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Turkish officials hold preparatory talks in Israel ahead of Herzog trip to Ankara

As two powers attempt to rebuild long-strained ties, joint statement says ‘rehabilitation of relations can contribute to regional stability’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Turkish and Israeli officials meet in Jerusalem on February 17, 2022, to prepare for President Isaac Herzog's upcoming visit to Turkey. From left Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sadat Onal, head of the President’s Office Eyal Shviki and Senior Adviser to the Turkish President İbrahim Kalın (Courtesy)
Turkish and Israeli officials meet in Jerusalem on February 17, 2022, to prepare for President Isaac Herzog's upcoming visit to Turkey. From left Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sadat Onal, head of the President’s Office Eyal Shviki and Senior Adviser to the Turkish President İbrahim Kalın (Courtesy)

A senior Turkish delegation visited Israel on Thursday in preparation for President Isaac Herzog’s upcoming visit to Turkey as the two countries work to improve long-strained ties.

The delegation, which was hosted at the Foreign Ministry and the President’s Residence, was headed by Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman and senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sadat Onal. They met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz and Director-General of the President’s Office Eyal Shviki.

In addition to the president’s visit, the sides discussed bilateral ties, which have suffered badly over the past decade but have shown signs of potential improvement in recent months.

“We discussed steps for peace and stability in the region, we also talked about President Herzog’s visit to Turkey,” Army Radio quoted Kalin as saying.

According to a joint statement from the Foreign Ministry and President’s office, Herzog entered the meeting to welcome the guests.

“Turkey and Israel have broad influence in the region, and both have agreed that the rehabilitation of relations can contribute to regional stability,” the statement said.

Turkish and Israeli officials meet in Jerusalem on February 17, 2022, to prepare for President Isaac Herzog’s upcoming visit to Turkey. (Courtesy)

Kalin and Onal’s arrival in Israel follows a December visit by Ushpiz to Turkey, the first by a high-ranking Israeli official in six years.

On Wednesday, Erdogan said that Herzog’s upcoming visit to Ankara will be beneficial for the two nations.

“Of course, we welcome this visit,” he told reporters.

“God-willing it will be good for Turkey-Israel relations for such a step to be taken after such a long period,” he said.

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

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

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.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, left, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara, Turkey, January 3, 2012. (AP Photo, file)

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 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 envoy from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.

ToI Staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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