Gantz flies to Turkey to meet counterpart on first official trip in a decade

Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to Turkey on Wednesday on an official trip, the first by an Israeli defense chief in more than a decade, his office said.

According to a schedule released by his office, Gantz is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, on Thursday morning.

The meeting will mark another milestone in a year-long process that has seen the countries return to full diplomatic relations after more than a decade of frayed ties.

The trip comes two months after Dror Shalom, who heads the ministry’s Politico-Military Office, met with Turkish defense officials to “renew security relations between the countries” after a decade, the ministry said.

During the Shalom meetings in Turkey, issues that would be discussed between Gantz and Akar were agreed upon, the ministry added.

On Wednesday, before Gantz’s flight, a defense official told the Walla news site that the trip was unlikely to see any arms deal signed between the parties.

“Don’t expect a shopping rush here… we are very, very careful to continue this [process] with measured and cautious steps. We have said this clearly and it will be clarified during the minister’s visit,” the official said, noting Israel’s sensitive ties with its Turkish rivals, Cyprus and Greece.

Israeli and Turkish flags during a press conference between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Ankara, Turkey, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Defense ties were once a mainstay of Israel’s relationship with Turkey, but have crumbled as diplomatic relations have deteriorated.

Renewed defense ties between Jerusalem and Ankara were reportedly made possible after Turkish authorities successfully foiled a series of attacks by Iranian cells planning to assassinate or kidnap Israeli tourists in Istanbul in late July.

Last month, for the first time in ten years, a Turkish warship dropped anchor in an Israeli port.

Also last month, Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the annual high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. It was the first such meeting between an Israeli prime minister and the Turkish leader since 2008.

This discussion took place just over a month after the two leaders had a phone call and agreed to move forward with fully restoring ties and returning ambassadors to each other’s capitals, ending years of antagonism that largely surrounded Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem has also long pressed Ankara to crack down on Hamas activities in Turkey, arguing that the Gaza-based terror group is using the Foreign Ministry to orchestrate terror attacks against Israelis.

On Thursday, three Israelis were indicted for allegedly sending a large volume of sensitive information to Hamas in Turkey and for planning to sabotage Israel’s cellular network in a future war.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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