Israeli, Turkish leaders hold first meeting since 2008

Israeli PM Lapid’s office says the two leaders discussed an array of issues, including energy and intelligence sharing.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously sharply criticised Israel - but relations have improved in the past year [Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters]

The leaders of Israel and Turkey have held face-to-face talks for the first time since 2008, as ties between the two countries continue to warm.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a meeting on Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, according to a statement from Lapid’s office.

Israel-Turkey relations, long frosty amid feuding over the Palestinian cause, have warmed in recent months, with energy emerging as a potential key area of cooperation.

The two countries officially restored full diplomatic relations in August, including an exchange of ambassadors.

As well as discussing energy, Lapid thanked Erdogan for the countries’ intelligence sharing and noted Israel’s demand for the return of four of its citizens – two of them soldiers – missing in the blockaded Gaza Strip since a 2014 war, Lapid’s office said on Tuesday.

NATO-member Turkey has been hosting members of Hamas, a Palestinian movement that administers the Gaza Strip. That relationship has often been a sticking point in bids to rebuild ties between Israel and Turkey.

Strained ties

Relations between the two sides have been problematic since the 2008-2009 Gaza War and the death of nine Turkish civilians in a 2010 Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara relief ship while trying to break the blockade on Gaza.

Following the Gaza War, Erdogan publicly condemned former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and his country’s policies on Palestine while on stage at the World Economic Forum at Davos in March 2009.

An attempt at reconciliation in 2016 led to the return of ambassadors, but it collapsed after the Israeli response to the 2018-2019 border protests in Gaza, during which Israeli forces killed more than 260 Palestinians. Turkey recalled its diplomats and told Israel’s envoy to leave the country in 2018.

The recent rapprochement led to a visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Turkey in March.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was in Jerusalem in late May as his then-counterpart Yair Lapid announced a “new chapter” in relations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies