Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey — the first in five years — arrived in Ankara on Thursday morning.
“I am very happy to be back in Turkey as ambassador. We have a lot of work to do,” Eitan Na’eh told Turkish reporters at the airport. “I want to thank Turkey for the support, the aid it sent Israel fighting fires last week. We have a history of helping each other.”
Ankara was among the several states that sent planes and other equipment to help Israel extinguish over 1,000 wildfires across the country.
“Thank you for the warm welcome,” Na’eh said in English, declining a reporter’s request to say a few words in Turkish — a language he is said to speak fluently — before heading into his grey van and driving off.
Na’eh, who most recently served as Israel’s deputy ambassador in London, was stationed in Ankara in the 1990s.
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His arrival in Turkey marks the end of a six-year standoff between the countries that started with the Israeli army’s raid on the 2010 Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara. Israeli naval commandos boarded the ship, were attacked by activists who were waiting for them, and responded with gunfire, killing 10. Ten Israelis were wounded. Diplomatic relations were officially downgraded in 2011 and restored earlier this year.
One day after Jerusalem announced Na’eh’s appointment as ambassador to Ankara, Turkey said it would send Kemal Okem, a foreign policy expert and close confidant of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Tel Aviv.
Last week, President Reuven Rivlin phoned Erdoğan to thank him for helping Israel battle the wildfires that ravaged parts of the country. “With their brave hearts and abilities, your pilots assisted us greatly,” he said.
“As soon as I found out that the fire was spreading, I requested we send our helicopters and teams to help,” the Turkish leader replied.
Erdoğan said Turkey-Israel ties are in the process of a renewal and that the Turkish ambassador would begin his service soon, according to Rivlin’s office.
“The normalization of the relations between Turkey and Israel is of utmost importance for the whole region,” Erdoğan told his Israeli counterpart.
However, despite restored ties, the Turkish leader has not ceased to criticize Israel harshly.
“Policies of oppression, deportation and discrimination have been increasingly continuing against our Palestinian brothers since 1948,” he said Tuesday at the first annual conference of the association of “Parliamentarians for Al-Quds” in Istanbul. “It is the common duty of all Muslims to embrace the Palestinian cause and protect Jerusalem,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Turkish president accused Israel of trying to change the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
In an interview with an Israeli television channel, Erdogan also slightly walked back a 2014 assertion that the IDF’s 2014 offensive in Gaza was more barbaric than Hitler, but made no apology for invoking the Nazi leader’s name in the context. He said he was “well aware” of the sensitivities, while simultaneously condemning Israel’s “barbarism” against the Palestinians.
“I don’t agree with what Hitler did and I also don’t agree with what Israel did in Gaza. Therefore, there’s no place for comparison in order to say what’s more barbaric,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.