ANKARA (AP): Israel’s defense minister became the first top defense official from his country to visit Turkey in more than a decade Thursday as the two nations take steps to normalize their strained ties.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar welcomed Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Ankara with a military ceremony before the two held talks and chaired meetings between their countries’ delegations, Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense said.
Turkey and Israel were once close regional allies with broad defense ties, but the relationship became more and more strained under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. The Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, while Israel objected to Turkey’s ties to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Relations broke down 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 nine Turkish activists, and the countries withdrew their respective ambassadors.
Following an attempt at mending ties, Turkey again recalled its ambassador in 2018 after the United States moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Relations began to thaw after the departure of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a state visit to Turkey in March, followed by Prime Minister Yair Lapid — who was foreign minister at the time — in June. Last month, Erdogan and Lapid met on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
Turkey and Israeli recently announced they would reappoint their respective ambassadors.
The two countries were once close defense partners. Defense pacts signed in the mid-1990s allowed Israeli air force pilots to train over Turkey’s airspace. Israel upgraded Turkish military tanks and jets, and supplied drones and other high-tech equipment.
The countries still share various strategic interests, including containing Iran.
Israel recently thanked Turkey for intelligence cooperation against Iranian attempts to carry out attacks in Turkey.
Erdogan has expressed an interest in Turkey tapping into Israel’s offshore natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea.
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