Ties between Israel and Turkey continue to warm

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with incoming Turkish ambassador to Israel Kemal Okem during a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's residence in Jerusalem, December 12, 2016. (Photo: Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Although Turkey has officially condemned Israel’s authorization last month of 3,000 new settlement units in the West Bank, a high level delegation of Turkish energy officials arrived in Israel on Sunday in a boost to bilateral cooperation.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey were broken off in 2010 following the Mavi Marmara incident when 10 Turkish activists were killed by IDF commandos who were ambushed while intercepting a flotilla bound for Gaza.

Reconciliation talks began in 2013, culminating in Israel’s payout of $20 million for the activists’ families last year. Under an agreement reached in June, the two countries would remove sanctions against each other and normalize diplomatic relations. Each of the two governments has now sent ambassadors to the other’s country.

The relationship between Israel and Turkey apparently continues to warm. Last week, an Israeli delegation led by Yuval Rotem, Director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, traveled to Ankara for the first official visit between the two countries in six years.

In a joint statement from Ankara last week, the two states announced their decision to “enhance cooperation on [energy, economy, culture and tourism] through exchanges of ministerial visits, high level business, academic and cultural delegations.”

Indeed, a day after the arrival of the energy delegation, Turkey’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Nabi Avci also arrived in Israel for an official visit.

Regarding December’s highly contentious UN Security Council 2334, which described Israeli settlement building as a “flagrant violation” of international law, Turkey’s official stance was to welcome the vote and to urge Israel to stop settlement building.

Nevertheless, this week’s high level delegation of Turkish energy officials were set to meet with Israel’s Energy Ministry officials together with the Delek Group and Noble Energy. A key item on the agenda is reported to be the laying of a gas pipeline between Turkey and Israel.

“The political dialogue sends a positive message on the commitment of both sides to deepen the relationship between the two countries,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week.