Lapid talks with Turkish FM, in first acknowledged call in 13 years

Israeli FM’s office says Mevlut Cavusoglu inquired about Lapid’s health after COVID diagnosis

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (left); and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right). (Hussein Malla/AP; Oliver Fitoussi/Flash90)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (left); and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right). (Hussein Malla/AP; Oliver Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke Thursday by phone with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, amid an apparent thaw in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara.

According to Lapid’s office, Cavusoglu called to inquire about the foreign minister’s health following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The phone call was the first between Israeli and Turkish foreign ministers to be publicly announced in 13 years.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently shifted to a more positive tone toward Israel, saying on several occasions that he would like to improve ties after years of acrimony.

On Wednesday Tuesday he said President Isaac Herzog may visit Turkey soon, while adding there was a possibility of an energy deal between Israel and Turkey.

In December, he told a delegation of visiting Jewish leaders that relations with Israel were “vital for the security and stability of the region” and spoke optimistically about the potential for improving ties.

Erdogan told the members of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States that he welcomed recent dialogue with Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, while saying a sincere Israeli effort to advance peace with the Palestinians “will undoubtedly contribute to the normalization process” between Ankara and Jerusalem.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tirana, Albania, on January 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

Earlier this month, he called Herzog to offer condolences over the death of his mother. His personal call was a step beyond a letter he already sent to Herzog.

And in December, he said he was open to improved relations, but that the country must first display “more sensitive” policies toward Palestinians. Erdogan told a group of journalists in Qatar that better ties with Israel would be “beneficial” for peace in the wider region.

Once robust regional allies, relations between Israel and Turkey frayed throughout Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel, for its part, is upset by Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. Though most of the participating vessels were boarded without incident, those onboard 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 ambassador from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.

The steps toward a rapprochement with Israel comes as Turkey has been trying to end its international isolation by normalizing its troubled ties with several countries in the region, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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