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Israeli defense minister visits Turkey to renew bilateral defense ties

The balance of political tensions in the eastern Mediterranean will require Israel to tread carefully

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Oct. 27, 2022 (Photo: Turkish Media Bureau)

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz began an official visit to Turkey on Thursday, aiming to consolidate and encourage the growing cooperation between the two countries.

The first official visit to Turkey by an Israeli defense minister in more than 10 years marks a year of significantly improved Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations, driven by efforts toward mutual security and economic interests. 

Gantz met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the presidential residence in Ankara on Thursday to discuss a “series of strategic issues, and the two countries’ commitment to work for stability, prosperity, and security in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean,” according to the defense minister's office. 

In late September, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with Erdoğan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York. The meeting was the first between an Israeli premier and Turkish president in over a decade; at the time, Lapid said it was successful and a symbol of mended Turkish-Israeli relations. 

Diplomatic ties had deteriorated significantly during the previous decade, but as Gantz noted, “My visit to Ankara is the third by an Israeli leader in less than a year. The gates have opened and there is great potential for cooperation in trade, tourism, industry and more.”

Meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Gantz welcomed the rapidly improving ties, while not ignoring differences between the two countries: “It is no secret that our ties have faced challenges. Yet today, I am glad to say that Turkey is one of our top five trading partners.” 

“Over the years, our economic ties have grown. On the diplomatic front, the return of our ambassadors has set the stage for us today,” Gantz said. 

Gantz indicated that Turkey’s role as a NATO state is important for regional and global security. In the same comments, he mentioned that Israel maintains strong partnerships with Greece and Cyprus, two countries that have increasingly strained relations with Turkey, especially after Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and de facto split the country in two, dividing and separating Greek and Turkish Cypriots. 

The Israeli defense minister suggested some hope for conciliation.

“We may form bridges and reduce conflicts, for the benefit of all parties involved,” he said, noting that cooperation in the region would be crucial to reducing the influence of destructive forces, such as Iran and the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist organizations. 

“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,” Gantz said. “This also applies to the Palestinian arena.” 

Prior to Gantz’ trip to Turkey, an unnamed Israeli defense official told the Walla news site that Israel and Turkey are not likely to sign new military contracts at this time.

“A race of procurement should not be expected here. … We are very, very careful to continue this [process] with measured and careful steps,” the defense official said, referring to the fragile political situation in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Israel has to tread carefully. Yet, in the past, the Israeli defense industry played a prominent role in upgrading the Turkish Air Force fleet and exported Israeli military technologies to Turkey. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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