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Netanyahu confidant meets Erdogan as Turkey seeks détente with Israel

Meeting comes on heels of efforts to revive bilateral ties after years of frosty relations between Jerusalem, Ankara

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, led by Stephen M. Greenberg (right) and Malcolm Hoenlein (center), in Ankara, February 9, 2016. (Courtesy)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, led by Stephen M. Greenberg (right) and Malcolm Hoenlein (center), in Ankara, February 9, 2016. (Courtesy)

A month after Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled a readiness to mend ties with Israel after years of disconnect, the Turkish president on Tuesday hosted a delegation of US Jewish leaders at his official Ankara residence.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, considered to be a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrived at the Ankara meeting directly from Jerusalem.

He and other representatives from the Conference, an umbrella group representing dozens of US Jewish NGOs, met with Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other senior officials.

The meeting marks the first time that senior Jewish leaders have met with Turkish officials since a 2009 meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Erdogan angrily denounced Israel’s military actions against Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip, marking the start of what would become a deep freeze between once-close allies.

Erdogan told a Turkish newspaper in December that he hoped to reestablish ties with Israel. Within days, fresh reports claimed that Israel and Turkey had already struck a preliminary agreement to normalize relations.

Malcolm Hoenlein (right) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo credit: Uri Lenz/FLASH90)
Malcolm Hoenlein (right) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo credit: Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out over IDF operations in the Gaza Strip against Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009 and an IDF raid on a flotilla seeking to breach the security blockade on Gaza a year later that killed 10 Turkish nationals. In 2011, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador.

Despite an apology by Netanyahu in 2013, efforts to end the standoff have repeatedly failed, though in recent weeks there have been increasing signs that a rapprochement is in the offing.

“Israel is in need of a country like Turkey in the region,” Erdogan told Turkish media in January. “And we too must accept that we need Israel. This is a reality in the region.”

“If mutual steps are implemented based on sincerity, then normalization will follow,” the president said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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