PM Calls Erdogan, Thanks International Community for Aid in Carmel Fire Disaster

Netanyahu speaks to Turkish PM Erdogan for the first time since taking office, says incident may portend improvement in bilateral relations.

After two years of deteriorating ties between Israel and Turkey, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone Friday with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to thank him for his country's assistance in fighting a devastating blaze that has been raging through parts of northern Israel for more than 24 hours.

It was the first time that the two have spoken since Netanyahu became prime minister more than a year and a half ago. Turkey's relations with Israel deteriorated following Israel's offensive in Gaza two years ago, and reached a low point in May when nine Turkish citizens were killed as Israeli naval commandos boarded a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

erdogan netanyahu - Reuters / Hagai Frid - December 1 2010
Reuters / Hagai Frid

Erdogan expressed his sorrow in light of the heavy losses caused by the massive fires in the Carmel, and said that Turkey is ready to continue to help Israel overcome the fires.

Netanyahu thanked Erdogan, and expressed the hope that the disaster will at least serve to ease ties between the two countries.

"We very much appreciate your help, and I am sure that this incident will offer an opportunity for improved relations between our two countries," Netanyahu said.

Turkey sent Israel at least two firefighting aircraft to help control the huge brushfire that has been raging through northern Israel. Its aircraft were among the first to arrive, owing in part to its close geographic proximity, relative to the European countries that also sent firefighting aircraft.

Other countries sending aid include Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, France, Britain, Italy, Croatia, Russia, Spain and Romania. Overall, more than 20 fire-fighting planes from abroad were expected to arrive in Israel, with New York's fire department also agreeing to send a fire-fighting airplane.

'Israel hadn't prepared for fires of this scale'

Netanyahu told reporters Friday that he had watched Greek planes circling the fire and smoke. "I really appreciate how many states have stepped up to help us," he said.

"I spoke with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Medvedev, and I thanked them and the Russian nation for immediately answering our call and the significant help that Russia has put on the line to fight the fires in the Carmel," Netanyahu said.

"The international answer to our call was outstanding, and the willingness to send help was also impressive, and it should bring comfort to all citizens of Israel. It demonstrates that there is affection for, and identification with Israel from all corners.'

Of the assistance aid from Ankara, Netanyahu said, "The aid from Turkey is a very commendable step. I know that Erdogan decided on it personally. Israel will find the proper way to express is appreciation for the Turkish efforts."

On Friday afternoon, Netanyahu spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron by phone, thanking Cameron for Britain's assistance in the international efforts to extinguish the Carmel fire.