JERUSALEM: Israel’s prime minister has met with Turkey’s president for the first time in 14 years, the latest sign of warming ties between the two regional powers after a long and bitter rift.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the largest annual gathering of world leaders now underway in New York.
In his meeting with Erdogan, Lapid said he “commended” the recent restoration of full diplomatic ties between the countries and the appointment this week of a new Israeli ambassador to Turkey.
The scene of Lapid, the Israeli caretaker prime minister until new elections in November, warmly greeting Erdogan could serve to bolster his diplomatic credentials as an alternative to Israel’s longtime former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has billed himself as a world-class statesman, but relations with Turkey deteriorated during his more than a decade in power.
Erdogan has shown a willingness for warmer ties since Netanyahu left office last year. Over years of strained relations, Erdogan has been an outspoken critic of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Israel, in turn, has objected to Turkey’s embrace of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
The once-close regional allies withdrew their respective ambassadors in 2010, after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. The incident resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.
But following Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s state visit to Turkey in March and other signs of a thaw, the two countries agreed to exchange ambassadors. The countries still share various strategic interests, including containing Iran.
During their meeting in New York, Lapid thanked Erdogan for intelligence cooperation against Iranian attempts to carry out attacks in Turkey and brought up the issue of missing and captive Israelis, his office said.
The leaders also discussed energy cooperation, the statement added. Erdogan has expressed an interest in Turkey tapping into Israel’s offshore natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.