Israel's envoy to Ankara Eitan Na'eh said that Israel wants to relaunch charter flights between the two countries, which were cancelled in September 2011 as the demand for travel waned. This happened following the tension in bilateral ties in 2010 after the Israeli navy's raid of the Turkish aid ship the Mavi Marmara. He further said that the visa requirements will be eased. The envoy also highlighted that bilateral ties between Israel and Turkey should not be limited to tourism and must be further expanded to the information technologies and energy sectors.
The ambassador paid a visit to the Antalya Society of Journalists (AGC), where he was welcomed by Deputy Chair Salim Uzun and Board Member Sibel Atasoy. Delivering a speech during his visit, the ambassador noted that he and his family always choose Turkey as their vacation spot.
Expressing his pleasure at visiting Antalya, he said: "As the Israeli envoy, I came here to bring Turkish tourists to Israel and to promote Israel's tourism. I know that Israeli authorities do their best to ensure that more and more Israeli tourists visit Turkey."
Stressing that Israelis are similar to Turkish citizens in the sense that they would like to visit places where they feel welcomed, Na'eh noted that more Israeli tourists will come to Turkey.
When asked whether the visa problem will be resolved for the development of tourism, the ambassador noted that in 1993, around 100,000 tourists visited Turkey on an annual basis. This figure jumped to 250,000 the next year, as he spoke to business people in Antalya discussing tourism figures. He also added that the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey have always exceeded that of Turkish citizens going to Israel.
Na'eh noted that during the periods when high numbers of Israeli tourists were seen visiting Turkey one out of 10 citizens came to Turkey, which corresponded to almost 600,000 people. However, he said, this should not stand in the way of facilitating visa requirements. The ambassador highlighted that if only 1 percent of Turkish citizens, not 10 percent, visited Israel, the issue of alleviating visa requirements would be settled.
The ambassador also emphatically stated that he holds the final signature authority for some agreements regulating flights between Turkey and Israel.
"Israel is the one waiting for a decision on the charter flights. We would like to see the charter flights from Israel to Turkey resume. Israel wants the issue to be included in agenda items."
Na'eh also indicated that security is a matter of global importance, therefore the issue of security introduces certain obligations, and he noted that the reciprocal charter flights will be relaunched.
The charter flights between Turkey's Antalya and Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport, which were preferred by Israeli vacationers, were canceled six years ago due to decreasing demand when only around 80,000 Israelis visited Turkey.
According to data provided by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Turkey saw the highest number of Israeli tourists, which exceeded 550,000, in 2008. After the Mavi Marmara crisis in 2010 when the Turkish humanitarian aid vessel was attacked en route to the blockaded Gaza Strip, the number fell to 80,000 in 2011. However, a gradual increase has been observed in the last two years as almost 225,000 Israelis came to Turkey in 2015 and almost 300,000 visited Turkey last year.
Moreover, visa procedures for Turkish businesspeople were alleviated in February, as announced by the Israeli consul-general in Istanbul Shai Cohen. Turkish businesspeople are able to get three-year, multiple entry visas.
Alternative energy and investments in information technology
Emphasizing that issues other than Israel-Turkey tourism could be discussed, Na'eh said: "I spent time with Turkish businessmen. We talked about some business opportunities. Both Turkey and Israel are now mature countries. There are some developed and developing sectors, we could focus on them. The prospects are positive for partnership in alternative energy, innovation and high technology, information technology," Na'eh said.
Na'eh also said that his task is to bring Turkey closer to Israel. "We have to determine what our common areas are and work on them. To explain our sensitivities, to understand the sensitivity of the Turkish side. Looking at the whole of this region, our countries have problems. But, besides differences, there are similarities as well. It is possible to build a bridge over them. History is important, but we need to look forward, not to the past."
As the normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel have burgeoned with intergovernmental dialogue on energy cooperation during the past year, the ongoing negotiations for the export of natural gas from Eastern Mediterranean gas field discovered by Israel to Turkey is considered a vital step for the region. In fact, an agreement for exporting gas from the Leviathan gas field, which was discovered by Israel in 2010 and estimated to contain a reserve of 500 billion cubic meters (bcm), to Turkey has been an important starting point for a normalization process.