Israeli, Turkish Presidents Speak in Sign of Warming Ties

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke Wednesday with his Turkish counterpart in a possible sign of warming ties between the once closely allied countries, whose relationship has been strained in recent years.

Rivlin said in a statement that he spoke by phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday. Rivlin says they both expressed their condolences for the victims of a suicide bombing last weekend in Istanbul. Israeli tourists were among those killed and wounded in the attack.

Israel and Turkey were traditionally close allies, but relations began to decline after Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamist movement, became prime minister in 2003.

Israel and Turkey reduced relations to a bare minimum in 2010, after Turkish activists affiliated with Hamas tried to break the IDF naval blockade and reach Gaza. Soldiers who boarded the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the Gaza flotilla that was illegally trying to break the blockade, were attacked with weapons by those on board. To defend themselves, soldiers opened fire on their attackers, killing nine of them.

Turkey has since demanded an Israeli apology and compensation, as well as the “end of the siege of Gaza,” as Turkish officials put it. In recent months, Turkey has felt squeezed by the ongoing Russian support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the continued encroachment of IS in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East, the crush of refugees from Syria, and the takeover of border areas by Kurdish forces – all geopolitical events that the Turks feel negatively affect them.

In response, Turkey has reached out to Israel, and both countries have been holding talks on a restoration of full diplomatic relations. It should be noted that trade between the two countries is as strong as ever, with 2015 setting a record for trade, and with both countries maintaining a balance in their imports and exports.