Defense Minister Benny Gantz heads to Turkey, days before election

Gantz will meet with his counterpart Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and will be welcomed by an honor guard in Ankara. 

 Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at a state Memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the Yom Kippur War at the military cemetery memorial hall on Mount Herzl, October 06, 2022. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at a state Memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the Yom Kippur War at the military cemetery memorial hall on Mount Herzl, October 06, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will visit Turkey next week, the first visit by an Israeli defense minister in a decade.

Gantz will meet with his counterpart Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and will be welcomed by an honor guard in Ankara. 

The visit, just days before Israel’s election, comes after a visit to Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Azerbaijan on Thursday where he met his counterpart Ilham Aliyev. Both Jerusalem and Ankara sold Baku weapons used in its recent conflict against Armenia.

Gantz’s visit also comes two months after the Director of the Policy and POL-MIL Bureau Brig.-Gen. (res.) Dror Shalom visited Turkey. “The purpose of the visit was to reopen channels for defense ties between the countries. During the meetings, the parties agreed on the topics that will be discussed by the Ministers,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Resumption of ties

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar shake hands next to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a signing ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey July 22, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar shake hands next to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a signing ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey July 22, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

Israel and Turkey fully resumed ties after a decade-long in August, including reinstating ambassadors and consuls-general.

Following the announcement, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that “renewing relations with Turkey is an important asset for regional stability and important economic news for the citizens of Israel.”

The rapprochement comes after a deterioration in ties that began in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, and reached their nadir in the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound ship trying to break the naval blockade of the Hamas-run enclave.  Ten pro-Palestinian Turks who were part of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) were killed after they attacked the commandos.

Following the raid, Ankara broke off relations with Jerusalem.

After the breakdown of ties, Turkey also exerted efforts to isolate Jerusalem from military cooperation with NATO.

Following a 2016 reconciliation deal,  Ankara withdrew its longstanding veto against Jerusalem being accepted as a partner nation to the organization (not a member). 

Ankara and Jerusalem had for years been close allies in the defense industry, security cooperation, intelligence sharing and military training. The relationship began in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s with the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement.

With those two agreements, the military-security ties became one of the closest in the Middle East, with Israel even, if foreign reports are true, providing intelligence to Turkey in its ongoing fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Ankara cooperating with Israel on Iran by providing intelligence it had gathered.

In addition, Turkey used to be one of Israel’s primary arms customers with Israeli firms upgrading Turkish M60 tanks and F-4E planes as well as supplying Turkey with armed Heron drones, electronic reconnaissance and surveillance systems as well as advanced missile systems and smart ammunition. 

Joint military drills

The two countries also used to participate in annual joint navy and air force drills but following the downgrading of ties Jerusalem turned instead to Turkey’s adversary, Greece and the Greek Cypriots instead for military exercises of air, sea, and ground forces.

Though the two countries have again normalized ties, Israel does not plan, however, to restart military cooperation yet with Turkey. Nevertheless in September a Turkish warship anchored in Haifa Port as part of a NATO patrol in the region.

The TCG Kemalreis (F-247), a Barbaros-class frigate, docked in Haifa along with the USS Forrest Sherman, an American-guided missile destroyer.

Following the Mavi Marmara crisis, Ankara froze all defense industry projects and military cooperation with Jerusalem. 

Six years after Ankara broke off relations with Jerusalem following the 2010 incident, Turkey and Israel normalized ties and sent ambassadors to respective capitals but the ties once again cooled after the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. 

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.