In the first such visit in over a decade, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar.
By Erin Viner
At the onset of his talks, Minister Gantz thanked the President “for the life-saving cooperation in the face of threats against Israeli citizens and the Jewish community in Turkey,” said a statement TV7 obtained from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMoD), which stressed that, “This counterterrorism activity sheds light on the vast potential for cooperation upon the reestablishment of defense ties between the two countries.”
The two leaders also discussed strategic issues and reiterated their commitment to promoting stability, prosperity and security in the Middle East and region of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
“As agreed in our meetings, I have instructed my staff to begin the procedures required in order to resume working relations,” Gantz told a joint news conference with Turkish Defense Minister Akar, adding that, “moving forward, we must adopt a steady, positive approach in our relations – maintaining open dialogue.”
Turkish Defense Minister Akar remarked that, “the improvement of our relations and cooperation with Israel, especially in areas such as defense, security and energy, will lead to important developments regarding regional peace and stability.” He went on to say that bolstered ties to Jerusalem would “facilitate the resolution of some issues on which we have disagreements, especially on Palestine.”
Onetime strong bilateral ties between the Jewish State and its strong Muslim ally were severely damaged by the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident when 10 pro-Palestinian extremists from Turkey were killed after they violently attacked Israeli commandos trying to enforce the naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Israel later paid Turkey $20 million in compensation as a key component of a deal signed in June 2016 to restore ties.
The row widened again when Erdoğan condemned Israel as a “terrorist state” after 60 Palestinian rioters believed affiliated with the Islamist-Hamas terror group were killed in 2018 by the IDF during violent protests on the Gaza border.
Israel also accused Turkey of giving passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul in August 2020.
After more than decade of acrimony, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced the full restoration of diplomatic relations with Ankara in August. The process of reparation included a visit to Turkey by Israeli President Isaac Herzog’ followed by reciprocal visits of the foreign ministers to one another’s capitals.
Full Text of Minister Gantz’ Remarks at Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense
Excellency Defense Minister Hulusi Akar,
I am pleased and humbled to be here in Ankara. My delegation and I are grateful for your kind invitation and warm welcome. It is a clear signal for positive developments ahead.
It is no secret that our ties have faced challenges.
Yet today, I am glad to say that Turkey is one of our top 5 trading partners. Over the years, our economic ties have grown.
On the diplomatic front, the return of our ambassadors has set the stage for us today. In fact, my visit to Ankara, is the third by an Israeli leader, in less than a year.
The gates have opened and there is great potential for cooperation in trade, tourism, industry and more.
Turkey and Israel have both built modern, advanced societies on a foundation rich in history. Our future is promising, yet dependent on our shared interest to maintain security and stability in the region and the world.
As the Minister and I discussed during our meeting, there are many areas for future collaboration. This includes pursuing diplomatic solutions to disputes in our regions – just as Israel has achieved with Lebanon this very morning.
The maritime border agreement reflects the ability of opposing actors to cooperate for the sake of stability and economic prosperity. This agreement is an asset to the security of Israel and the region.
And while one eye rests on our achievement, the other watches developing threats.
This year, as a result of close, covert contact, we succeeded in removing an alarming number of threats against Israeli citizens and Jewish people in Turkey. We are thankful to President Erdogan, Minister Akar and the security agencies involved in this crucial, life-saving cooperation.
I believe a lot more can be done together in order to reduce the influence of those who destabilize our regions, by supporting or conducting terrorism against innocent civilians.
This also applies to the Palestinian arena, and I am confident that deeper defense ties between our countries may have a positive impact on developments in this arena.
The Middle East and East-Med regions are changing.
Alliances – some of which were unthinkable not long ago – are being built in the face of alarming threats such as the one posed by Iran.
There is no doubt that Turkey, a NATO member and ally of our common friend the United States, plays an important role in ensuring global stability. Our ties are a positive addition, as we maintain strong partnerships with our friends in Greece, Cyprus, and the Gulf countries.
In fact, we may form bridges and reduce conflicts, for the benefit of all parties involved.
Moving forward, we must adopt a steady, positive approach in our relations – maintaining open dialogue. As agreed in our meetings, I have instructed my staff to begin the procedures required in order to resume working relations.
Once again Minister, thank you for your warm welcome. I look forward to working together.