Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon to serve as an envoy to work for Israel's reconciliation with Turkey, a senior Israeli official revealed on Thursday.
This revelation comes days after another report that Israeli and Turkish officials have been holding secret direct talks to try to solve the diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
A source in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and a U.S. official confirmed that talks are being held, though in Israel the prime minister and foreign minister's aides declined to comment.
The Israeli official explained that Ya'alon is managing the Turkish contacts, along with the Israeli representative on the UN inquiry committee on last year's Gaza flotilla, Yosef Ciechanover.
The Israeli official said that Israel is maintaining its position of refusing to apologize to Turkey over the deadly raid, but is ready to express regret over the incident.
Israel's meetings with Turkey are taking place through two different channels. Ya'alon is meeting directly with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, a firm supporter of rehabilitating ties with Israel.
The other talks taking place are between Ciechanover, and Turkey's representative on the UN inquiry committee, Ozdem Sanberk. The two have been passing messages between Israel and Turkey and have taken pains to draft understandings to end the crisis.
In addition, the U.S. administration has held talks with senior Turkish officials, mainly to foil the flotilla to Gaza due later this month, but also in a bid to improve relations with Israel.
Last Thursday, Netanyahu called a meeting with a clutch of ministers on the Gaza flotilla and relations with Turkey. A source familiar with the debate said the main sticking point was whether Israel would apologize to Turkey or only express regret, and whether the Turkish families who will be compensated for their loved ones killed in Israel's raid last year would be able to file further suits.
This is Israel and Turkey's third attempt to reach understandings that would end the crisis. The first attempt took place after the Carmel fire in December. Ciechanover and Sanberk reached partial understandings, but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman objected to Israel's apologizing to Turkey for last year's flotilla events, and the talks were halted.
Another unsuccessful attempt took place two months ago.
One of the developments behind the current attempt to solve the crisis is the UN inquiry committee's report on the flotilla, due to be released in the first week of July. Israel and Turkey's representatives on the committee want to use the report's release as an opportunity for both countries to put the affair behind them and rehabilitate ties.
The draft report submitted a few weeks ago led to disagreements on both sides, which delayed the release.
The disagreements, however, appear to have been solved because both Israel and Turkey have agreed to the report's release at the beginning of July.