Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to separately host both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas in Ankara this week.
The visit will mark Netanyahu’s first prime ministerial trip to Turkey and is one more sign of the renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Ankara has not hosted an Israeli prime minister since Ehud Olmert visited in 2008.
Turkish-Israeli diplomatic ties
Diplomatic ties with Turkey and Israel broke down following a 2010 IDF raid on the Mavi Marmara as it attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Ten Turkish citizens were killed during that incident.
Tensions have also been high in the past due to Erdogan’s strong support for the Palestinians and his sharp anti-Israel comments, including at the United Nations.
Ties were restored last year, a move that was cemented with a visit by President Isaac Herzog. Former prime minister Yair Lapid also met with Erdogan in the fall on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Prior to the breakdown of relations between Jerusalem and Ankara, Turkey had been one of the countries along with Egypt that had served as a regional mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly with Hamas.
The Turkish invitation, which follows the one extended last week by Morocco, comes amid increased Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The trilateral project between Israel, Cyprus and Greece
It will also immediately follow a planned visit by Netanyahu to Cyprus this week. Israel has looked to Cyprus to develop natural gas projects including with Greece.
A trilateral project between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece to develop an underwater pipeline by which to export Israel’s natural gas to Europe has been on hold pending an EU feasibility study. It also risked sparking tensions with Turkey, which claimed that a portion of the project was under its territorial waters.
Cyprus and Israel have also separately discussed natural gas projects, including one in which Israel’s natural gas would be sent to Cyprus via an underwater pipeline and then liquefied at a special plant built there and shipped to Europe from a nearby port.
Turkey would similarly like to develop a natural gas project with Israel, in which it would act both as a transit state to other sites and sell the commodity domestically.
The European need to seek alternative natural gas markets to replace the gas it had exported from Russia has opened up new commercial possibilities for countries such as Israel.
The enmity between Ankara and Nicosia over Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus has, however, made it impossible for Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel to pursue any joint projects.
Energy expert Gabriel Mitchell of the MITVIM Institute said he was certain that Erdogan would raise the issue of a joint Israeli-Turkish gas project during the visit.
“Energy will come up whether Netanyahu wants to bring it up or not because it’s in Erdogan’s interest to mention energy,” Mitchell said.