Israeli minister signals defense ties’ restart with Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Israel’s defense minister on Thursday signaled a possible resumption of defense ties with Turkey as the two nations take steps to normalize their strained relationship.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in the Turkish capital Ankara, that he instructed his staff “to begin the procedures required in order to resume working relations.”

“It is no secret that our ties have faced challenges,” said Gantz, who became the first top defense official from his country to visit Turkey in more than a decade.

“Moving forward, we must adopt a steady, positive approach in our relations – maintaining open dialogue,” he said.

Turkey and Israel were once close regional allies with broad defense ties, but the relationship became more and more strained under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. The Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, while Israel objected to Turkey’s ties to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Relations broke down in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. The incident resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, and the countries withdrew their respective ambassadors.

Following an attempt at mending ties, Turkey again recalled its ambassador in 2018 after the United States moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Relations began to thaw after the departure of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a state visit to Turkey in March, followed by Prime Minister Yair Lapid — who was foreign minister at the time — in June. Last month, Erdogan and Lapid met on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

Turkey and Israeli recently agreed to reappoint their respective ambassadors.

Akar said after meeting Gantz that increased cooperation and dialogue with Israel would also help the resolution of disagreements, including the issue of the Palestinians.

“The development of our relationship and cooperation with Israel, especially in areas such as defense, security and energy, will lead to important developments in regional peace and stability,” he said.

Turkey and Israel were once close defense partners. Defense pacts signed in the mid-1990s allowed Israeli air force pilots to train over Turkey’s airspace. Israel upgraded Turkish military tanks and jets, and supplied drones and other high-tech equipment.

The countries still share various strategic interests, including containing Iran.

Israel recently thanked Turkey for intelligence cooperation against Iranian attempts to carry out attacks in Turkey.

“This year, as a result of close, covert contact, we succeeded in removing an alarming number of threats against Israeli citizens and Jewish people in Turkey,” Gantz said. “We are thankful to President Erdogan, Minister Akar and the security agencies involved in this crucial, life-saving cooperation.”

The minister continued: “I believe a lot more can be done together in order to reduce the influence of those who destabilize our regions, by supporting or conducting terrorism against innocent civilians.”

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