Creating new perspectives since 2009

Israel, Turkiye moving to next phase of relations: Israel chargé d'affaires

August 25, 2022 at 6:52 pm

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (L) and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a press conference in Ankara,[STR/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel and Turkiye are moving to the next phase of relations, courtesy of a well-managed normalisation process, said the Israeli chargé d’affaires in Ankara.

“I believe very much in this normalisation process because I think it is a gate that would enable the relations between the two countries really to soar to new heights,” Irit Lillian, said in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency.

With the recent landmark announcement that full diplomatic ties would be restored by dispatching ambassadors for the first time in years, Turkiye and Israel opened the doors to boosting cooperation in a range of areas, from technology to tourism and defence industries to the economy.

“There is a very large spectrum of cooperation in different fields — be it agriculture, water, desertification — that are in front of us,” said Lillian.

While the trade volume between Turkiye and Israel is around $8 billion, she expressed hope that the figure might reach $10 billion easily as a result of the normalisation process.

Touching on tourism, Lillian said more Israeli airlines are coming back to Turkiye with the new aviation deal signed in July, adding that Israeli tourists have also returned to Turkiye.

First ministerial visit by Turkish side

With the announcement on the restoration of diplomatic relations leading to expectations of new steps in various fields, Lillian said the first ministerial visit by the Turkish side to Israel following the restoration of ties will very likely focus on economic cooperation.

“As far as we know, a very senior minister from Turkiye is supposed to lead a delegation to Jerusalem,” she said, adding, “this minister is going to be welcomed by the minister of economy.”

“I believe this is going to be the first encounter, but there is more to come. We are working on it.”

She said the Joint Economic Committee, which last convened in 2009, is expected to convene in September, or early October, at the helm of the visiting Turkish minister and his Israeli counterpart.

 Deconfliction mechanism

Lillian, who has been serving as chargé d’affaires in Turkiye since the beginning of 2021, believes that the reconciliation process that was initiated last year “is a process that as part of it contains a different deconfliction mechanism.”

She emphasised that if this deconfliction mechanism is used wisely by Israel and Turkiye, it will enable the two countries “to contain future crises”.

Hailing Turkish and Israeli officials’ efforts for the process, namely Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, and the Israeli Under-secretary of the Foreign Ministry, Lillian responded to a question on whether a third party played a mediating role, saying “the reconciliation process was a decision of both governments.”

On the appointment of the new Israeli ambassador, she said it would take a few more weeks for Israel to announce the person’s name.

‘Palestinian question dear to hearts of Turkish administration’

Asked whether the Palestinian cause would have a negative impact on Turkish-Israeli relations, Lillian explicitly said it doesn’t “depend on a third party”.

Noting that she is well aware that the “Palestinian question is very dear to the hearts” of the Turkish government, she underscored that “it is also a very dear question to us Israelis”.

Comparing the bilateral relations of the two countries to marriage, she said: “Nevertheless, I don’t think there should be a third party in this marriage.”

“I tend to believe that the process that we have created during the past year is a process that contains a different deconfliction mechanism,” she said. “And if we use this deconfliction mechanism wisely, we will be able to contain future crises.”

Course of relations and elections

With Israel facing its fifth general elections in three years on 1 November, Lillian hopes that it will not adversely affect the newly restored full diplomatic ties between Turkiye and Israel.

She stressed that Turkish-Israeli relations go back a long way and both countries know their “ups and downs”, adding: “I really hope that this time, we are creating relations that would be more solid and that we can contain problems that might come on the way.”

Lillian went on to say that the course of bilateral relations “is not a question of one government or another government.”

Noting that Turkiye will also hold elections in June next year, she said bilateral relations should not depend on the decisions of politicians.

“It should not be bound by political decisions of the two peoples. It should be a strong foundation that would enhance peace and stability in our region, no matter who is going to head one of our countries,” she said.

Asked if any joint collaboration on energy is on the agenda of Turkiye and Israel, Lillian said that “Israel is very much committed to the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline (EastMed), which is a project that we have been planning for many years together with Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Egypt and the US as partners.”

Earlier this year, however, the US announced its decision to withdraw its support from the project, which seeks to transport Israeli natural gas to the European market via the Mediterranean Sea and Greece.

As a ramification of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Lillian said “the demand for energy, namely for natural gas, has grown tremendously in the past year.”

Read:  Hamas renews its rejection to Turkiye-Israel normalisation

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.