After 4-year gap, Turkey appoints new envoy to Israel amid rapprochement

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has appointed an ambassador to Israel after a gap of four years in the latest step towards normalizing ties with the Jewish state.

Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, a veteran diplomat who had served as Turkey’s consul general in Jerusalem between 2010 and 2014, was named to the post in a presidential decree late Friday, Turkish media reported.

Ankara withdrew its ambassador to Israel in May 2018 and threw out the Israeli envoy after deadly clashes along Israel’s frontier with Gaza Strip.

Israel riposted by sending back the Turkish consul in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and Ankara have slowly renewed ties over the past year, following over a decade in which the relationship was strained but never fully severed.

Ties between the two soured after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of Israeli policy toward Palestinians under the previous governments of its new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel also expressed anger over Ankara’s support for Palestinian terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Netanyahu and Erdogan also sparred vociferously on several occasions, with the two often leveling angry public attacks at each other, including accusing each other of genocide.

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seen in a combination of photos. (Ronen Zvulun and Ozan Kose/ AFP)

But Erdogan sent a congratulatory letter to Netanyahu after his right-religious bloc’s victory in the elections held by Israel last week.

Following the vote, which saw the far-right receive record support, Erdogan insisted that Turkey would maintain its recently refreshed relations with Israel no matter the outcome.

Ties between Israel and Turkey began to slowly improve last year, with Erdogan and President Isaac Herzog exchanging personal messages, followed by a series of escalating diplomatic contacts over a variety of issues with a government made up of Netanyahu’s rivals, now seemingly set to be ousted from power.

Last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a meeting with Erdogan at the presidential residence in Ankara, the first official trip to Turkey by an Israeli defense chief in over a decade.

In September, Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting. It was the first such meeting between an Israeli premier and the Turkish leader since Ehud Olmert met Erdogan in Turkey in 2008.

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