Erdogan claims Bennett may soon visit Turkey; Israel said to deny it

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett may soon visit Turkey, as Jerusalem and Ankara move to improve ties following years of acrimony.

Erdogan declared that a visit by Bennett could lead toward a “new process” in bilateral relations between the countries, according to the official Anadolu news agency.

He also said cooperation on natural gas could play a key role in furthering diplomatic ties.

Shortly after Erdogan spoke, however, an Israeli source cited by several Hebrew media outlets said no trip was currently planned.

Bennett has spoken by phone with Erdogan but has not met in person with the longtime Turkish leader since becoming premier last June.

Erdogan’s remarks Friday came after he hosted President Isaac Herzog in Ankara earlier this month, the highest-level visit by an Israeli official since former premier Ehud Olmert went to Turkey in 2008.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a media conference after an extraordinary NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The Turkish president said at the time that “this historic visit will be a turning point in relations between Turkey and Israel,” while Herzog hailed the trip as “a very important moment in relations between our countries.”

Herzog later said despite the mutual interest in rekindling ties, the process was being carried out “under no illusions, but reflects bilateral interests.”

Turkey and Israel once were close allies, but the relationship frayed under Erdogan, who is an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Israel also has been angered by Erdogan’s embrace of the Hamas terror group.

The countries withdrew their respective ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. The incident resulted in the deaths of 10 Turkish activists.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog speaks to the media during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, March 9, 2022. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

Relations improved and then broke down again in 2018 when Turkey, angered by the US moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, once more recalled its ambassador, prompting Israel to respond in kind. The two countries have not restored their ambassadors.

The steps toward a rapprochement with Israel come as Turkey, beset by economic troubles, has been trying to end its international isolation by normalizing ties with several countries in the Mideast region, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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