Turkey prepares for Israeli president’s visit

A Turkish delegation will arrive in Israel ahead of President Herzog’s visit to Turkey next month.

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

A senior official delegation from Turkey will arrive in Israel this week as part of the preparations for the planned visit of President Isaac Herzog to the country next month, and “with the aim of discussing relations between the two countries.”

The Turkish delegation includes the Spokesperson and Chief Advisor to the President of Turkey, Ibrahim Kalin, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Sedat Önal.

During the visit, the two officials will meet with Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Alon Ushpiz; Director-General of the Office of the President of Israel Eyal Shviki, and senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President of Israel.

The visit of the senior delegation is reciprocal to the Ushpiz’s visit to Turkey in December, during which the dialogue regarding the president’s visit and relations between the two countries began, the Foreign Ministry revealed on Tuesday.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in January that Herzog was planning a visit to the country.

“This visit could open a new chapter in relations between Turkey and Israel,” Erdoğan said in an interview with Turkey’s NTV channel, adding that he was “ready to take steps in Israel’s direction in all areas, including natural gas.”

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Erdoğan also said he was prepared to work with Israel on reviving an old project to ship gas to Europe through Turkey.

The latest reports indicate that Herzog will visit Turkey on March 9-10 while Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to attend the Antalya Diplomacy Forum on March 11-13.

Herzog’s visit will be the first by a senior Israeli official to the country in many years.

Herzog spoke by phone with Erdoğan in November following the release of Mordy and Natali Oknin, Israeli tourists who were arrested by Turkish authorities on alleged espionage charges. Herzog was reportedly key in their release and was Israel’s direct line to Erdogan.

This was their second conversation, as Erdogan called Herzog after he entered office. The two also spoke by phone for a third time following the death of Herzog’s mother last month.

Relations are apparently warming as Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in January to wish him well after was infected with the coronavirus, the first announced phone call between the countries’ top diplomats in 13 years.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been sour for years as Erdoğan and his Islamist ruling party have drawn the country toward the Muslim Brotherhood and have espoused anti-Israel Islamic ideas and even antisemitic notions.

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Turkey has also become home to Hamas’ headquarters, generating further tensions between Jerusalem and Ankara.

Turkey is facing a complex financial situation in the country, as well as tense relations with the U.S. and Europe. Erdoğan may attempt to improve his situation through the resolution of this crisis.