Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak received a warm welcome upon his arrival in Turkey, as he tried to improve ties between the two countries following a recent diplomatic row, dpa reported according to Israeli media.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, Barak was welcomed by a Turkish admiral upon his arrival, and made a first stop to mausoleum to secular Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whom Barak hailed as inspiration in bringing peace and stability to the region.
Barak also had a more than three-hour meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara. Haaretz cited an anonymous Israeli official saying the meeting was carried out in a friendly atmosphere.
Although the Israeli defence minister and his Turkish counterpart, Vecdi Goul, are expected to announce the finalization of a long- delayed multi-million dollar deal for the delivery of 10 unmanned aerial vehicles to Turkey, an Israeli "security official" quoted on Israel Army Radio Sunday said the real reason for the visit was to "bring relations between the two countries back on track."
Barak is the first Israeli official to visit Turkey since a diplomatic protest by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon against a Turkish television series backfired and led to Israel issuing a formal apology to Ankara.
Ayalon had invited Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, in order to complain about the television series, Valley of the Wolves, which depicts unscrupulous operations by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, such as kidnapping Turkish babies.
In a break from diplomatic norm, Ayalon invited the press to take photographs, and instructed the reporters to be sure to note that he and his aides sat on tall chairs, while the Turkish envoy was seated on a lower chair. When housekeeping brought refreshments, he ordered them to take them back.
Turkey, outraged at the public humiliation of its envoy, which was shown on Israeli television, threated to withdraw its ambassador unless Israel apologized. Ayalon, who had initially said he would not apologize, was forced to send a note to Celikkol stating: "I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologize for the way the demarche was handled and perceived."
But on Saturday night, Ayalon said Israel could expel the Turkish ambassador if Turkish television continued demonizing Israel.
"Maybe we should expel their ambassador. We will take counsel, assess the situation and decide what to do," he said, when asked by a television interviewer how Israel would react if the show were to once again depict Israeli agents kidnapping children and shooting old men.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, making his first comment on the diplomatic hazing of Celikkol admitted Sunday that the treatment accorded the Turkish envoy was wrong.
"In essence (Israel's) protest was justified," Lieberman said Sunday, after meeting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, but then went on to say that the moves initiated by Ayalon were a mistake.
"I hope we can return things to the way they were, " he added.
Lieberman, who according to Israeli media reports at the time orchestrated the treatment of Cellikol with Ayalon, said Israel did not want to quarrel with anyone.
"Those who are sensitive to their own national honour, should be sensitive to the national honour of others," the Ynet news quoted him as saying.
Turkey has been a key strategic partner for Israel in an otherwise largely hostile region. But ties between the allies have deteriorated in the 12 months since the Gaza war, which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly harshly criticized.