Israel’s minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, is set to arrive in Turkey today for the annual Turkish-Israeli Economic Conference. He will hold talks with both the Turkish Agricultural Minister, Mehdi Eker, and Defense Minister, Vecdi Gonul.
Diplomatic tensions between the two countries have risen in the last few months following a host of spats. Turkey voiced its objections over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last year, the most conspicuous of which was seen in January when Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan’s walked out of a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos after a disagreement with Israeli President Shimon Peres. In October, a joint military operation in Turkey, codenamed Anatolian Eagle, was cancelled, reportedly because Turkish officials had asked Israel not to participate. In the same month, a Turkish television show called “Ayrilik” caused an uproar in Israel after it portrayed Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian children.
Ben-Eliezer’s visit will be the first official visit to Turkey by an Israeli Minister since the events in October. Eliezer was the only Israeli official to attend a dinner at the Turkish Embassy for the celebrations of Turkey’s Republic Day.
Commenting on the upcoming visit, the Chairman of the Turkish chapter of the Turkish-Israeli Business Council, Ekrem Guvendiren, expressed his hopes.
“I am optimistic,” said Guvendiren. “It will go very well indeed. There is no reason it shouldn’t.”
Despite the recent diplomatic speed bumps, Guvendiren insists that trade between the countries has not suffered. He said that between 2007 and 2008, both trade and investment between the two countries had increased and that numbers for this year suggest it will rise even higher.
“Trade between the two countries were not affected by the [diplomatic] strain,” said Guvendiren. However, he admits that tourism from Israel to Turkey has fallen 40% in the wake of deteriorating bilateral ties.
Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also commented on Ben-Eliezer’s trip, telling the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that Eliezer’s “trip to Turkey is... an important trip, but has not been agreed upon by the Foreign Ministry.” Commenting on speculation that one of the goals of the visit is to discuss Turkey resuming its role as a mediator for talks between Israel and Syria, Lieberman said that “after all of Turkey's insults and tongue-lashing against Israel, they can't be a mediator”