Israeli President Isaac Herzog landed in Turkey on Wednesday for a state visit at the invitation of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a controversial figure who has gone from hot to cold when it comes to his Jewish regional neighbor. During the visit, the president visited Ankara and Istanbul, where he met with Erdoğan and members of the Turkish Jewish community.

According to Professor Efraim Inbar of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), “Ankara is currently trying to mend its ties with regional powers, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Israel. Energy concerns are at the top of the Turkish agenda in its drive for rapprochement with Israel.”

Herzog’s visit comes at a time when sensitivities exist between the two countries.

Inbar noted that “while Turkey maintains robust trade with Israel, Erdoğan has harshly criticized Israel on the Palestinian issue, with remarks bordering on anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, his country continues to host Hamas terrorists.”

Herzog acknowledged Erdoğan’s past hostility towards Israel and emphasized that Jerusalem is willing to move forward cautiously. “We do not forget the past, but we are thinking about the future,” he said.

The two leaders reportedly agreed to establish a mechanism to avoid future diplomatic disputes between Israel and Turkey.

Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak from Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, as well as the JISS, told JNS that “since Herzog has no political responsibility we cannot speak about a full-fledged normalization. However, it is a good start.”

“The way Herzog was hosted was very warm and respectful,” he added. “In order to tackle future challenges, both countries should enhance dialogue and must open new channels to minimize possible friction in public.”

Herzog is the first Israeli leader to visit Turkey since 2008. The last visit to Turkey by an Israeli president took place in 2007.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey on March 9, 2022. Source: Isaac Herzog/Twitter.

When Herzog entered office, Erdoğan called him to congratulate him on his election in a conversation that led to a resumption of dialogue between Israel and Turkey after a disconnect of several years.

Prior to his departure from Israel, Herzog said: “Israel-Turkey relations are important for Israel, important for Turkey, and important for the whole region.”

“Certainly, at a time when the international order is being shaken, it is good and proper that stability and partnership be maintained in our region.”

“We will not agree on everything, and the relationship between Israel and Turkey has certainly known ups and downs and not-so-simple moments in recent years, but we shall try to restart our relations and build them in a measured and cautious manner, and with mutual respect between our states.”

In his public statement with Erdoğan, Herzog said: “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.”

Recalling that the Jewish presence in Turkey “is an ancient one, with strong historical, religious, and cultural roots,” Herzog acknowledged to Erdoğan that “unfortunately, relations between our countries have experienced something of a drought in recent years.”

“The baggage of the past never disappears of its own accord, but we—our two peoples, our two countries—are choosing to embark on a journey of trust and respect, which will include an in-depth dialogue in all fields, and I thank you for the in-depth discussion we just held. We are choosing to look forward together.”

Repeating what he had said when departing Israel, Herzog emphasized that Israel and Turkey “must agree in advance that we will not agree on everything. … But we shall aspire to solve our disagreements with mutual respect and goodwill … with our sights together on a common future. … We want to send a message that we are working in a different direction and creating new hope for our region.”

‘A slow process of mending bilateral ties’

Herzog also visited the Anıtkabir in Ankara, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of modern Turkey, and laid a wreath. The president also toured the Anıtkabir Atatürk Museum.

And he met representatives of the Jewish community at the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul on Thursday.

Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament, told JNS that Herzog’s visit “is a landmark development that marks a slow process of mending bilateral ties after a decade-and-a-half of turbulent relations.”

“There are still many unresolved issues,” he said, “such as Erdoğan’s ongoing patronage of Hamas, but these incremental steps could be the foundation for building more cordial relations, including the exchange of ambassadors.”

“Turkey sees Israel as a crucial partner that can help Ankara reverse its growing regional isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Erdemir. “Furthermore, Erdoğan is also hoping that normalization with Israel can burnish his battered image in Washington. Turkey’s ongoing economic crisis—and the country’s desperate need for foreign capital and new export markets—are also driving Ankara’s outreach not only to Israel but also to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”


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