JERUSALEM (JTA) – Ties between Israel and Turkey are as strong as ever, an Israeli government minister said in Istanbul.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer made the statement Monday during an official three-day visit to Turkey to discuss diplomatic and economic issues, according to reports.
Ben-Eliezer is the highest-ranking Israeli government official to visit Turkey since it prevented Israel from joining a NATO-alliance military exercise last month that ultimately was canceled due to Israel’s exclusion.
His delegation of 20 high-ranking Israeli business leaders is scheduled to participate in a joint Israeli-Turkish business conference and in a business seminar in Istanbul, where they will meet their Turkish counterparts, the Israeli business daily Globes reported.
During his visit, Ben-Eliezer will attempt to return economic, military, strategic and diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey to normal, Ha’aretz reported, citing "Israeli sources."
"I hope my economic and political talks will make it possible to get the important relations between Israel and its Turkish strategic partner back on track," Ben-Eliezer said, according to Ha’aretz, adding that "Turkey has special ties with Israel, and as a regional and democratic-Muslim power."
Ben-Eliezer’s visit comes a day after Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Turkey cannot resume its place as mediator of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria because of its "invective and nonsense." Lieberman also called Ben-Eliezer’s visit "important, but not coordinated with the Foreign Ministry."
Israel-Turkey relations have grown tense since the Gaza war, with Turkey taking the lead in some international forums in demanding that Israel be held accountable for alleged war crimes.
Over the weekend, Turkey gave Israeli defense contractors 50 days to deliver 10 promised drone aircraft or said its military may cancel the $180 million deal.