Turkey's Erdogan signals thaw with Israel after years of tension

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged talks with Israel's leaders on Jan 17, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA (BLOOMBERG) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled an emerging thaw with Israel after more than a decade of heightened tensions, throwing his support behind a critical energy project involving the once-close allies.

On his way home from Albania late on Monday (Jan 17), Mr Erdogan acknowledged talks with Israel's leaders, and said officials could revive negotiations on a planned pipeline that would carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe via Turkey.

"We are having talks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is also sending messages at different levels," Mr Erdogan said, noting he recently received a delegation of Middle Eastern rabbis.

"If we are going to do politics, it can't be done through confrontation. We have to pursue politics along the path of peace."

A group of nations including Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and are cooperating on producing and transporting gas discovered in the region, but Turkey's exploration activities in contested Mediterranean waters have largely left it out in the cold.

More recently, rifts with Russia, the election of Erdogan critic Joe Biden as US president, and the threat of American and European sanctions have all forced Turkey to try to repair troubled relations with traditional Western allies and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

The diplomacy comes at a time when Turkey's struggling economy and skyrocketing inflation threaten Mr Erdogan's popularity ahead of a 2023 general election.

His remarks suggest an effort to heal ties with Israel, too.

Relations nosedived after 2010, when a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip was raided by Israeli commandos, resulting in the deaths of 10 civilians.

Ankara has been critical of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, while Israel charges Turkey with supporting Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador to Ankara in May 2018 and recalled its own envoys from Israel and the US after Israeli soldiers killed nearly 60 Palestinians protesting the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

While Turkey's envoy returned to Washington about two weeks later, Turkey and Israel have conducted diplomatic contacts at the level of charge d'affaires ever since.

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