Israel appoints first ambassador to Turkey since 2018 as countries restore ties

Irit Lillian, a senior diplomat who has played a key role in Israel-Turkey reconciliation, will serve as the next ambassador to Turkey, the foreign ministry announced on Monday.

Lillian has been Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Ankara since February 2021, during which time both sides have slowly moved to restore full diplomatic ties.

There has been no ambassador to the country since 2018, when Turkey recalled its ambassador and asked Israel to leave the country to protest Israel’s response to unrest at the Gaza border that has killed dozens of Palestinians.

Last month, the two sides announced that they would resume full diplomatic ties after two years of gradual rapprochement, which picked up a noticeable pace this year with mutual visits by senior officials.

“From the beginning it was clear that we were building a process where we would agree to disagree,” Lillian – who previously served as Israel’s ambassador to Bulgaria and Australia – said during an August interview with The Times of Israel .

“We are moving into proper, positive bilateral relations that encompass a wide range of activities, but we know there are points on which we disagree,” she said. “We know we’re not going to have a perfect marriage.”

Lillian’s appointment now has to be approved by the government and, since the country is governed by an interim government, by Israel’s Attorney General.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid is scheduled to meet Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan later this week on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly.

Composite image shows Prime Minister Yair Lapid (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right). (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool; AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Lapid will fly to New York Monday night and speak at the convention Thursday, his office said.

Lapid visited Ankara in June as foreign minister, where he met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Following the high-level talks aimed at cementing the countries’ rapprochement, Lapid hailed security cooperation with Turkey to help thwart an Iranian plot to kidnap or murder Israeli nationals in Istanbul.

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Israel was a longtime regional ally of Turkey before a 2010 commando attack on the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, part of a blockade-busting flotilla, that killed 10 Turkish operatives in a violent hand-to-hand combat after attacking Israeli soldiers boarding the ship had .

Despite an official apology from then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Erdogan maintained his anger and accused the Jewish state of “keeping Hitler’s spirit alive” during Operation Defensive Shield in July 2014, calling it a “terrorist state”.

Relations later improved somewhat, but both countries withdrew their ambassadors after Erdogan leveled charges of “state terrorism” and “genocide” against Israel in 2018, when dozens of Palestinians in May of that year, after then-US President Donald Trump, rioted in the country Gaza Strip were killed controversially the American Embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) shows the way to President Isaac Herzog during a welcoming ceremony March 9, 2022 in Ankara, Turkey. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Amid diplomatic signals suggesting Erdogan was seeking a détente with Israel this year, President Isaac Herzog visited Ankara on an official trip in March and was greeted in the capital by a full military procession.

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Erdogan has likely sought to unfreeze ties with Israel to lessen Turkey’s growing political and economic isolation.

Turkey’s currency has plummeted in recent years, leaving Turkey in economic turmoil with elections set for 2023.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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