Irit Lilian will serve as the first Israeli ambassador to Turkey since 2018.
By Erin Viner
The appointment signals the revival of the once warm relations between the two countries.
Lillian, who has been Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Turkey since February 2021, played a key role in the rapprochement between the two regional powers that began about a year ago.
After more than a decade of bitterness, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced in August the full restoration of diplomatic ties with Ankara.
In further signs of strengthening ties, Lapid’s office announced that it would hold talks with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the upcoming opening session of the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York. The last time the heads of state and government of the countries met was in 2008.
“The resumption of relations with Türkiye is an important benefit for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel. We will continue to strengthen Israel’s standing in the world,” announced Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid after talks he had with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan two months ago.
The groundbreaking development follows “understandings reached during Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s visit to Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu” and “positive developments in Israeli-Turkish relations over the past year,” according to a statement from the Office of the Turkish Government Prime Minister (PMO) and added: “It was decided to raise the level of relations between the two countries again to the level of full diplomatic relations and to bring back ambassadors and consuls-general from the two countries.”
“Improving ties will help deepen ties between the two peoples, expand economic, trade and cultural ties, and strengthen regional stability,” the statement said.
The matter was concluded in a talk between Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz and Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal.
Once-strong bilateral ties between the Jewish state and its powerful Muslim ally were severely damaged by the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when 10 pro-Palestinian extremists from Turkey were killed after violently attacking Israeli commandos attempting to destroy the enforcing a naval blockade of the Hamas-led Gaza Strip. Israel later paid Turkey $20 million in compensation as a key component of a deal signed in June 2016 to restore ties.
The dispute escalated again when Erdoğan condemned Israel as a “terrorist state” after 60 Palestinian rioters believed to be linked to the Islamist-Hamasian terrorist group were attacked by the IDF in violent protests on the border with Syria in 2018 Gaza Strip had been killed.
Israel also accused Turkey of giving passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul in August 2020.
This restoration of diplomatic ties is a continuation of the positive direction in the development of relations over the past year since Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s diplomatic visit to Ankara and foreign ministers’ visits to each other’s capitals, which helped restore ties after more than a decade of tensions.
“I welcome the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations with Turkey – an important development that we have been pursuing over the past year and which will promote deeper economic ties, mutual tourism and friendship between the Israeli and Turkish people,” President Herzog said in a Message on Twitter emphasizing: “Good neighborly relations and the spirit of partnership in the Middle East are important to all of us.”
“People of all faiths – Muslims, Jews and Christians – can and must live together in peace,” the Israeli leader said.
The move, which comes as Israel has sought to improve ties with regional powers, comes two years after the Abraham Accords normalization pacts between the Jewish state and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Morocco.
Lillian and other new envoys were approved by Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday. As the country finds itself in a state of political upheaval, the appointments must now be confirmed by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and not by the current “budget” government.