Turkey has appointed a new ambassador to Israel after a two-year absence.
The move to appoint Ufuk Ulutas, 40, is part of an attempt to improve ties with incoming President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, a report by Al Monitor quoting “well-placed sources” revealed last week.
Ulutas studied Hebrew and Middle Eastern politics in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is also an expert on Israel’s regional enemy, Iran.
Turkey first broke off diplomatic ties with Israel in 2010 after 10 pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed by Israeli commandos who boarded a Turkish-owned flotilla trying to deliver aid and break Israel’s years-long maritime blockade of Gaza.
They restored ties in 2016 but in 2018 Ankara withdrew its envoy over deadly attacks against Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip who were protesting U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ulutas’ appointment also comes as a number of Arab countries – Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates – agreed to normalise diplomatic ties with Israel in deals brokered by outgoing U.S. President Trump.
The Palestinian leadership has slammed the deals as grave betrayals by the Arab states that further undermine Palestinian efforts to achieve self-determination.
Turkish President Erdogan is an ardent defender of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel. He also recently condemned Israel’s normalisation deals with Gulf states.
He and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly trade harshly worded barbs, calling each other terrorists and mass murderers.
Israel–Turkey relations were formalised in March 1949, when Turkey became the first Muslim majority country to recognise Israel. Both countries have since given high priority to military, strategic, economic and diplomatic cooperation.