Israel’s President Isaac Herzog arrived in Turkey Wednesday to meet his counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the first visit by an Israeli head of state since 2007, as the countries seek to mend fractured ties.
“President Herzog’s visit will be a turning point in Turkey-Israel relations,” Erdogan said in a press conference following the meeting between the two leaders, adding that Turkey is ready to cooperate in energy.
The Israeli president’s visit is “an opportunity to develop our energy cooperation,” Erdogan added.
Later on, Herzog also acknowledged the potential of Turkish-Israeli relations.
“Israel and Turkey can and should have a cooperation that can positively affect this entire region we call home,” he said.
“Relations with Turkey will be based on mutual respect from now on,” Herzog added.
Israel, Turkey should try to “restart relations”
“We will not agree on everything, and the relationship between Israel and Turkey has certainly known ups and downs and not-so-simple moments in recent years,” Herzog previously told reporters at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport ahead of his trip.
“But we shall try to restart our relations and build them in a measured and cautious manner, and with mutual respect between our states,” he said.
Turkey and Israel were once close allies, but the relationship frayed under Erdogan, who is an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Israel, for its part, has been angered by Erdogan’s embrace of Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group.
Turkey eyes natural gas cooperation with Israel
One particular area of interest for Turkey and Israel is natural gas.
Erdogan has said the visit will herald a “new era” and that the two countries could work together to carry Israeli natural gas to Europe, reviving an idea first discussed more than 20 years ago.
Plans for the EastMed subsea pipeline, which excluded Turkey, have stalled after the United States expressed misgivings in January.
The EastMed pipeline project, which aimed to bring natural gas from Israel directly to Europe cannot become a reality without Turkey, Erdogan had claimed in February.
“This is not a project that can be materialized. They (the U.S.) made all the analyses of this, they saw that there is nothing positive about this business,” Erdogan told journalists, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.
The U.S. withdrew from the project because it would have been very costly, he added.
In late February Herzog visited Greece to reassure Athens before his Turkey visit.
After Erdogan had stated that he expected the visit to “open a new chapter in relations between Turkey and Israel,” concern began to grow in Greece.
However, an Israeli official, speaking to Agence France-Presse, stated that “the improvement in the ties with Turkey is not coming at the expense of the very important relations with Greece and Cyprus.”