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Turkey said to appoint ambassador to Israel, ending 2-year standoff

After pulling envoy from Tel Aviv over deadly clashes on Gaza border in May 2018, Erdogan reportedly taps Ufuk Ulutas, 40, for the post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seen in a combination of photos. (Ronen Zvulun and Ozan Kose/ AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seen in a combination of photos. (Ronen Zvulun and Ozan Kose/ AFP)

Courting the favor of US President-elect Joe Biden, Turkey has reportedly picked a new ambassador to Israel to fill the diplomatic post left vacant for over two years.

The candidate is Ufuk Ulutas, 40, an admirer of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who formerly studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, according to an al-Monitor report last week.

The chairman for the Center for Strategic Research at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Ulutas is “very polished,” “very clever” and “very pro-Palestinian,” said the report, which quoted “well-placed sources.” Ulutas is not a career diplomat.

Ankara is seeking to improve its relationship with Washington and anticipates that the diplomatic gesture toward Jerusalem would advance that aim, the report said. It was not immediately clear if Israel was set to send an ambassador back to Turkey.

Israel and Turkey have not exchanged ambassadors since a falling out in May 2018.

After violent protests on the Gaza border in which over 60 Palestinians, most of them members of Hamas and other terror groups, were killed, Erdogan placed the blame for the deaths squarely on Israel, calling it a “terrorist state” that commits “genocide.”

Turkey then recalled its ambassador and expelled Israel’s ambassador, Eitan Na’eh, and consul in Istanbul. Na’eh, who was ordered to leave Turkey temporarily, underwent a strict security screening at Istanbul’s airport that required him to take off his shoes. Turkish press was invited to film the spectacle, prompting Israel to respond in kind.

Israel responded at the time by expelling Turkey’s consul-general in Jerusalem and summoning the country’s deputy ambassador in Tel Aviv for a dressing down.

Erdogan is an ardent defender of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel. He also recently condemned Israel’s normalization deals with Gulf states.

He and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly trade harshly worded barbs, calling each other terrorists and mass murderers.

Ties between the countries remained frosty despite Israel and Turkey formally ending a six-year diplomatic rift in 2016.

The spat began when 10 Turkish activists were killed in a violent confrontation with Israeli naval commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara ship that aimed to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel said the soldiers were violently attacked by those on board.

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