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Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty

After holding a rare call last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke to his Greek counterpart and reassured her that any improvement in Israel’s relations with Turkey won't come at the expense of Greece, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Prior to Erdoğan's call to congratulate Herzog for assuming office, no Israeli official had spoken with the Turkish president since 2017.

The big picture: During over a decade of strained relations with Turkey, Israel created an alliance with Greece and Cyprus focused on political, security and energy cooperation.

  • But Erdoğan and Herzog discussed the potential for better relations and energy cooperation — a matter of concern for Greece, which is in a standoff with Turkey over natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • According to the Israeli officials, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou asked Herzog about the call with Erdoğan when they spoke last week and he replied that there was no change in Israeli policy toward Greece.
  • Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias arrived in Israel on Wednesday and discussed Turkey in a meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, where Lapid downplayed the call with Erdoğan.

State of play: Turkey has sent several signals that it wants to improve relations with Israel since President Biden took office in January — a message reiterated by Turkey's ambassador in Washington in meetings with Jewish groups.

  • Israeli officials said the Foreign Ministry supported Herzog's call with Erdoğan but doesn't think a major breakthrough is possible with Turkey at the moment.

The latest: Israel expressed grave concern Tuesday over the unilateral move by Turkey to take control of parts of the ghost city of Varosha in the demilitarized zone between Turkish-aligned Northern Cyprus and the rest of the island.

  • Lapid called his Cypriot counterpart to express support. The Biden administration also condemned the "provocative" move and said it would refer it to the UN Security Council.

Go deeper

Oct 27, 2021 - World

Scoop: Blinken protests Israel settlements approval in "tense" phone call

Benny Gantz (L) and Tony Blinken. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken protested the decision to approve 3,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during a tense phone call on Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time new construction in the settlements has been approved since President Biden assumed office, and the Biden administration had been privately pressing the Israeli government not to proceed.

Oct 26, 2021 - World

Scoop: Biden administration objects to Israeli settlements plan

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett (L) meets with Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration has privately protested to the Israeli government over its plan to approve the planning and construction of more than 3,000 new housing units in the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: The approvals for new homes in the settlements will be the first since President Biden assumed office, and come after Biden and his top aides personally pressed Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to restrain settlement activity and decrease the number of new housing units.

Oct 27, 2021 - World

Putin seeks Israel's help in easing U.S. sanctions on Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Photo: Yevgeny Biyatov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to encourage the Biden administration to ease some of its sanctions on Syria in order to allow Russian companies to take part in the reconstruction of the country, Israeli officials briefed on the talks tell me.

The big picture: The U.S. Caesar Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in Dec. 2019, imposed sanctions on several sectors of the Syrian economy, including energy and infrastructure. The law is the main deterrent for foreign companies interested in getting involved in the Syria reconstruction effort.

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