Israel is taking Turkey ties slowly, says Bennett

Bennett said that things are happening "very slowly and gradually," a day after President Isaac Herzog office made its first public statement that it is planning a trip to Ankara.

 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey October 16, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey October 16, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday said he is treading cautiously regarding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s renewed interest in strengthening ties with Israel.

“Things are happening very slowly and gradually,” he said in a press briefing.

On Sunday, Erdogan spoke with President Isaac Herzog, whose office made its first public statement that it is planning a trip to Ankara, after Erdogan said more than once that Herzog would be visiting. Bennett said the trip is being fully coordinated with him.

Bennett praised Herzog’s role in Israel’s foreign relations.

“In my eyes, the president is doing an excellent job,” he said. “He is an extraordinary diplomatic asset for solving problems.”

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.  (credit: EMIL SALMAN / FLASH 90) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (credit: EMIL SALMAN / FLASH 90)

“We have total trust,” he added. “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, adding that “we don’t have to force ourselves to be purists in a way that will prevent us from creating alliances.”

“In today’s Middle East, we have to be playing on the entire court, because there is no regional police officer,” the source said, referring to American attention being focused elsewhere. “There’s a great expectation from Israel to enter this vacuum.”

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

Erdogan made overtures to Israel multiple times last year, but in recent years, Turkey harbored Hamas terrorists and backed destabilizing activities in east Jerusalem. Erdogan has also accused Israel of intentionally killing Palestinian children.

The nadir in Israel-Turkey ties was in 2010, when the Erdogan-linked Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) sent the Mavi Marmara ship to bust the IDF’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, 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 response to rioting on the Gaza border.

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata also spoke of Israel’s efforts to strengthen ties with Abraham Accords countries, as well as with Egypt and Jordan.

“The mission now is to turn these agreements into practical agreements and insert projects and initiatives,” he said Monday. “The whole government is working on it, and the National Security Council has a significant role in the matter.”

Hulata said Bennett had a clear directive.

“The mission is to protect stability, security and quiet so that we can take care of all the important matters on the agenda,” he said. “At the same time, we have to ensure the other side doesn’t grow stronger, and we are taking good care of it.”