Israel is hailing the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan because Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told Israel Radio, "We thought it was a sign for many other nations, that there's no reason why the Jewish state and Muslim countries can't have good cordial, cooperative relations."
In fact, Israel and Turkey enjoy a long and strategic relationship. They are currently working on a $400 million deal for Israel to upgrade 30 of Turkey's F-4 Phantom warplanes. But relations plummeted last year when Mr. Erdogan, who belongs to an Islamic party, harshly criticized Israeli military actions against the Palestinians.
The Turkish leader stunned Israel, when he described Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies as "state terrorism." But in the wake of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the subsequent cease-fire, Mr. Erdogan has sought warmer ties with the Jewish state. In a highly meaningful step for the Israelis, he laid a wreath at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, in memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.
And following in the footsteps of other world leaders who visited in recent months, Mr. Erdogan wants to play a mediating role in the Mideast peace process. "Turkey is committed to peace and security in the region," he said, with Mr. Sharon at his side.
Mr. Sharon added, "this visit will certainly help improve the atmosphere in the Middle East."
The Turkish prime minister meets on Monday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah.