Israeli diplomats are dubious but pleased at the burgeoning romance between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Erdogan is not very popular in Israel, to put it mildly, while Herzog in his first seven months in office is shaping up as an active, influential, moderating and popular figure, venturing out of the confines of his largely ceremonial post. “With Erdogan, it’s all about interests,” a top Israeli diplomatic source in Jerusalem told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “With Herzog, it’s his nature. He is like that, a kind of new [late President Shimon] Peres, an inveterate optimist who will always turn risk into opportunity, an enemy into a friend. He simply wants to be influential.”
The relationship between the two men reached a new level this week when Herzog called Erdogan Feb. 6 to wish him a speedy recovery from the omicron variant of the coronavirus he had contracted. “Next thing you know, they will go on a date,” a senior Israeli security source said with a smile while speaking on condition of anonymity. The two have been phone pals for some months, but the watershed moment in their relations occurred last November, when Erdogan ordered the release of the Israeli couple Natali and Mordi Oknin detained while touring Istanbul and accused of spying. Herzog obviously called to thank him — as did Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.