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Turkey's ambassador to Israel assumes post as reconciliation advances

After four years of fraught relations, Israel and Turkey have officially exchanged ambassadors, and Herzog has invited Erdogan to visit.
Haim Zach/GPO

Israeli President Isaac Herzog received the credentials of Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar on Wednesday, officially ending four years of complicated diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Torunlar had served as Turkey’s consul general in Jerusalem and is considered an expert on Israel-Turkey relations.

Herzog highlighted the historic relationship at the ceremony, expressing optimism about its future.

“It is no secret that the State of Israel attaches great importance to our historic relationship with Turkey, as do I personally. It is a relationship that has known crises in the past but is now, to our delight, on a very encouraging trajectory. Israel and Turkey can and must cooperate in many fields that will bring progress and growth for both countries and both nations," Herzog said.

He commended the commitment of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to repairing bilateral ties and invited him to visit Israel soon.

"I am sure that we will all continue strengthening the relations between our countries from a place of mutual respect, hand in hand, for the sake of a better and more promising future for our peoples and our region," Herzog said. 

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after Erdogan came into power in 2003, especially after the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza incident in which nine Turkish nationals were killed by Israeli fire. Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had apologized for the incident, but relations kept deteriorating, with Erdogan making statements bordering on antisemitism. In 2018, following tension in Gaza, Ankara ordered Israel’s ambassador, Eitan Na’eh, to leave the country. In retribution, Jerusalem ordered the Turkish charge d’affaires to leave as well.

Erdogan started signaling some two years ago that he wished to mend the bilateral rift. When Herzog took office in July 2021, Erdogan called him to congratulate him. In November that year, Erdogan was personally involved in the efforts to release two Israeli tourists detained in Istanbul.

These efforts culminated with a state visit by Herzog to Ankara on March 2022. Erdogan also congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his electoral win Nov. 1, indicating in a letter that he was determined to pursue the path of reconciliation. On Nov. 17, the two leaders also spoke on the phone.

In a sign of increasing trade relations, an Israeli business delegation of 100 industrialists, organized by the Israeli federation of chambers of commerce, visited Turkey last month, meeting with some 300 Turkish business figures.

On Dec. 27, Erdogan received the credentials of Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey Irit Lillian. Lillian, one of Israel’s most senior diplomats, had worked relentlessly in the past year and a half to repair bilateral ties from her position of charge d’affaires at the Ankara embassy.

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