New Turkish ambassador arrives in Israel in continuation of détente

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and withdrew its own in 2018, after the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem.

 New Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar and Chief of Protocol Gil Haskel. (photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
New Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar and Chief of Protocol Gil Haskel.
(photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)

Turkey’s new ambassador to Israel, Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, submitted his credentials to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Thursday after four years after the last ambassador appointed by Ankara left.

Torunlar gave a copy of his letter of credence to Chief of Protocol Gil Haskel, and will give the original to President Isaac Herzog, at which point he will officially be his country’s ambassador to Israel.

The ambassador is a veteran diplomat and the former Turkish ambassador to the Palestinians. In his most recent diplomatic position, he was a member of Turkey’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board.

Warming relations between Israel and Turkey 

Torunlar’s arrival manifests a warming in ties between Jerusalem and Ankara. Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided on the move, which marks a return to full normalization between the countries, two months ago.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Beit al-Turki near the UN headquarters in New York. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Beit al-Turki near the UN headquarters in New York. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said he was pleased with the improved relations, in an interview with American journalist Bari Weiss this week.

“Our relations have improved. [Erdogan] used to call me Hitler every six hours,” Netanyahu quipped. “We actually had a friendly conversation the other day, and I’m very happy with that, I think it’s important. Not because I necessarily approve of everything that Erdogan does; I don’t. But, just as Barack Obama had good relations with Turkey and just as President Biden meets with the leaders of China… that’s what foreign policy does. It’s a combination of interest and values, and you balance them.”

Diplomatic downturn

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and withdrew its own in 2018, after the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem.

Israel-Turkey reached a low point in 2010, in the wake of the Mavi Marmara raid, in which IDF commandos boarded a ship aiming to break the maritime blockade on Gaza. In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, the commandos killed nine armed activists from an organization affiliated with Erdogan.

Netanyahu eventually apologized to Erdogan, under pressure from Washington, but diplomatic relations did not recover until this year.

The Bennett-Lapid government pursued better ties with Turkey after receiving overtures from Ankara, including phone calls to Herzog, who met with Erdogan at his palace in March. Lapid met with Erdogan in Ankara, as well, and the countries cooperated closely to foil an Iran-backed terrorist plot to abduct Israeli tourists in Istanbul this year.

Erdogan wrote a congratulatory letter to Netanyahu following last month’s election, and they held a phone conversation.