September 3, 2013
Yosef Levi Sfari, Israel’s charge d’affairs at the Israeli embassy in Ankara, took one small step inside the Cankaya presidential palace in Ankara on Friday. What remains to be seen is whether that represents a giant leap forward in Israeli-Turkish ties.
Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported that Levi Sfari, whom it labeled a “senior Israeli diplomat,” was invited for the first time since the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident to attend the reception held by Turkish President Abdullah Gul on the national holiday marking one of the final battles in the 1922 Turkish War of Independence.
This was the first time Levi Sfari, who has been posted in Turkey since November 2011, attended an official state reception. The invitation came about – the paper reported – because of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology in March for the Mavi Marmara incident.
“Although the normalization process between the two countries could not be completed and no ambassadors have been exchanged, the Israeli issuance of an apology has been seen as sufficient for inviting the charge d’affairs to the reception,” the paper reported.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined comment.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in September 2011 and downgraded diplomatic ties.
Although the Turkish paper referred to Levi Sfari as a “senior diplomat,” he only holds the rank of second secretary, the highest level Israeli diplomat the Turks will allow at the Ankara embassy, but is not considered in Jerusalem as a “senior diplomat.”
Nevertheless, his invitation was recognized as a gesture that may presage a slight thaw in the icy ties between the two countries.
The invitation came just 10 days after Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Israel for the events in Egypt that brought about the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, and just a few weeks after he blamed the recent unrest in his own country on “an interest rate lobby,” widely believed to be a euphemism for Western Jewish businessmen.
While Netanyahu’s apology in May – made at the urging of US President Barack Obama – was supposed to have paved the way for an Israeli-Turkish reconciliation and the exchange of ambassadors, talks for compensation payments quickly bogged down as the Turks added that they wanted an Israeli admission that the compensation payments were the result of a wrongful act.