For the first time since the relations between Israel and Turkey broke down, an Israeli cabinet minister has arrived in Turkey for an official visit.
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) landed in Istanbul on Wednesday evening, where he will speak at a conference on Thursday, reported Channel 2 News.
The Prime Minister’s Office told Channel 2 that Peretz received all the required approvals for the visit, which deals with matters pertaining to his role as Minister of the Environment.
Peretz becomes the first Israeli minister to visit Turkey since the infamous flotilla incident in May of 2010, when Israeli commandos staged a raid on a six-ship flotilla seeking to violate Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
One of the ships in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, refused Israeli orders to dock at the Ashdod Port. The commandos then boarded it, encountering violence from the members of the IHH organization who were on board and who attacked them with clubs and knives. The soldiers had no choice but to open fire, killing nine who were on board.
When Israel refused to Turkey’s demands to apologize for raiding the Marmara, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel and expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara.
Under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apologized in March to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the deaths of nine Turks in the 2010 flotilla.
Netanyahu, in addition to the apology, agreed to compensate the families of the nine Turks, while Erdogan promised to cancel the legal proceedings his country launched against IDF officials.
Israeli and Turkish officials began talking in April regarding compensation for the Marmara incident, but a deal is yet to be finalized. While it was reported that progress was made in the talks, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc recently said that his country will not be satisfied with Israel simply paying compensation to the Marmara victims.
In the months that have passed since the Israeli apology, Erdogan has never let up on his verbal attacks of Israel. In one incident, he accused the Jewish state of being behind the military-backed ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
A Turkish official told Channel 2 News on Wednesday that he welcomed Peretz’s visit, saying it was indicative of the fact that the sides were getting closer
"As for the normalization of relations between Ankara and Jerusalem," the Turkish official said, "I have more reason to be optimistic these days than ever before.”
In August, in what some said was an improvement in relations between the two countries, Turkish President Abdullah Gul invited a senior Israeli diplomat to the Victory Day reception.