Bennett Thanks Turkey's Erdogan for Couple's Release in First Call Since 2013

President Herzog also thanked the Turkish president, emphasizing the importance of increased dialogue, which has become a main goal of Israel's foreign policy towards Turkey since the Oknin couple's arrest

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, yesterday.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, yesterday.Credit: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, after the release of an Israeli couple detained in Istanbul last week for suspected espionage.

Bennett thanked Erdogan for his personal involvement in returning Natalie and Mordi Oknin back to Israel Thursday. He praised Erdogan for how the Turkish authorities dealt with the issue, and spoke highly of the communication channel between the two countries, which operated effectively and discreetly.

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It was the first conversation in nine years between a Turkish president and an Israeli prime minister. In 2013, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Erdogan, as former U.S. President Barack Obama was visiting Israel.

The couple, Natalie and Mordi Oknin, were released from custody last night and returned to Israel on Thursday. It is believed that their arrest stemmed from a real suspicion by Turkey that they had collected sensitive information.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also thanked Erdogan for his involvement in the release of the Oknin couple in a phone call on Thursday, and "welcomed the desire for Turkey and Israel to hold a comprehensive dialogue on bilateral and regional issues," according to a readout from President Herzog's office.

Prime Minister Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also thanked "the President of Turkey and his government for their cooperation" in the release of the couple.

Sources involved in the efforts to release the couple said that Turkish authorities were not aware of details of the arrest or the case, and that once they were notified of the Israeli message of the couple's innocence, representatives were successful in opening a dialogue between the countries.

A main goal of the Prime Minister's Office, the Mossad and the Foreign Ministry during the couple's arrest had been to find channels of communication with Turkey.

Along with talks conducted by the head of the Mossad David Barnea with Turkish officials, Bennett held two situational assessment meetings every day with the participation of all parties involved in the matter. Efforts to free the couple were one of Bennett's first opportunities to tighten his partnership with the new Mossad chief, who took office in June.

According to a political source, Israel is expected to respond to the release with a reciprocal gesture towards Turkey.

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