Herzog to visit Greece, Cyprus ahead of Erdogan meeting

The president's one-day trip to Athens is set for next Thursday, and a half-day trip to Cyprus is expected to take place the following week.

 Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrives outside Downing Street to meet Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London, Britain, November 23, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrives outside Downing Street to meet Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London, Britain, November 23, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)

President Isaac Herzog plans to meet the presidents of Greece and Cyprus in the coming weeks and then travel to Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The trips are meant to assure Athens and Nicosia that a rapprochement with Ankara will not come at the expense of the close ties Israel has developed with them in recent years.

Herzog’s one-day trip to Athens is set for next Thursday, and a half-day trip to Cyprus is expected to take place the following week.

Herzog’s meeting with Erdogan will be the week after that, Turkish media reported. However, the President’s Residence said the date has not been finalized.

Herzog’s visit will be the first by an Israeli leader in more than a decade, following a period of tensions between Israel and Turkey. The presidents have spoken on the phone multiple times since Herzog took office last year.

Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal and Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s senior adviser and spokesman, led a delegation from Ankara to Israel this week.

They are set to meet with Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, President’s Residence Director-General Eyal Shviki and other senior officials in both offices on Wednesday.

 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 27, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS) Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 27, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

The visit comes after Ushpiz traveled to Turkey last December to discuss Herzog’s visit and improved relations between Ankara and Jerusalem.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was treading cautiously regarding Erdogan’s overtures.

“Things are happening very slowly and gradually,” he said, adding that Herzog’s trip to Ankara was being fully coordinated with him.

Bennett effusively praised Herzog’s role in Israel’s foreign relations, calling him “an extraordinary diplomatic asset for solving problems.”

“We have total trust,” he said.” I don’t know when there was last a relationship like this” between a president and a prime minister.

Bennett and the government are proceeding very cautiously with Turkey, a senior diplomatic source said. “We don’t have to force ourselves to be purists in a way that will prevent us from creating alliances,” the source added.

The United Arab Emirates is talking to Turkey again after years of tensions, the source said, adding that Turkey and Iran “are not good friends, to say the least.”

Last year, Erdogan repeatedly said he was open to improving relations with Israel. Turkey’s change in policy might be related to its declining economy and poor relations with the US.

At the same time, Turkey harbors Hamas terrorists. Last month, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized Israel for evicting Palestinians who had illegally built their homes and businesses on public land, and Turkey’s Religious Affairs Ministry organized a “symposium meant to raise awareness about conflict in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Erdogan has accused Israel of intentionally killing Palestinian children, and state-controlled media outlets have broadcast antisemitic television series.

Tensions between Israel and Turkey began in 2008, when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert met with Erdogan and launched Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip days later.

The low point in Israel-Turkey ties was in 2010, when the Erdogan-linked IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) sent the Mavi Marmara ship to bust the IDF’s naval blockade on Gaza, arming some of the people aboard. IDF naval commandos stopped the ship, were attacked by IHH members aboard and killed nine of them.

Israel and Turkey maintained diplomatic relations in the aftermath, even reinstalling ambassadors in 2016. But two years later, Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador over the IDF’s response to rioting on the Gaza border.