Ben-Eliezer leaves for Turkey visit

Ben-Eliezer heads busine

Industry and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer flew to Turkey on Sunday evening for economic talks, making him the highest-ranking minister to travel to Ankara since ties took a nose-dive last month, following Turkey's cancellation of a military maneuver with Israel. Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio before his departure that he was not deterred by the chill in ties, and would "make every effort to restore the diplomatic relations we shared in the past." He said Israel had a "vast interest" in restoring relations with Turkey in the "economic, diplomatic and strategic fields," and that he hoped his own close ties in Turkey could help achieve this goal. "I'm not a foreigner in Turkey, I've had ties with them for the last eight years," he said. Ben-Eliezer said that despite the difficult last few months, which has included a number of anti-Israel outbursts by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey was interested in restoring those ties. Ben-Eliezer said that Turkey's growing ties with Iran didn't need to adversely impact on Ankara-Jerusalem relations. "We have ties with many countries that also have ties with Iran," he said. "Just because a country has ties with Iran doesn't mean we can't speak to it." Not everyone, however, was as sanguine. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters before the cabinet meeting that while "important," Ben-Eliezer's trip had not been coordinated with the Foreign Ministry. The trip was, however, approved both by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the cabinet. Lieberman, referring to reports that Turkey was interested in once again facilitating indirect talks between Israel and Syria as it had in the past, said that "they cannot mediate in the negotiations with Syria." He said it was unreasonable to give them that role in light of harsh Turkish statements following Operation Cast Lead, including Erdogan's comment earlier this month saying he would prefer talking to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Basher, who has been indicted for genocide in Darfur, than to Netanyahu. Ben-Eliezer will head a delegation of 20 senior Israeli businessmen, who will meet with counterparts in both Istanbul and Ankara. Ben-Eliezer said that he would hold a number of diplomatic meetings during his trip, although it was not made clear before his departure exactly whom he would be meeting.