Israeli Ambassador Returns to Turkey

New Israeli Ambassador to Tukey, Eitan Na'eh, presents his credentials to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Complex in Anakara. (Photo courtesy Turkish presidency)

Five years after Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in 2011, a new Israeli ambassador has arrived in Ankara.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in 2010 after nine Turkish activists were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara ship (another victim died later in the hospital). The vessel was part of a flotilla trying to circumvent Israel’s naval security blockade on Gaza.

Eitan Na’eh, an experienced diplomat who has been Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, presented his credentials to Turkish President Erdogan on Monday this week. In turn, Turkey will send foreign affairs advisor, Kemal Okem, as its ambassador to Israel.

The exchanging of ambassadors is the final step in what has been a process toward reconciliation.

In 2013 Prime Minister Netanyahu telephoned Erdogan to express regret for the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara and made a formal apology for any mistakes made by Israeli soldiers while on board. During that call it was agreed the countries would work toward normalizing diplomatic relations.

A key element in the normalizing process was Israel’s agreement to pay compensation to the families of those killed on the ship. While evidence shows the Israeli commandos were ambushed and attacked by activists wielding steel bars and knives, Israel recently paid Turkey $20 million to be distributed to the relatives.

In exchange, Turkey will not seek the prosecution at the International Criminal Court in the Hague of any Israeli soldier involved in the incident.

Turkey and Israel had good relations until Erdogan came to power in 2007. The two countries cooperated in trade, tourism and militarily. However, Erdogan has been fiercely critical of Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict and diplomatic relations turned cold.

Nevertheless, despite the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey accepted Israel’s help following a devastating and deadly earthquake in 2011. And Turkey sent help to put out the fires that recently blazed across Israel.

“We have a history of helping each other,” Na’eh told reporters in Ankara.