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.

Duran wrote of the US interest in helping Israel and Turkey patch ties. He also noted that with world powers expected to to sign a new nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel needs to build its ties with Turkey.

Ties between the two former allies have appeared to thaw in recent months, as Erdogan made a number of statements about possible cooperation with Israel.

Herzog is set to visit Ankara later this month. Turkish media has reported that the visit will take place on March 9-10.

Israel officials are expected to keep a close watch on events during the visit to ensure that Turkey, which staunchly backs the Palestinians, doesn’t catch Herzog off-guard and embarrass him in some way.

Last month Erdogan said that Herzog’s upcoming visit to Ankara will be beneficial for both nations.

Turkey is currently being battered by an economic crisis, while Israel and a group of regional countries, including Turkey’s rival Greece, have been working on a joint pipeline to bring eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe, in a deal signed in January 2020.

Turkey has strongly opposed the project and staked its own territorial claims to the region’s energy wealth.

After the Biden administration dropped its support for the controversial gas pipeline last month, Erdogan indicated that he wanted Turkey to be involved in the import of Israeli gas to Europe, saying there had been “some progress” on the matter in the past, and suggesting a new project that would involve Ankara.

Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey saw their ties fray during Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel has been upset by Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

The countries reciprocally withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces boarded a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that attempted to break an Israeli blockade. Though most of the participating vessels were boarded without incident, those aboard a Turkish ferry boat violently resisted the Israeli action, resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.

Relations slowly improved but broke down again in 2018, after Turkey, angered by the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its envoy from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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