Lapid’s trip to Turkey for security talks still on despite political tumult

Foreign minister to visit Ankara Thursday for discussions on Iranian terror threat to Israeli travelers; discussions may also be held on reciprocal return of ambassadors

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, center speaks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (Asi Efrati/ GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, center speaks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (Asi Efrati/ GPO)

Despite the unfolding drama around the dissolution of the governing coalition, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will still fly to Ankara on Thursday to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The visit was announced on Sunday, a day before before coalition leaders announced their intention to call new elections.

It had been unclear whether Lapid, who will become prime minister once the Knesset’s disbandment is finalized, would make the trip. Lapid is expected to continue to also serve as foreign minister when he assumes the premiership, which can happen as early as Wednesday but is more likely next week.

Lapid and Cavusoglu are slated to discuss cooperation on thwarting Iranian attempts to harm Israeli travelers in Turkey, as revenge for the killing of Iranian officers inside Iran, allegedly by Israel. The pair spoke via phone last week about joint efforts to thwart such Iranian attacks.

There is also speculation that the sides may discuss resuming ambassadorial representation in each other’s capitals.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz will join Lapid on the visit, the ministry said in the statement.

Tourists pass through a police checkpoint in Istanbul as Blue Mosque (sultanahmet) and Hagia Sophia Mosque are surrounded by a police fence for security reasons, on June 14, 2022 (Ozan KOSE / AFP)

The trip comes as Israel has issued a series of repeated harsh warnings to Israeli travelers in recent weeks to avoid visiting Turkey for fear of an Iranian attack.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that Israeli and Turkish security officials have worked together to foil terrorist attacks on Israelis in Turkey.

“The operational efforts alongside Turkish security forces have borne fruit,” Bennett said. “In recent days, in a joint Israeli-Turkish effort, we thwarted a number of attacks and a number of terrorists were arrested on Turkish soil.”

The prime minister did not include details on the number of attacks, how many individuals were arrested, or the nationality of the terrorists.

Ankara, meanwhile, has sought to dispel the notion that it is an unsafe place to visit, and chafed at the Israeli warnings.

Cavusoglu spoke on Sunday with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, according to Iran’s Mehr News agency. The report stated that Cavusoglu expressed a desire to “improve bilateral relations and increase mutual cooperation” with Tehran.

Lapid and Cavusoglu most recently met face to face in late May, when the Turkish foreign minister paid a groundbreaking visit to the Jewish state.

His trip was the first visit to Israel of a senior Turkish official in around 15 years, as Turkey’s relationship with Israel continued to thaw after a lengthy period of hostility.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) speaks alongside his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (Asi Efrati/GPO)

On Sunday, President Isaac Herzog spoke on the phone with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss the ongoing security coordination.

According to a statement from Herzog’s spokesman, the president thanked Erdogan for Turkey’s efforts to protect Israeli travelers and stressed “that the threat has not yet passed and that the counterterror efforts must continue.”

The two leaders highlighted “the great contribution of this cooperation to the trust being built between the governments and nations,” according to the statement, and agreed to keep channels of dialogue open.

Turkish riot police officers walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on June 14, 2022. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

For over a decade, Turkey was one of Israel’s most bitter critics on the international stage. Anti-Israel rhetoric from top officials, led by Erdogan, verged on the apoplectic. Ankara also took actions that angered officials in Jerusalem, most notably providing support and a haven for the Hamas terror group.

For the past two years, however, Erdogan has struck a noticeably different tone toward Israel, expressing interest in improving ties.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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