Mar 8, 2022: According to a report by Reuters, the presidents of Turkey and Israel will meet for the first time in more than a decade this week, expanding a recent Turkish charm offensive with regional rivals.
The two countries seek to overcome years of animosity and insults with this visit by Israel’s president to Turkey.
The two countries have traded accusations over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Ankara’s support for the militant group Hamas which governs Gaza. Diplomatic ties hit a low in 2018 when they expelled ambassadors.
As a result of Turkey’s efforts to mend its strained relations in the Middle East, President Tayyip Erdogan announced in January that he had invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog for talks on Wednesday. The parties say they will find ways to deepen cooperation.
Erdogan said the visit would usher in a “new era” and that the two countries could work together to bring Israel’s natural gas to Europe, reviving the idea that has been in discussion for over 20 years.
The last visit by an Israeli president to Turkey was in 2007 and the last trip by a prime minister came the following year. Erdogan and Bennett spoke in November, the first such call in years.
Relations cratered in 2010 when Israeli commandos enforcing a naval blockade of Gaza killed 10 Turkish activists during a raid on the Mavi Marmara boat, which was carrying aid to the enclave.
Through the years of animosity, the countries have maintained trade, which stood at $6.7 billion in 2021, up from $5 billion in 2019 and 2020, according to official data.
Gas supplies from the Mediterranean could ease European dependence on Russian gas. Plans for a subsea pipeline from the east Mediterranean to Europe, excluding Turkey, have stalled after the U.S expressed misgivings in January.
Turkey imports most of its energy but has announced a discovery of 540 billion cubic metres of natural gas in the Black Sea and hopes to extract it next year.
The head of the Israeli firm pumping gas from a giant field in the east Mediterranean said his company could supply Turkey if it provided infrastructure, though he did not comment on Erdogan’s more ambitious idea to link it to Europe.
“Our position has always been clear. If you want gas, great. We are ready to give. You build the pipeline to us and we will supply gas,” Yossi Abu, chief executive of NewMed Energy, told an investors conference two weeks ago.
Despite visibly toning down its criticism of Israel ahead of Herzog’s visit, Turkey has ruled out abandoning its commitment to supporting Palestinian statehood.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas political official in Turkey, told Reuters that ties between the group and Ankara were “stable” and that media reports about Turkey pressuring Hamas to rein in its criticism of Israel were “unfounded and incorrect.”
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