Turkish FM says he’ll visit Israel in May, discuss reinstalling ambassadors

Foreign Ministry doesn’t confirm Mevlut Cavusoglu’s trip; Ankara’s top envoy also says Israel-Turkey gas pipeline will not happen anytime soon

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

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)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that he will travel to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in mid-May. Speaking to Turkish TV channel A Haber, Cavusoglu said he will discuss the return of ambassadors to Turkey and Israel during the trip, according to Reuters.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel that it could not confirm the visit at this time.

Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey saw their ties fray during the tenure of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has 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 were attacked when they boarded a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that attempted to break an Israeli blockade, and killed 10 Turkish citizens in the altercation.

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.

President Isaac Herzog (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the presidential complex in Ankara on March 9, 2022. (Screen capture/GPO)

In the latest sign of attempts to restore ties, President Isaac Herzog visited Turkey earlier this month for a landmark 24-hour visit.

Cavusoglu’s visit was the topic of some confusion during Herzog’s trip. Both Herzog and Erdogan announced that the Turkish foreign minister would visit Israel and meet Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in April  — but apparently caught the Foreign Ministry off guard.

Lapid’s spokesman told reporters that Cavusoglu had expressed interest in visiting, but that no visit had been scheduled yet.

Erdogan said during Herzog’s visit that he believed “this historic visit will be a turning point in relations between Turkey and Israel. Strengthening relations with the State of Israel has great value for our country.”

He noted that his meeting with Herzog included a discussion about events in Ukraine and in the Eastern Mediterranean and said he believed “the coming period will bring new opportunities for both regional and bilateral cooperation.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a media conference after an extraordinary NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

“This is a very important moment in relations between our countries, and I feel it is a great privilege for both of us to lay the foundations for the cultivation of friendly relations between our states and our peoples, and to build bridges that are critical for all of us,” Herzog said.

Gas diplomacy

Cavusoglu also said Thursday that a gas pipeline between Israel and Turkey will not happen in the near future.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made clear to European leaders how pressing it is to develop alternatives to Russian natural gas. Israel and its Mediterranean partners hope to be part of the solution for Europe, but it remains unclear how the gas will reach the continent.

After the Biden administration dropped its support for the EastMed gas pipeline in January, Erdogan indicated 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.

From right to left: In the front row, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis and Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis sign the EastMed pipeline agreement in the Greek capital Athens on January 2, 2020, while in the back row, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades look on. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Then-energy minister Yuval Steinitz mentioned during a March 2021 press conference in Cyprus that Israel would be open to cooperating with Turkey on natural gas, but then walked back the comments somewhat.

But statements from Ankara won’t be enough to make Israel and its EastMed partners cooperate with Turkey on Mediterranean energy exploration.

If Ankara continues to insist on maintaining a 2019 maritime border deal with Libya that claims economic rights over areas that Greece and Cyprus see as their exclusive economic zones, Israel’s allies will continue to treat Turkey as an adversary. Greece says the Turkey-Libya deal fails to take into account the island of Crete, while Turkey has already upset Cyprus by sending ships to search for oil and gas off the divided island.

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