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Israeli-Turkish Relations Improve Slowly, Cautiously

Israeli-Turkish Relations Improve Slowly, Cautiously

Saturday, 22 January, 2022 - 07:30
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey (AP)

Turkey and Israel are showing signs of cautiously warming ties, but with steady steps, according to political sources.

Turkey has taken several steps to improve ties with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan taking medical advice from an Israeli doctor since months now. Also, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid to inquire about his health after he contracted COVID.

Lapid's office said Cavusoglu asked him about his health and wished him a speedy recovery.

A high-ranking diplomatic source considered the step evidence of improved relations, especially that the phone call was the first between foreign ministers to be publicly announced in 13 years.

The Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Erdogan, who turns 68 next month, recently received medical advice from Israeli doctor Itzhak Shapira.

Shapira is the deputy director-general of Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv and oversees medical tourism at the hospital.

The newspaper pointed out that Shapira is a cardiologist and advises world leaders on medical issues and treatments.

Erdogan may have possible heart problems, but it is also possible that the Israeli doctor will advise him on various medical issues.

Sourasky Medical Center and Shapira have declined to comment on the matter.

Israeli sources revealed last week that Erdogan offered condolences to his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, during a phone call after his mother passed away.

Erdogan said that diplomatic talks are ongoing with Israel, announcing Herzog may visit Turkey soon.

Political observers warned of a hasty return to normal relations, saying that ties have improved in the past, but then Erdogan attacked Israel regarding its policy towards the Palestinian issue.

They advise a cautious rapprochement awaiting concrete results.

Head of Mitvim Institute for Regional Foreign Policies Nimrod Goren believes that the Turks are moving to advance relations simultaneously with few states in the region.

"The significant move on their part is with the UAE. They're signing agreements with them for much money, and the Emirates are beginning to invest in the Turkish economy," said Goren.

He also indicated a possibility of three-way projects between Israel, Turkey, and the UAE, which is supposed to increase Tel Aviv's benefit from improving relations with Ankara and ensure the Emirates won't object.

The official explained that the disagreements between Israel and Turkey on the Palestinian issue would keep causing tension as long as there's no progress in the peace process.

"Erdogan is signaling that meanwhile cooperation on other issues can move ahead."

Erdogan appears to have picked Herzog as the point person for bilateral talks, and the two have held three conversations in the past three months.

Goren believes Israel's apathy toward Turkey could harm their relations, warning against missing the opportunity, especially since Turkey has been signaling its willingness to improve ties.

According to Goren, the Israeli government lacks a senior figure with motivation to act on the issue, which leaves Herzog as the leading figure, adding that Bennett needs to make a decision.

"The government is cautious in this regard, although reinstating the ambassadors can be done quite easily and serve Israeli interests."

Israel wants to ensure that the possible rapprochement with Turkey will not harm its relations with Greece and Cyprus, which both have tense relations with Ankara.

A diplomatic source said that the three states are working together to warm up relations with Turkey.

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos visited Tel Aviv and Benny Gantz stressed Israel's commitment to Greece.

"Israel's commitment to security cooperation with Greece is based on joint interests and values. We'll continue to deepen and widen them in every scenario and every development in the area," Gantz said.

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