For the first time since the restoration of full diplomatic relations, President Isaac Herzog formally received the credentials of the Ambassador of Turkey, Şakir Özkan Torunlar.
By Erin Viner
Torunlar was among the new ambassadors of Australia, the Philippines, El Salvador and South Korea welcomed in a series of official ceremonies at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. The IDF Orchestra playing their respective national anthems and they inspected an IDF honor guard in the Ceremonial Plaza, after which they presented their letters of credence to the President in the Great Hall. The President held an audience with each ambassador, after which each ambassador signed the guest book. At the end of each ceremony, the Israeli national anthem was played.
“It is no secret that the State of Israel attaches great importance to our historic relationship with Türkiye, as do I personally,” said Herzog during his reception of Ambassador Trounlar, said a statement from the President’s office.
“It is a relationship that has known crises in the past but is now, to our delight, on a very encouraging trajectory. Israel and Türkiye can and must cooperate in many fields that will bring progress and growth for both countries and both nations,” he urged.
The Israeli leader said that his Turkish counter has underscored in both private conversations and public statements over the past year “how deeply he recognizes the importance of the partnership” between the two countries.
Issuing a formal invitation for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to visit Israel, the Israeli leader expressed certainty 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.”
[See President Isaac Herzog’s full statement to Turkish Ambassador Şakir Özkan Torunlar below]
Israel and Turkey restored full diplomatic relations in August after more than a decade of tensions.
Onetime warm bilateral ties between the Jewish State and its strong Muslim ally were severely damaged by the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which 10 pro-Palestinian extremists from Turkey were killed when 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 Turkish President 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 against the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.
Israel has also long condemned Turkish support of the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza, including an office operated by the Palestinian terror group in Istanbul.
Israeli President Herzog also contributed to the de-escalation of hostilities during a diplomatic visit to Ankara in March 2022, after which foreign ministers of both states conducted reciprocal visits. Welcoming the development, Herzog stressed, “Members of all faiths—Muslims, Jews, and Christians—can and must live together in peace.”
The eventual breakthrough rapprochement between the two US allies followed “positive developments in Israel-Türkiye ties over the past year (2022),” said a statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in August; finalized in a congratulatory conversation between then- Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Turkish President Erdoğan, as well as “understandings” Lapid reached during his visit to Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu.”
In other diplomatic news, Azerbaijan has appointed its first ever ambassador to Israel amid escalating tensions with its large southern neighbor Iran.
The decision follows an invitation last year from Israeli President Isaac Herzog for his Azeri counterpart to visit open an embassy while visiting the country.
“As we mark an important step in our relations, I hope to see us take an additional step, with the opening of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Israel,” Herzog wrote to President Ilham Aliyev in a letter commemorating 30 years of close ties shared by the two countries.
Aliyev signed an official decree yesterday designating Mukhtar Mammadov, a veteran official who has held posts in the Foreign and Education Ministries, as the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim country’s first envoy to the Jewish State.
While the two nations have neither side has an embassy on the other’s soil, and the Central Asian country only maintained trade and tourist offices in Israel.
Jerusalem has had an embassy in Baku since the early 1990s and has been a significant military backer of Azerbaijan in recent years, including diplomatic support for Baku in its standoff with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Then-Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz made a one-day trip to the Republic for meetings his Azeri counterpart Colonel General Hasanov Zakir Asgar Oglu and President Aliyev focused on security and policy issues and aimed at fostering defense cooperation between the countries in October 2022.
Azerbaijan is bordered to the south by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it is widely believed that until now that Baku has held back from officially opening an embassy in part to avert angering Tehran. Despite accusations last year by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian that Israel had established ‘military presence and secret alliance’ with Azerbaijan, the Azeri parliament nevertheless passed a law in November 2022 paving the way for the country to open its first embassy in Israel.
69% of all weapons imported by Azerbaijan from 2016 through 2020 were supplied by Israel, while Azerbaijan provides about 40% of Israel’s oil imports.
Azerbaijan’s embassy will be located in Tel Aviv,
Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Azeri President Aliyev have hailed strong relations between their countries.
President Isaac Herzog’s full statement to Turkish Ambassador Şakir Özkan Torunlar:
“Mr. Ambassador, Şakir Özkan Torunlar, welcome to Israel! İsrai̇l’e hoş geldi̇ni̇z! Today we complete another important step, reaching another milestone in the strengthening of our relations and deepening of the friendship between Türkiye and Israel. As you know, one of the key moments in this relationship was the invitation I received from my friend President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to visit Türkiye, and my historic State Visit to Ankara and Istanbul in March 2022.
“I must tell you, Your Excellency, that I was moved to hear the Israeli national anthem in Ankara, as Israeli flags flew overhead; it symbolized more than anything the tremendous privilege that we, President Erdoğan and I, had in laying new foundations for the important relationship between our countries and our peoples, and in building bridges of good and strong neighborly relations, which are vital for all of us, now and always. I trust that you too, Your Excellency, felt similarly moved when you saw Türkiye’s flag and heard its anthem here, at the President’s Residence.
“It is no secret that the State of Israel attaches great importance to our historic relationship with Türkiye, 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 Türkiye can and must cooperate in many fields that will bring progress and growth for both countries and both nations. We must deepen and broaden our collaboration in many diverse fields, including tourism, academia, energy, science, culture, agriculture and so much more, so that they may bring value to our citizens, and no less importantly—to our region.
“President Erdoğan has underscored in the past year, including in conversations with me and publicly, how deeply he recognizes the importance of the partnership between Israel and Türkiye, and I would like to take this opportunity, as President of the State of Israel, to invite President Erdoğan to visit Israel, which I am sure will contribute to deepening the ties and cooperation between our countries.
“I note that Türkiye’s policy and impact is felt, especially in the context of your efforts to solve significant problems relating to the war in Ukraine, exchange of hostages, and the export of wheat to the world.
“Ambassador Torunlar, you are returning to a place that is not foreign to you. A decade after you served your country as its Consul-General in Jerusalem, you are privileged to continue contributing your share to the strengthening of relations and cooperation between our countries. The presentation of your letters of credence a few minutes ago is a direct continuation of an identical occasion in Ankara a few weeks ago, in which Israel’s ambassador to Türkiye, Mrs. Irit Lilian, presented her credentials to President Erdoğan. 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. My excellent team is at your disposal, for any issue or matter. I wish you success, Your Excellency. Success to us all!”