Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he wants to "renew the spirit of friendship" between Israel and Turkey, in his first direct communication with Erdogan for six months.

The comment was part of Netanyahu's personal letter of congratulations to Erdogan shortly after he won his third term as prime minister in Turkey's June 12 election.

"My government will be happy to work with the new Turkish government to find a solution to all the matters at issue in the dispute between our two countries," Netanyahu wrote in the letter. "I hope we will be able to forge cooperation anew and to renew the spirit of friendship that characterized the ties between our peoples for many generations."

Netanyahu's letter comes in addition to secret talks to end the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, which Haaretz reported yesterday.

This is the third attempt to resolve the diplomatic crisis since Israeli naval commandos raided the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in May 2010 in an effort to enforce Israel's blockade of Gaza. The takeover was met with violent resistance and nine passengers were killed.

"These are initial steps and it's unclear where they will lead and whether they will bring us to the end of the crisis," said a senior government official in Jerusalem. "Israel wants good relations with Turkey, in the context of many years of history with that country."

On Israel's side, the talks are being conducted by a leading figure appointed by Netanyahu whom the Prime Minister's Office has refused to identify.

The point person on the Turkish side is Feridun Sinirlioglu, the undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry who has expressed support for rehabilitating ties with Israel.

Obama addresses bi-lateral relations

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan yesterday for the second time in the past week, and Turkish-Israeli ties were on the agenda, a government official said.

The source said the Obama administration had informed the Prime Minister's Office in advance.

"It would be a good thing if Israeli-Turkish relations improved, and certainly we've encouraged both sides to work to that goal," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday. "We talk to Turkey, we talk to Israel about improving their relationship, and it will be a very good thing if they're talking to each other."

Nuland also spoke out against a flotilla to Gaza planned for later this month, which she said would be "irresponsible" and "provocative."

The Turkish group IHH, which participated in last year's flotilla, has announced it will not take part this year.

The latest effort to improve bilateral relations comes ahead of a UN inquiry committee's report on the 2010 flotilla raid, due to be released the first week of July. Israeli and Turkish representatives on the committee want to use the report's release as an opportunity for both countries to put the affair behind them.