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Turkey posts ambassador to Israel after four years

Despite past tensions, Turkish President Erdoğan sent congratulations to Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS)

Turkey last week appointed its first ambassador to Israel following a series of diplomatic incidents involving the mutual expulsion of the countries’ respective envoys in 2018 and heated accusations between their leaders. 

Ambassador Şakir Özkan Torunlar was the Turkish Consul General in Jerusalem from 2010 until 2013, and served as Turkey’s ambassador to the Palestinian Authority. Turkish press on Friday announced Torunlar’s new role as ambassador to Israel, per presidential decree. Israel installed its ambassador to Ankara, Irit Lillian, on Sept. 19. 

Regarding Torunlar’s appointment, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted that the outcome of Israel’s elections last week will not impact Turkey’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel and even sent congratulations to Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. 

“I congratulate you on your victory in the elections and believe that the new government will continue the cooperation between the countries in all fields in a way that will bring peace and stability to our region,” he said.

The 2018 feud, which erupted over Israel-Gaza clashes, and culminated in Turkey’s humiliation of Israeli Ambassador Eitan Na’eh in a publicized security screening as he left the country, saw heated words between Erdoğan and Israel’s then-Prime Minister Netanyahu. 

Erdoğan called Israel “a terror state” and accused it of “genocide,” while Netanyahu accused the Turkish president of involvement in “terrorism and slaughter,” saying Erdoğan’s “hands are stained with the blood of countless Kurdish citizens in Turkey and Syria.” 

“A man who sends thousands of Turkish soldiers to maintain the occupation of Northern Cyprus and invades Syria will preach to us as we defend ourselves from infiltration attempt by Hamas,” Netanyahu said in a 2018 statement. 

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been rocky since 2011, when Ankara expelled Israel’s then-ambassador after the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara carrying aid broke through the Gaza blockade, and officials from the Israeli Navy boarded the vessel to redirect it. 

According to Israel’s Turkel Commission – tasked with examining the maritime incident –40 out of the alleged 590 ship passengers attacked the naval officers with iron bars and knives. Footage from the incident shows passengers beating the Israelis with metal as they boarded, and in the ensuing altercation, nine Turkish citizens were killed. After Israel agreed to pay $20 million to the families of the slain, Turkey and Israel resumed bilateral relations.

Following a decade of strain, the two countries began to renew their diplomatic relations over the past year, with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Defense Minister Benny Gantz both having meetings with Erdoğan in Ankara, the first such meetings in 10 to 14 years. 

In a similar vein, in September, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with Erdoğan on the sidelines of a high level United Nations General Assembly meeting, the first such meeting since 2008.

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

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