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Israel, Turkey to resume full diplomatic ties, ending rift

Aug. 17, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 17, 2022 at 8:59 p.m.

By Gwen Ackerman and Beril Akman Bloomberg News

Israel and Turkey agreed to resume full diplomatic ties, seeking to draw a line under a years-long period of tensions that spilled into regional security, energy and trade.

Ambassadors will be installed for the first time since 2018, Israel said on Wednesday, following a phone call between its prime minister, Yair Lapid, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Lapid heralded the move as “an important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel.” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who earlier this year became the first holder of his office to visit Israel in 15 years, said Ankara aimed to develop bilateral ties while continuing to defend the rights of Palestinians seeking a state of their own.

“In this respect, it would be important to deliver our messages directly from Tel Aviv,” Cavusoglu said.

Turkey’s support of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and its criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians helped push two formerly close nations apart. But no senior Israeli official immediately reacted to Cavusoglu’s remarks.

Turkey has sought to reset its ties with Israel and the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, as it looks to bolster a floundering economy that threatens to erode support for Erdogan ahead of elections next year.

The diplomacy is also part of a broader realignment that’s seen regional rivals heal rifts and step back from conflicts since U.S. President Joe Biden took office.

Close links between Israel and Turkey began to fray in 2003 as Erdogan won power as premier, then nosedived after 2010, when a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip was raided by Israeli commandos, resulting in the deaths of 10 civilians.

Ties were mended in 2016, but broke down again two years later after Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians protesting the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem.

The recent public thaw only really began in earnest this year, spurred on by Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Turkey. The two countries followed that up in May by pledging to restart negotiations on direct flights by Israeli airlines after the landmark talks between their foreign ministers.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, an expert on Turkey at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, said a number of other factors made the resumption of full ties possible.

Turkey has made gestures toward Israel, such as helping thwart threats against Israelis on Turkish soil, she said. Erdogan, meanwhile, is hoping normalization will help in his bid to secure F-16 fighter planes from the US, as well as convince Israel to reconsider a proposed pipeline that could carry natural gas to Europe via Turkey.

Israel has been exploring a separate gas-export pipeline linking Cyprus and Greece, as Ankara’s unilateral exploration for energy in contested east Mediterranean waters angered its neighbors.

“There were a few crises over the past year that the sides used as an opportunity to regain trust between them,” Lindenstrauss said. Erdogan may also have decided to move before Israel holds its next election in November, she said.

Herzog commended the renewal of ties, saying that “good neighborly relations and the spirit of partnership in the Middle East are important for us all. Members of all faiths – Muslims, Jews, and Christians – can and must live together in peace.”

Namik Tan, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington and Tel Aviv, said Erdogan’s government accepts that “isolating itself for ideological purposes has a very big cost.”

“And recovering relations with Turkey was part of Israel’s broader normalization efforts for the region, which includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Tan said.

According to Israel’s Foreign Trade Administration, trade of goods and business services between Israel and Turkey stood at $7.7 billion in 2021.

Israel’s Minister of Economy and Industry Orna Barvivay said she plans to hold an economic summit with Turkey in early September. Tan said two-way commerce “could easily be increased to $25 billion.”

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