image Photo: Haim Zach (GPO)

Herzog, Erdoğan work to repair Israeli-Turkish ties

The state visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Turkey marks the first such trip by an Israeli leader since 2008 as the regional rivals seek to overcome years of animosity.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ceremoniously greeted his Israeli counterpart upon arrival in Ankara yesterday, that included a military honor guard.

“I believe that this historic visit will be a turning point in relations between Turkey and Israel. Strengthening relations with the State of Israel has great value for our country,” said the Turkish leader during a news conference at the presidential palace. “I believe this historic visit will be a new turning point in Turkey-Israel relations. Our mutual goal is to revive the political dialogue” on the basis of mutual interests,” he added.

Thanking Erdoğan for the invitation to visit the Republic just after he was elected Israeli President last year, Herzog agreed, “This is a very important moment for the bilateral relations of our countries and a significant privilege for us both, to establish a foundation toward relations of friendship between our states and nations and to build bridges that are crucial to us all.”

“Your invitation and my visit here are part of ongoing dialogue and blessed communications,” he added.

Characterizing bilateral Turkey-Israel ties as having undergone “a type of famine over the past several years,” President Herzog stressed that, “Now, I believe, that relations between our states will be evaluated on the premise of actions that mirror a spirit of mutual respect and will enable us to contend better with global and regional challenges that impact us all. Israel and Turkey, as you have said, are able and must cooperate in many areas that dramatically impact this region, which all of us call home.”

The two nations seek to cool years of disputes, primarily over Israel’s presence on the West Bank as well as Turkish support for the Islamist Hamas terror group that controls Gaza.

During lengthy talks that lasted longer than expected, President Erdoğan said the two leaders “exchanged views about events in Ukraine and in the Eastern Mediterranean,” expressing his belief “that the coming period will bring new opportunities for both regional and bilateral cooperation.” A statement from the Israeli President’s office said he described the talks as “fruitful.”

While anxious to mend its diplomatic rift with Jerusalem, Ankara has emphasized that the resumption of full relations with the Jewish State would in no way come at the expense of its staunch support of the Palestinians’ quest for statehood.

“I have openly shared our approach and sensitivities towards the (Palestinian) issue with Mr. Herzog,” stated President Erdoğan, adding that he expressed the “importance” Turkey has attached “to the de-escalation of tensions in the region and the preservation of the vision of a Two-State solution” while “drawing attention to the significance of improving the social and economic conditions of the Palestinians.”

The Turkish leader said he also “underlined the historical status of Jerusalem,” and the emphasis his nation places on the “preservation of the religious identity and sanctity of the al-Aqsa Mosque” on the Temple Mount

President Herzog responded to the Turkish concerns by highlighting that the assurance of freedom to worship for all religions is a core principle of the Jewish State, while reaffirming ongoing aspirations of reaching a viable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Despite years of diplomatic tensions, Turkey and Israel have maintained trade, which stood at $6.7 billion in 2021, up from $5 billion in 2019 and 2020, according to official data.

Erdoğan said he hoped trade would reach $10 billion this year.

Reviving an idea first discussed more than 20 years ago, the Turkish leader expressed hopes of his economically-challenged nation to work together to carry Israeli natural gas to Europe.

“I think this is an opportunity to revive the cooperation on the topic of energy that began before,” he added, referring to the activities of Turkey’s drilling and seismic ships in the Mediterranean and Black Sea,” he said.

Gas supplies from the Mediterranean could ease European dependence on Russian gas, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent calls from European leaders to reduce the continent’s reliance on Moscow. Plans for a subsea pipeline from the east Mediterranean to Europe – excluding Turkey – stalled after the United States expressed misgivings in January.

“We choose to look forward together. And we must agree ahead of time that we will not be able to agree on everything, which is the nature of relations that have a rich history as ours,” responded President Herzog, stressing that “we shall aspire to solve our disagreements with mutual respect and goodwill, by means of the proper mechanisms and institutions, which we shall develop together, and with our sights together on a common future.”

The President of the Jewish State then underscored to his Muslim counterpart: “You and I, and your people and mine, we are all children of Abraham – the Father of Believers in God.”

Israeli Alternate Premier and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is slated to host his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Jerusalem in the near future for formal dialogue on ways to further deepen bilateral cooperation.

It is important to note that Turkey and Israel have a long list of common security challenges which an Israeli intelligence source had told TV7 “ranges from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq – including vis-à-vis Iran.”

This position was later corroborated by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at an event marking 100 years to the establishment of the Haganah precursor of the IDF.

“During these very moments, the President of our state Isaac Herzog is in Turkey for a significant visit, a state with a rich history. I would like a convey our blessings to him, in your and my name, with a blessing for success. Israel builds its relations with many states in the region and is strengthening its cooperation vis-à-vis regional threats, chief most (against) Iran’s aggression and its attempt to breakout into the nuclear sector. The attempt to renew our relations with Turkey is also rooted in joint security interests of both countries and the necessity to safeguard global stability and the Middle East,” stated Israel’s top defense official.

Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gantz went on to clarify that any rapprochement with Ankara will not jeopardize Jerusalem’s alliances with either Athens or Nicosia.

We will continue to strengthen and maintain our relations with our veteran allies in the region, including Greece and Cyprus, and to build new cooperation with required responsibility,” he stressed.

Full text of President Isaac Herzog’s statement at the Presidential Complex in Ankara

Thank you, your Excellency, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Eşim ve ben Turkiye’de misafiriniz olarak bulunmaktan çok mutluyuz. [My wife and I are very happy to be in Turkey as your guests.] I thank you for inviting me to make a state visit here in the Republic of Turkey, and for the productive meeting we just held, which addressed many issues.

Your invitation and my visit here represent a continuation of the welcome dialogue and contact that you initiated from the moment I entered the Presidency in Israel.

This is a very important moment in relations between our countries, and I feel it is a great privilege for both of us to lay the foundations for the cultivation of friendly relations between our states and our peoples, and to build bridges that are critical for all of us.

Our peoples’ relationship is an ancient one, with strong historical, religious, and cultural roots. The long line of magnificent Jewish leaders, rabbis, poets, sages, merchants, and entrepreneurs represents only part of the Jewish People’s history here in this land.

Mr. President, unfortunately relations between our countries have experienced something of a drought in recent years.

Now, I believe that the relationship between our countries will be judged by deeds reflecting a spirit of mutual respect and will enable us to better confront the regional and global challenges that are common to us all.

Israel and Turkey, as you said, can and should collaborate in many fields that have a dramatic impact on this region, which we all call “home.”

Your foreign minister will visit Israel next month and will surely hold talks with the Israeli Foreign Minister about building these mechanisms and the agenda that you described at length in all fields, and we shall try to promote dialogue and examine it through deeds.

Mr. President, the great poet Nazim Hikmet, one of the greatest Turkish poets of the modern era, whose poems, so full of humanity and longing for peace, you often quote, wrote in his poem “On Living” the following verses: “You must take living so seriously / that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees / and not for your children, either, /  but because although you fear death you don’t believe it, / because living, I mean, weighs heavier.”

Today, Mr. President, as in these verses, we are choosing a life together that “weighs heavier.” The baggage of the past never disappears of its own accord, but we—our two peoples, our two countries—are choosing to embark on a journey of trust and respect, which will include an in-depth dialogue in all fields, and I thank you for the in-depth discussion we just held. We are choosing to look forward, together.

We must agree in advance that we will not agree on everything. Such is the nature of a relationship with a past as rich as ours. But we shall aspire to solve our disagreements with mutual respect and goodwill, by means of the proper mechanisms and institutions, which we shall develop together, and with our sights together on a common future.

You and I, and your people and mine, we are all children of Abraham—the father of believers in God.

As you know, ahead of our meeting today, I met and held talks with the leaders of other states in our region; and I believe that you and I prove here, in fact, what we all understand: that partnership and good neighborly relations between us—here in the Eastern Mediterranean region—are important to us all.

I believe that all of us, members of all religions—Muslims, Jews, and Christians—can and must live in peace in this beautiful region, side by side, hand in hand. I expect us to work together to strengthen the stability, prosperity, peace, and security of our region, for the sake of all nations of this region.

This is what I dream in Jerusalem; this is what I dream in Ankara. This is how I act, and this is how the Israeli Government acts. We respect freedom of religion and the practice of religion in every place.

Mr. President, only in recent weeks, and we discussed this, we have seen once more how bad wars are. The war in Ukraine is a humanitarian disaster, which is shocking the whole world. We cannot remain indifferent to such human suffering, and I welcome any endeavor that will lead to the end of the bloodshed. The Prime Minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett, and the Government of Israel are doing their utmost on this matter, and I also greatly appreciate and respect your efforts, Mr. President, which have led to the important summit that will be held in your country tomorrow, and I pray for positive results. 

Mr. President, in days like these, we want to send a message that we are working in a different direction and creating new hope for our region.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Çok teşekkür ederim! [Thank you very much!]

I pray that God will be by our side and will accompany us on our new path.