Israel's relations with Turkey remained strong despite past rhetoric, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
"The good relations between Turkey and Israel are founded on shared interests, and will continue to be strong because it's for the good of both countries and the region," Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post Sunday.
Ayalon spoke immediately following a meeting in Tel Aviv with a delegation of prominent Turkish journalists, who were brought to Israel by the American Jewish Committee's Project Interchange.
The two states have been in a diplomatic stand-off almost a year long, triggered by Operation Cast Lead. During this period, the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled increasingly close ties to Arab and Muslim states, combined with prominent criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
Ayalon insisted in the wake of the meeting that "relations between Turkey and Israel will continue to be a model for peaceful coexistence and interreligious dialogue."
Asked about the acrimonious relations between the two countries over the past year, the deputy foreign minister said Israel "doesn't want to deal with the past. The rhetoric of the past doesn't reflect the depth of relations. The two countries have a strong interest in continuing their relations in a steady and normal level."
The relations between the countries are "natural," he added.
"There's great correspondence between the economies and other systems. These relations must not be measured through [policies directed at] third-party countries, certainly not Syria or Hamas."
Did Israel see Erdogan and his government in the same light as Turkey as a whole?
"The Turkish journalists asked if we see a difference between the prime minister [Erdogan] and the rest of the state officialdom in terms of relations, and I said that from Israel's perspective there is only one Turkey and it has the right to seek out its own identity. From our perspective we don't get involved in [internal] Turkish issues," Ayalon said.
"Turkey is a large nation, not a single person. Just like we relate to the entire country with great respect, so we see the heads of state that way, including Erdogan," he added.
Ayalon's comments came a day after the Egyptian Al Ahram newspaper reported that Turkey will resume mediating indirect talks between Israel and Syria in the first half of 2010.
Turkey's Erdogan is scheduled to arrive in Damascus for talks on December 22, and according to the Egyptian report on Saturday, he will present Syrian President Bashar Assad with a change in the Israeli position and report a willingness in Jerusalem to allow the Turks to mediate indirect talks.
A Syrian diplomat told Al Ahram that the talks will resume in the first half of 2010 and that they would start from where they left off when Turkey cut off mediation efforts after Cast Lead last winter.
While Ayalon would not comment directly on Turkish involvement in mediation, senior Israeli diplomatic officials the day before said they doubted the veracity of the report.
However, Ayalon related that a high-level diplomatic dialogue was planned between the two countries in January, when the directors-general of the two nations' foreign ministries will meet in Turkey for talks "on regional issues, the Palestinians, Iran, and encouraging commerce and investment."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.