ANKARA: Turkey and Israel have begun work on restoring their mutual diplomatic representation to ambassador level, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday as the two countries seek an end to more than a decade of strained ties.
The two countries expelled ambassadors in 2018 and have often traded barbs over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Energy has emerged as a key area for potential cooperation as they strive to mend their relations.
“We will continue the high-level mutual visits in the short term,” Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid. “We have launched work on raising our diplomatic representation to ambassador level.”
Lapid was visiting Ankara after months of warming ties but amid worries voiced by Israel that its citizens could come under attack by Iranian agents in Turkey, a Nato member state.
Cavusoglu said he and Lapid were in close contact regarding threats to Israeli citizens. Lapid thanked Turkey for helping foil a suspected Iranian plot to harm Israelis in Istanbul and said the effort was still underway.
Israel has warned its citizens against travel to Turkey, citing suspected assassination or abduction plots by Iran, which has vowed to avenge the May 22 assassination of a Revolutionary Guards colonel in Tehran that it blamed on Israeli agents.
“In recent weeks, the lives of Israeli citizens have been saved thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Turkey,” Lapid said. “We are confident that Turkey knows how to respond to the Iranians on this matter.” Cavusoglu visited Israel last month to encourage expanded economic cooperation. It was the first such visit by a senior Turkish official in 15 years.
Through the years of acrimony, Turkey and Israel have maintained trade, which stood at $6.7 billion in 2021, up from $5 billion in 2019 and 2020, according to official data.
Lapid is set to take over from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the head of a caretaker government, after he and Bennett acted on Monday to dissolve parliament and hold an early national election.
Turkey has detained eight people allegedly working for an Iranian intelligence cell that planned to assassinate Israeli tourists in Istanbul, local media reported on Thursday.
The eight, who were not all Iranian nationals, were detained in a raid last week in three houses in Istanbul’s popular Beyoglu district, the private IHA news agency reported.
Israel last week urged its citizens to leave Turkey immediately because of “possible” threats from Iranian operatives.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war but tensions have ratcheted up following a string of high-profile incidents Tehran has blamed on Israel.
The Islamic republic claimed Israel was responsible for the killing of Revolutionary Guards Colonel Sayyad Khodai in his Tehran home on May 22.
IHA said Iran sent agents disguised as businessmen, tourists and students to Istanbul to assassinate Israelis in retaliation for Khodai’s murder and other attacks.
It said the Iranians had split into four groups of two assassins who could better track their Israeli targets.
“The hitmen in the assassination team, who settled in two separate rooms on the second and fourth floors of a hotel in Beyoglu, were (detained) with a large number of weapons and ammunition,” IHA said.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022