The public agenda in Türkiye has been busy with three main topics last week.
First was the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s visit to Türkiye.
Second were the blazing wildfires all across the touristic southwestern region of Türkiye.
Third was the Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to Türkiye
On Wednesday, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with an official ceremony in the capital Ankara.
Erdogan received the crown prince at the presidential complex.
Ahead of an official dinner, the leaders were set to have one-on-one and delegation meetings.
Erdogan earlier said they would discuss ways to take bilateral relations to a much higher level during the prince’s official visit.
The leaders emphasized the countries’ determination to start a new era of comprehensive cooperation in many areas, according to a joint declaration by both leaders.
“Ankara and Riyadh decided to deepen consultation and cooperation on the regional issues to strengthen stability and peace,” it said.
The two leaders vowed to develop and maintain cooperation on the basis of the “historical brotherhood” of the two nations for the future of the region.
Also, they highlighted the importance of increasing the number of flights, easing on the bilateral trade, exploring investment opportunities and transforming them into concrete partnerships.
Saudi Arabia also expressed gratitude for Türkiye’s support for Riyadh’s candidacy to host EXPO 2030, according to the Turkish-Saudi joint declaration.
Saudi state media also hailed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Türkiye and the distinguished relations between Riyadh and Ankara.
The state-run Al-Ikhbariya television said Saudi-Turkish relations “witness a new phase of development and prosperity with tangible steps between the leaderships of both countries.”
“Cooperation between Riyadh and Ankara is important to address regional files, combat terrorism and support stability,” it added.
The state news agency SPA said relations between Riyadh and Ankara are growing in various fields.
“Mutual visits between the leaderships in the Saudi Arabia and Türkiye give a clear example on the strength of their relations,” it said.
Several media outlets also gave a detailed coverage of bin Salman’s visit to Türkiye on their accounts on social media platforms.
Bin Salman concluded his visit to Türkiye on early Wednesday, after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, where they discussed bilateral cooperation, including political, economic, military, security, and cultural relations.
Ties between Ankara and Saudi Arabia were dealt a heavy blow by the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi critic.
In last April, Erdogan paid a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, his first visit to the country since 2017, in a bid to mend the ruined ties.
His visit to Riyadh came after a Turkish court transferred the Khashoggi case to Saudi legal institutions.
During his visit, Erdogan met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, as well as the crown prince, and discussed various international, regional, and bilateral issues.
On his way back to Türkiye following his visit to Saudi Arabia, Erdogan had said Ankara and Riyadh are determined to continue efforts for the common interests and stability of the region.
While negotiating with Egypt, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations, Erdogan described these efforts as a “new era” for a process of making friends and not enemies.
But Saudi de facto ruler Prince Mohammed and Erdogan have worked to patch up the bilateral relationship in recent months.
Over the past year, Ankara has embarked on a diplomatic push to reset relations with countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia after years of antagonism following the 2011 Arab Spring.
Türkiye’s support for popular movements linked to the Muslim Brotherhood initially spurred the break with these Arab regimes.
Wildfires across the southwestern parts of Türkiye
Some 4,500 hectares of green lands have been turned to ashes by the wildfires that took five days of massive efforts in the Marmaris district in the famous Turkish Riviera, before being put out completely.
The first wildfires in the country this summer started late on June 21st in the Bortubed neighborhood as an arsonist set fires in three locations inside the Calabrian pine forests.
Despite the rapid intervention via land and air, the fires spread quickly with the help of strong winds. Encircling the fires on June 23rd, all were put out late on June 25th.
The cooling efforts started the following day with some 46 helicopters, including three from Qatar, and 15 aircraft, including one from Azerbaijan.
“The fire is now under control… The cooling process will continue,” Agriculture and Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said.
The minister listed the massive efforts, saying, “Aviation vehicles flew some 1,069 hours and made 4,048 sorties in five days.”
The firefighting aircraft and helicopters have dropped more than 13 tons of water on burning lands, since March 1st.
“Here in Marmaris, just in five days, some 12.5 tons of water were dropped. This shows the importance we deem to the Marmaris wildfires,” he stated.
“Officers have intervened in the fires in a world-standard effort,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who is at the scene since the beginning of fires with Kirisci.
The 34-year-old arsonist was arrested on June 24th after admitting that he started the fires, as he was furious with his family members over land inheritance issues.
“My family was going to give me some land. Then they refused. So, I got angry and set fires with a can of gasoline,” Ayhan said in his testimony.
However, his father refuted these claims.
Saying that he still cannot believe what his son has done this, the father said: “We are a family earning our lives by the sea. I do not know why he said so. There was no quarrel on land. Besides, I do not have any land in Marmaris.”
The arsonist’s father apologized to all the citizens of the country for his son’s behavior.
A series of more than 200 wildfires reduced 1,700 square kilometers in Türkiye’s Mediterranean region to ash in the summer of 2021, killing nine people, including two firefighters.
In the worst-ever wildfire season, the fires started in the southern province of Antalya’s Manavgat district on July 28th 2021, and ended on August 9th 2021, in Mugla.
President Erdogan stated that the burnt land would be reforested.
There have also been wildfires across the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
Ankara has sent two firefighting aircraft to assist in ongoing efforts, the Turkish vice president said on Thursday.
During a working visit to the TRNC, Fuat Oktay and TRNC President Ersin Tatar flew over the northern village of Mersinlik in a helicopter to inspect the wildfire.
At a joint press conference with Tatar, he said Türkiye’s Agriculture and Forestry Ministry has sent two firefighting planes to help douse the blaze.
Teams from various departments, including the Cypriot Turkish Peace Forces, are working dedicatedly to extinguish the fire, he said.
After being briefed by TRNC officials, Oktay called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to give him an update on the situation.
“Four firefighting aircraft and four helicopters are engaged in aerial operations. Two of the aircraft came from Turkiye and one of the helicopters is also ours. The rest are from the Greek Cypriot administration,” he said.
He said some 300 personnel are battling the blaze, adding that the fire has so far damaged nearly 4,500 acres of land.
Israeli Foreign Minister’s visit to Türkiye
Türkiye and Israel have begun efforts to raise the diplomatic representation at relevant countries to the level of ambassadors, the Turkish foreign minister announced on Thursday.
Stressing the significance of bilateral political and regional consultations, Mevlut Cavusoglu during a news conference with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid said the two countries would continue mutual visits as well as political negotiations at various levels.
“The positive dialogue between our countries is once again agreed to be continued with concrete, tangible actions,” Cavusoglu added.
Cavusoglu stressed that Ankara is in cooperation with Tel Aviv in fighting terror and possible threats against Israeli citizens, noting that Ankara will never allow any terror attacks on its territory.
The Turkish and Israeli ministers also addressed “steps to be taken” on economic relations, Cavusoglu noted, saying the two countries will organize the Joint Economic Commission meeting in September.
He also expressed Ankara’s desire to continue dialogue and cooperation in the field of energy.
Cavusoglu said the Palestine matter was addressed during the meetings as Türkiye expressed its “expectations and sensitives” on the issue to the Israeli side.
He reiterated the need for a two-state solution and urged to avoid steps that may harm the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
The Israeli foreign minister also commented on “returning ambassadors in the near future” and “improving economic and political dialogue” as he voiced hopes for steps in this matter to be completed soon.
On tourism, Lapid said Israel’s “immediate goal is to bring about the calm that will enable us to change travel warning for Türkiye” as the tourist season reaches its peak.
He also said: “Türkiye is the number one destination for Israeli tourists.”
“We hope that in the very near future, Israeli tourists will be able to return to Türkiye without fear,” he added.
Referring to efforts to resume flights of the Israeli flag carrier to the Turkish metropolitan Istanbul and the Mediterranean resort city Antalya, Lapid told Cavusoglu: “It is very important that in the coming weeks, we finish the process that we began during your visit in Jerusalem, to allow Israeli Airlines to fly directly to both Istanbul and the Turkish coast (Antalya).”
Last month, during a visit to Israel, Cavusoglu said Türkiye and Israel demonstrated a “common will” to improve relations in every field.
“Even though there were difficult days, we decided to continue our relations,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu’s visit was the first trip to Israel by a Turkish foreign minister in nearly 15 years.
Earlier, in March, Israeli President Isaac Herzog had visited Ankara and met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Lapid recalled that Türkiye had been the first Muslim nation to recognize the State of Israel in 1949 and that Israelis love Türkiye very much, highlighting that bilateral trade and other economic activities have not been negatively affected by the poor bilateral political ties or the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cavusoglu informed that he trade volume in 2021 hit more than $8 billion despite the pandemic and the figures in the first quarter of this year show a continued increase in bilateral trade.
Israel was a long-time regional ally of Türkiye before an armed raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla left 10 Turkish activists dead. Ankara recalled its ambassador and scaled-down economic and defense ties with Israel.
In November 2021, Erdogan held telephone talks with Israeli President Herzog and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the first such discussions between the Turkish leader and an Israeli leader since 2013. Erdogan declared that Türkiye was considering “gradual” reconciliation with Israel.
In January 2022, he announced that Türkiye was ready to cooperate with Israel on a gas pipeline project in the Eastern Mediterranean. Following the 2010 crisis, Israel created a strategic alliance with Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, two actors with long-standing acrimony toward Türkiye, and in recent years held regular trilateral meetings and conducted joint military drills. The trio was part of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum established in 2019 with other states, including Egypt and Jordan, without Türkiye. In 2020, Israel, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration signed the EastMed deal for a pipeline to ship gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, triggering objections from Ankara. The United States has since also raised concern about the project, citing possible issues over its “commercial viability.”
Türkiye has recently been working to improve relations with several countries in the region as part of a normalization process launched in 2020.