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DIPLOMACY >Turkish, Israeli top soldiers meet for first time since rapprochement

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA

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Turkey’s chief of General Staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, has met his Israeli counterpart for the first time since the two countries normalized their ties in the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara Massacre. 

The meeting came on the sidelines of a NATO conference for defense heads between Jan. 17-18 in Brussels, the Turkish Armed Forces said. 

Akar also conducted separate meetings with the chiefs of general staff of the United States, Austria, Romania and Italy.

Turkey and Israel will conduct political consultation meetings within one month and draft a road map for a cooperation agenda that will also include military cooperation, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News. The two countries will also step up cooperation on security issues, the official said, adding that both countries needed to conduct consultations on regional security issues such as Syria. 

Turkey-Israel relations came to breaking point after Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara flotilla, which was aiming to break a naval blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in May 2010, killing 10 Turkish activists on board. 

Israel and Turkey had been traditional military partners for years, but the latter froze military cooperation after the Mavi Marmara crisis that led to a breakup in security cooperation as well. 

Ankara subsequently exerted efforts to isolate Israel from military cooperation with NATO, excluding the country from joint international military exercises such as the annual Anatolian Eagle exercises. Some defense industry projects were halted following the political crisis, but the Turkish defense industry suffered the most. 

Turkey and Israel built up military-security relations in the early 1990s with the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement, and the two parties became close allies in security cooperation, intelligence sharing, military training and the defense industry.

Israel has provided significant technical and intelligence support to Turkey in its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while Ankara cooperated with Israel regarding intelligence on Iran.

In the defense industry, the two carried out joint projects, such as the modernization of the M60 tank and F-4E plane. Israel also sold armed Heron drones to Turkey. 

After six years of strained ties, Israel apologized for the Mavi Marmara raid, paying out $20 million to the bereaved and injured as part of the rapprochement deal signed between the two countries on June 28, 2016.

Last month, the countries also exchanged ambassadors for the first time, with Eitan Na’eh taking up his post in Ankara for Israel and Kemal Ökem doing likewise for Turkey in Tel Aviv.

January/18/2017

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