Scoop: After Erdoğan call, Israel reassures Greece

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After holding a rare call last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke to his Greek counterpart and reassured her that any improvement in Israel’s relations with Turkey won't come at the expense of Greece, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Prior to Erdoğan's call to congratulate Herzog for assuming office, no Israeli official had spoken with the Turkish president since 2017.

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The big picture: During over a decade of strained relations with Turkey, Israel created an alliance with Greece and Cyprus focused on political, security and energy cooperation.

  • But Erdoğan and Herzog discussed the potential for better relations and energy cooperation — a matter of concern for Greece, which is in a standoff with Turkey over natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.

  • According to the Israeli officials, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou asked Herzog about the call with Erdoğan when they spoke last week and he replied that there was no change in Israeli policy toward Greece.

  • Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias arrived in Israel on Wednesday and discussed Turkey in a meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, where Lapid downplayed the call with Erdoğan.

State of play: Turkey has sent several signals that it wants to improve relations with Israel since President Biden took office in January — a message reiterated by Turkey's ambassador in Washington in meetings with Jewish groups.

  • Israeli officials said the Foreign Ministry supported Herzog's call with Erdoğan but doesn't think a major breakthrough is possible with Turkey at the moment.

The latest: Israel expressed grave concern Tuesday over the unilateral move by Turkey to take control of parts of the ghost city of Varosha in the demilitarized zone between Turkish-aligned Northern Cyprus and the rest of the island.

  • Lapid called his Cypriot counterpart to express support. The Biden administration also condemned the "provocative" move and said it would refer it to the UN Security Council.

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