First-Ever Meeting Between Netanyahu, Erdoğan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of Tuesday’s United Nations General Assembly in New York. Both men have led their countries for a long time, but this is the first time they have met.

A reset? Israel’s relations with Turkey are usually quite frosty. Erdoğan is a major sponsor of Hamas and routinely makes verbal attacks against Israel regarding the Palestinian issue. But this wasn’t apparent at the New York meeting. The two leaders agreed to visit each other’s countries in the near future.

Erdoğan also encouraged Netanyahu to cooperate with Turkey in energy and technology issues, such as cybersecurity. The previous day, Erdoğan told reporters he supported the ongoing Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization process.

What’s in it for Erdoğan? This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Turkey’s republic. Israeli media reported Erdoğan wants to commemorate the anniversary by praying at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

The Ottoman Empire controlled Jerusalem until 1917. Flying abroad to worship at a holy site your nation controlled over a hundred years ago is an odd way to celebrate a national anniversary. But Erdoğan’s primary goal as Turkey’s leader is to revive its imperialist legacy. This includes regaining Turkey’s sphere of influence over its former empire.

Erdoğan’s fascination with al-Aqsa may reflect his personal ambitions rather than any rapprochement.

Learn more: Read “The Ottoman Empire Strikes Back.”