Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a Turkish delegation including senior journalists on Tuesday to stress his country’s commitment to ties with Turkey as representatives of “important, strong and stable” countries in an increasingly volatile Middle Eastern landscape.
According to statement released by the Prime Minister’s office, the meeting, first reported by the Turkish media and the first such meeting between a Turkish delegation and high-level Israeli leadership since the controversial flotilla incident, Netanyahu said:“Turkey and Israel have relations that go back a long way. We need to find ways to restore the relationship that we had, because I think it is important for each of our countries.”
Netanyahu’s meeting with the delegation came after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made his first moves to restore relations since the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) raid in May 2010 on the Gaza-bound Turkish ‘Mavi Marmara’ ship which left eight Turkish nationals dead and the Israel-Turkish relationship in tatters.
Describing the flotilla mission as “clear provocation”, he nevertheless said the Jewish State would be willing to resolve outstanding disputes with the Turkish administration and cooperate on areas of mutual concern.
Speaking to Turkish reporters shortly before his departure for Brussels and a meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council, Lieberman said: 'Israel is ready to solve any outstanding disputes with Turkey, but it will not apologize to Ankara" for the raid on the Mavi Marmara.
Lieberman made the comments during a meeting on Sunday with a group of journalists from Turkey in his office in Jerusalem. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported his comments on Monday.
“As Israel, we are ready to discuss [our problems with Turkey] in high-level or low-level open meetings,” said Lieberman. “We’re really ready to discuss not only this issue but also the Iranian problem, the Gaza issue or the support for Hamas. But [we’re not ready] to discuss in what way we will protect our citizens.”
But Turkey said it regards Lieberman’s latest remarks, as well as Israeli politicians’ similar statements delivered in the past, to be "a tactical move" attempting to avoid Turkey’s firm conditions for the normalization of bilateral ties.
“There is no change in our attitude on the issue,” a Turkish foreign ministry official said.
“We have already discussed ways to normalize relations. They know our expectations,” another official said.
Another point of contention amidst deteriorating diplomatic ties between the two countries was Israel’s increasingly close links to staunch Turkish rival Cyprus, after oil was discovered offshore between the two countries.based on common interests.
Israel has expressed its increasing concern in recent days of the likelihood of Syria developing chemical and biological weapons capabilities and with the fracturing of Turkey’s once close ties with the Syrian regime evident, following last month’s shooting down of a Turkish military aircraft by Syria, Israel hopes the rebuilding of bilateral relations between the two democracies could prove a stabilising force in the region.