Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a rare meeting on Tuesday in Ankara with a delegation of 20 American Jewish leaders, an indication the normalization of ties with Israel is closer than ever before.
The delegation was led by chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, the president of the Jewish community in Turkey, was also present at the meeting.
The meeting marked the first time the Turkish president met with American Jewish leaders since his confrontation in front of Shimon Peres at Davos in January of 2009, after Operation Cast Lead.
As part of Erdogan’s campaign to prepare the Turkish public for reconciliation with Israel, his office reported on the meeting and released photographs and video footage of it.
Delegation leader Hoenlein was reportedly asked by senior Israeli officials to convey messages to Erdogan about reconciliation talks between the two countries.
“We discussed a variety of issues,” he said after the meeting. “We talked about the opportunity for reconciliation. Erdogan raised specific issues, including the fight against extremists, the war on terrorism and the role of Turkey and Iran in the region. We were there as representatives of the American Jewish leadership. We consulted with Israel before the meeting but it is not true to say that we conveyed messages from Israel. We discussed the concerns of all parties, including Israel.”
When asked about the meeting with Erdogan, Netanyahu said: “Malcolm met with many leaders. I’d love to hear what the Turks had to say to him. We aspire for normalization with all our neighbors, but it is always a two-way street.”
The Israeli and Turkish negotiating teams were expected to hold another meeting in Geneva in an effort to complete talks on the reconciliation agreement between the two countries. So far, understandings were reached on most issues, although disagreements remained on conditions set by Turkey regarding the blockade of Gaza, and Israel’s demands regarding Hamas activities on Turkish soil.
The negotiations on Israel’s behalf are still led by new Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who was was still the national security advisor when talks began, and Netanyahu’s envoy Joseph Ciechanover.
Over the last few days, Israel has sent a message to Hamas via the Turks, warning them against terrorist attacks using tunnels. Israel also made it clear to the Turks that if Hamas does use its tunnels to launch attacks in Israel, the IDF will retaliate with great force. Israel is banking on the fact that the Turks do not want an escalation at this time, and could persuade Hamas to restrain itself.