Turkish foreign minister visits Israel for first time in 15 years

What happened: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrived in Israel yesterday and will meet senior Israeli officials this morning.

  • He began his trip visiting Ramallah and met Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
  • He sought to reassure the Palestinians that “our support for the Palestinian cause is completely independent from the course of our relations with Israel”.
  • In his meeting with al-Maliki, Turkey and the PA signed a series of agreements relating to economic cooperation.
  • In one of the agreements, Turkey agreed to fund the construction of an industrial zone. Other agreements related to agriculture, education and trade.
  • Following the meetings, Cavusoglu was asked by reporters to comment on the recent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians. He said the clashes had “upset Turkey”, adding: “It is important for all Muslims that the sanctity and status of the Al-Aqsa is protected.”
  • Cavusoglu reiterated Turkey’s support for the two-state solution, and spoke out against unilateral measures.  However, Turkey’s position supports Palestinian claims of sovereignty in East Jerusalem and over the Temple Mount.

Context: This is the first visit of a Turkish foreign minister to Israel in 15 years.

  • The process of improving Israeli-Turkish diplomatic relations began last year with a series of phone calls between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the then-newly elected Israeli President, Issac Herzog. That led to a successful visit of Herzog to Turkey earlier this year.
  • One of the central agenda items for the Lapid-Cavusoglu meeting will be the restoration of ambassadors in both the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israeli Embassy in Ankara.
  • Israel is keen to restore ties, but would like to see Turkey take more decisive action against Hamas operatives who are using Turkey as a base to raise funds and coordinate terror activity in the West Bank.
  • Another issue on the agenda is the possibility of an Israeli-Turkish pipeline to export natural gas to Europe.
  • Israel has been careful to keep their close allies Cyprus and Greece appraised of their talks and have repeatedly stated that any rapprochement with Turkey will not be at their expense.
  • Another area of commonality; both Israel and Turkey have tried their hand at mediation between Russia and Ukraine.
  • Israeli analysts have speculated that Turkey’s softening position towards Israel is part of their efforts to restore ties with the US. Cavusoglu visited the US last week and met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, where they both committed to “deepen bilateral cooperation”.
  • Historically, Israel and Turkey have had close relations. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise the State of Israel in 1949.
  • Through to the early 2000s Israel and Turkey enjoyed strong security and intelligence cooperation, including Israel supplying them with advanced UAVs.
  • From 2010 to 2021, trade between the two countries grew from $3.4bn per year to $8.1bn per year. Last year, approximately $6.1bn worth of products were sold to Israel, while $1.9bn worth of products were purchased from the country.

Looking ahead: This morning Cavusoglu will meet Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov.

  • He will then visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and also visit the Temple Mount / Al Aqsa Mosque, unaccompanied by Israeli officials.
  • Later today in Tel Aviv  Cavusoglu will meet members of the Turkish Jewish community, before returning to Turkey tonight.

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