Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday officially named Kemal Okem as the new ambassador to Israel, the state-run Anadolu Agency said, as the two nations edge closer to full reconciliation.
The announcement came a day after Jerusalem named Eitan Na’eh as Israel’s new envoy to Turkey, the first since diplomatic relations were downgraded in 2011.
Media reports had identified Okem, a foreign policy expert and close confidant of Erdogan, in October, but Ankara waited to make it official after Israel delayed appointing its ambassador, due to a reshuffle in the Foreign Ministry leadership.
“We are appointing our Prime Minister’s [Binali Yildirim] foreign affairs adviser Mr. Kemal Okem as ambassador [to Israel],” Erdogan said before leaving on a trip to Pakistan.
“I believe he started office [Tuesday],” he added.
Contacted by AFP, an official for the Israeli embassy in Ankara said Na’eh has not yet started but he is expected to take up office soon once the approval process is finalised.
Na’eh is the current deputy head of mission at the Israeli embassy in London.
The naming of ambassadors is the final stage of an agreement signed in the summer to end the breakdown in relations sparked by the killing by Israeli forces of nine Turks and one Turkish-American in a melee aboard the Mavi Marmara ship in 2010, when Israeli commandos were met with violent resistance from a mob, some of whom were wielding knives and clubs.
The ship was sailing toward Gaza to break an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Hamas-run territory, imposed to prevent Hamas importing weaponry, and was commandeered after it refused to turn back.
Under the terms of the reconciliation agreement, Israel paid a “lump sum” of $20 million in compensation to the victims.
Individual Israeli nationals, including army officers, also would not be held criminally or financially liable for the incident.
The thaw paved the way for Israel and Turkey to ramp up cooperation on natural gas development in the Mediterranean.
The two sides are holding talks for building an ambitious project for a pipeline to pump Israeli gas to Turkey and Europe.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said on Tuesday that Israeli and Turkish energy officials held their first working meeting on the project last week.