Turkish newspaper Sabah has reported that anonymous sources have confirmed Israeli media outlet Haaretz’s claims of a secret meeting on Monday in the Italian capital Rome between Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu in order to resume talks for a reconciliation agreement.
Israel first demanded a meeting with Turkey, according to Sabah’s sources, who said that similar meetings have been held before but have been kept out of the public eye.
Sabah reported that talks will continue in the upcoming days between Israel and Turkey for the sake of normalising relations.
Haaretz said Gold is considered a close associate of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and has recently been appointed to his post.
Sinirlioglu led the Turkish diplomatic group in resolving a crisis with Israel, after bilateral relations reached a freezing point following an attack by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara, a passenger ship owned by a Turkish NGO - the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) - on May 31, 2010.
Sinirlioglu was Turkey’s ambassador to Israel from 2002 to 2007.
“Gold did not make his plans known to either National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen, nor the PMO’s special envoy to Turkey, Joseph Ciechanover, who has handled ties with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government for five years, and kept lines of communication open with Sinirlioglu,” according to the Israeli newspaper.
Sabah reported that Gold also spoke with Enver Eski, who is an adviser to the Saudi Arabian government which has no diplomatic relations with Israel. There have been claims that Gold’s moves indicate Israel is trying to create a geopolitical bloc with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Iran, the daily added.
Relations between Turkey and Israel have worsened since 2009, when then prime minister - now President - Recep Tayyip Erdogan chided Israel’s then president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, over Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Ties degraded even further following the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, one of the six civilian ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara in a bungled raid, and a 10th activist later died from heavy wounds.
The flotilla was set up by an international coalition called the Free Gaza Movement, which included the the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and the IHH. Its aim was to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, which was strengthened in 2007 when Hamas took over Gaza.
The maritime raid drew widespread condemnation internationally, and Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) demanded an official apology and compensation for the relatives of the Mavi Marmara victims.
The Israeli government, following a telephone conversation between Netanyahu and Erdogan, apologised to Turkey in March 2013. The Israelis also offered $20 million in compensation for the attack and eased its blockade on the Gaza Strip following the incident.
Relations between the two countries seemed to be warming up in February 2014, with talk of a reconciliation agreement to pay reparations to the victims of the Marmara incident.
The recent Haaretz report said, “Aside from the amount of reparations, the two countries agreed that the Turkish parliament would pass a law cancelling the lawsuits filed against Israel Defense Forces officers and soldiers that participated in the Marmara raid. Also, a framework for normalizing the relations was compiled.”
The Israeli team recommended Netanyahu accept the deal, but he did not make a decision and a few weeks later Obama asked Erdogan to accept the deal in order to end the confrontation with Israel, the report added.
The draft agreement was ready to be signed by Netanyahu, who did not sign it, “prolonging the conflict,” according to a senior Israeli official quoted by the Haaretz report.
Then, Erdogan told Obama, “The ball is in Netanyahu’s court,” the same official added.
Several months later Israeli-Turkish ties took another turn for the worst following the Israeli Operation Protective Edge in Gaza which continued for seven weeks, starting on July 8, 2014.
During the Israeli offensive on Gaza at least 2,160 Palestinians were killed - mostly civilians, including dozens of children - and some 11,000 were injured, according to data from United Nations and Palestinian officials.