Talks with Syria? Turkey Says Israel Agreed but Israel Denies
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reported by Turkish television as saying Israel accepted a resumption of mediated talks between the Jewish state and Syria. The office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a diplomatic denial of the report but added that Israel is “considering” the offer, which has been made several times.
Erdogan's reportedly emphatic statement that Israel accepted his proposal may have been timed with the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who arrived in Israel Monday evening. Erdogan was said to have made his remarks to reporters in Saudi Arabia.
Turkey mediated secret talks between Syrian and the government of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but the talks were suspended following the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign against Hamas terrorists.
Relations gone sour
Turkey had long been considered a rare and long-time friendly nation in the region, but relations have soured dramatically over the past year. At the same time, Erdogan has warmed up to Iran and Syria while repeatedly condemning Israel to the point of rejecting the deep Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem and Hevron. They "will forever be Islamic and will never be part of the Jewish heritage," Erdogan said in a recent interview with a Saudi newspaper. He also referred to his “brothers in Hamas, wherever they are.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu said in September that he would resume talks, either direct or indirect, with Syria if Damascus dropped pre-conditions. However, he added that if a mediator is involved, he must be "impartial and unbiased,” and specifically mentioned that France would be an acceptable country to host discussions.
Turkey slighted Israel again this week by refusing to accept an offer of aid for victims of an earthquake in the eastern part of the country. A decade ago, when relations were friendlier, Israel sent and aid and rescue team of 250 personnel and a field hospital to help after a savage earthquake that killed 18,000 people.