Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced Sept. 19 that Irit Lillian, currently the charge d’affaires at the embassy in Ankara, will serve as the next ambassador to Turkey, subject to formal government approval and approval of the Turkish authorities. Until then, Lillian will serve as ambassador designate. The former ambassador to Bulgaria has headed the Israeli Embassy in Ankara since February last year. During this period, she has been playing a key role in Israel-Turkey rapprochement. Among other things, Lillian is credited quite significantly with the release from detention of two Israeli tourists arrested in Istanbul last year.
Why it matters: Bilateral relations between Israel and Turkey had deteriorated under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially since the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, where nine Turkish nationals were shot by Israeli security forces. On several occasions, Erdogan took up the Palestinian cause, slamming Israel repeatedly, sometimes with antisemitic-toned remarks. In 2018, on the backdrop of deadly clashes in the Gaza Strip between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, Turkey ordered Israel’s ambassador to Ankara to leave. In response, Israel ordered the Turkish charge d’affaires also to leave the country.