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The Media Line: Erdoğan, Lapid To Meet as Israel Announces Ambassador

Erdoğan, Lapid To Meet as Israel Announces Ambassador

Turkey has been trying to mend ties with several countries to attract foreign investment at a time of deep economic crisis

By Kristina Jovanovski / The Media Line

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid are set to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, a day after Israel announced the appointment of an ambassador to Turkey for the first time since diplomatic relations broke down in 2018.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the ambassador would be the current chargé d’affaires in Turkey, Irit Lillian.

The two countries have undergone a normalization process after ties broke down over diplomatic disputes spanning more than a decade.

“It’s a very positive development,” said Imdat Oner, the former deputy head of mission at Turkey’s Embassy in Venezuela, told The Media Line.

“[It’s] showing that Israel is very willing to take some positive steps to improve relations.”

Oner said the fact that Lillian is a career diplomat who knows Turkey is good news for the countries’ relations.

He said a political appointee was suggested a couple of years ago to be Turkey’s ambassador to Israel but he believes Ankara will also choose a career diplomat this time around “to make [the] normalization process more smooth and faster.”

The warming of relations has included high-level visits including Israeli President Isaac Herzog visiting Turkey and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visiting Israel.

Both countries agreed to reinstate ambassadors as part of the normalization process last month after they were expelled in 2018 over a dispute involving the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests over the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

Ties had earlier broken down after an Israeli raid on a flotilla headed to Gaza in 2010 killed nine Turkish activists.

Ömer Özkizilcik, a foreign policy and security analyst based in Ankara, told The Media Line he expected the top topics to be discussed were economic relations and who the new ambassadors would be.

On geopolitics, Özkizilcik believed that the impact of a weakening Russia and threats from Iran would also be discussed.

Since both leaders are meeting ahead of elections, Özkizilcik said they would discuss issues that could continue to be worked on regardless of who is in office, such as a gas pipeline or the appointment of ambassadors.

Turkey has been pushing for energy cooperation with Israel, although it has gotten a lukewarm response in return.

Turkey has almost no energy resources itself and relies on Russia for more than 40% of its energy needs.

Analysts believe an Eastern Mediterranean gas forum that includes Israel and some of Turkey’s rivals, such as Greece, has led to Ankara feeling isolated in the region.

“Both sides will likely speak of state-to-state relations rather than leader-to-leader relations,” he stated.

“I think Turkey is anticipating that even if the government in Israel changes, as long as [former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu isn’t coming back, that rapprochement may continue because Turkish-Israeli rapprochement is a result of geopolitical realities in the Middle East.”

Netanyahu and Erdoğan had difficult relations, trading insults about each other and their countries.

In 2018, the Israeli leader accused Erdoğan of “massacring the Syrians and the Kurds” after the Turkish president called Israel fascist and made comparisons to Hitler after the country introduced its “nation-state law,” which said that realization of the right to self-determination in Israel was “exclusive to the Jewish People.”

Oner stated that while Ankara may be concerned by Netanyahu returning to office, it would still want to continue improving relations because of its isolation in the region.

Erdoğan has been trying to mend ties with several countries, such as Egypt, in order to attract foreign investment to deal with the economic crisis in his country, which has seen the inflation rate officially reported at more than 80%.

“Turkey really needs money right now,” said Oner, policy analyst at Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy.

“Turkey looks at Israel, the rapprochement, from a more economic perspective.”

However, Ofra Bengio, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University with a focus on Turkey, believed it was unlikely that major decisions would be made during the meeting because Lapid is facing elections in less than two months’ time.

Bengio said the meeting had symbolic value for the leaders.

“For our prime minister, it is important to be seen before the elections with all the prime ministers and presidents,” she said.

“It is very helpful for him for the election and for Erdoğan, the same, I think. He’s going to show again that he is opening to all the world, including Israel.”

Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, an expert on Turkey at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, agreed the optics of the meeting would be a top priority.

He believed that Erdoğan hopes being seen with Lapid will win him points with American politicians and Jewish groups.

The fact that such a photo will take place shows that the current normalization process has a stronger chance of lasting compared to previous attempts to thaw ties, Yanarocak argued.

“In the previous normalization, we never saw that Erdoğan and Netanyahu shared even the same room,” he said.

“It is giving me hope that this time, since Erdoğan is also included in the equation, I think we have a chance to further improve the relations.”

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