A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official secretly visited Turkey last month and met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesperson ahead of a possible visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, the Israeli Ynet news website reported on Wednesday.
During his stay Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz discussed preparations for the possible visit by Herzog with İbrahim Kalın, considered Erdoğan’s right-hand man and adviser on diplomatic matters, according to Ynet.
Last month Erdoğan announced that Herzog would be visiting Turkey amid strained Turkish-Israeli ties. On Saturday Erdoğan said Herzog would arrive in mid-March.
Although Erdoğan had announced several times that Herzog would be visiting Ankara, last Sunday marks the first time that the Israeli president’s office acknowledged a “possible visit.”
Last week Israeli sources said Herzog had likely not responded to Erdoğan’s invitation due to Israel’s suspicion of recent Turkish efforts to improve relations between the two countries.
While the office of the Israeli president in Jerusalem had declined to comment until last Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has in fact provided a glimpse into the reservations of Israeli politicians regarding Turkish efforts at rapprochement.
“I don’t rule out the meeting of our president with Erdoğan,” Bennett told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. He expressed doubts about Turkey’s intentions but said he prefers to “play in all courts, to lead to stability in the Middle East and focus efforts on Iran.”
Relations between majority-Muslim Turkey and Israel were suspended over after the death of nine civilians in an Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla carrying aid for the Gaza Strip in 2010.
Ushpiz’s reported visit to Turkey would have been the first by a senior Israeli official in nearly six years. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report.
Turkish media also reported that a Turkish official will soon go to Israel to prepare for a possible visit by Herzog.