Saturday, January 16, 2010

Israel and Turkey: The Week in Review

A snapshot from Israeli television of the berated Ambassador Celikkol. Celikkol is seated much lower than his Israeli counterparts, and with no Turkish flag on the table, as would be typical in most diplomatic proceedings of this kind. PHOTO from the BBC

Though I have not been posting on the most recent diplomatic spat between Turkey and Israel, there is no doubt that it is the story of the week. I would direct you to Yigal Schleifer's excellent reporting on a series of events that started with an indignant prime minister Erdogan criticizing Israel during a joint meeting with Lebanese foreign minister Saad al-Hariri and ended with Israel issuing two apologies to the Turkish government after its deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, humiliated Turkish Ambassador to Israel Oguz Celikkol during a demarche. Ayalon summoned Celikkol to rebuke him over a scene of the popular Turkish television show, Kurtlar Vadisi ("Valley of the Wolves"), that negatively depicted Israeli soldiers. Unlike "Ayrilik," the television miniseries that prompted Israeli diplomatic protests two months ago, "Kurtlar Vadisi" is made by a private television company and aired on a private channel. ("Ayrilik" was run on government television.) Though Prime Minister Erdogan has accepted Ayalon's apology, the incident reveals a great deal about extreme nationalist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's policy toward Turkey. Ayalon's apology came at the behest of Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been largely supportive of Lieberman's more aggressive approach.

For his part, Erdogan has been quite critical of Israel since its invasion of Gaza, which Turkey was not informed about despite its impact on negotiations it was mediating at the time between Israel and Syria. Erdogan has shown no sign of letting up on Israel until things move forward in the Occupied Territories, seeming particularly keen not to apply Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors" policy to Israel. Israel seems to have been late in realizing the extent of Turkey's anger over Gaza. While Turkey's response to Israeli human rights violations, Gaza, and its illegal settlement of the Occupied Territories might be justified and in order, it is no doubt seemingly all the more difficult for the Turkish government to defend this diplomatic posture in Washington and elsewhere when it has done little to protest Iranian human rights violations and nuclear ambitions, not to mention adopting a rather friendly position toward Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

UPDATE I (1/21) -- The Jerusalem Post reports that the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin reported to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Turkey was moving away from the West and Israel and toward "radical Islam." The paper quotes Yadlin as saying, "In the past, Turkey had ambitions of becoming closer to the West, beyond its acceptance into NATO," Yadlin said. "They wanted to be part of the European market, and they thought that relations with Israel would help them advance in the American market. But then they received a cold shoulder from the Europeans and did not achieve what they wanted. In light of that, they changed their policies and are currently drawing away from secularism and going in a more radical direction. There are still joint strategic interests shared by Turkey and Israel, but it is not the same strategic proximity that they once shared." In the course of his comments, Yadlin used Turkey's rapprochement with Syria as evidence for its strategic departure, citing the former emnity between the two countries as key to Turkey's willingness to maintain good relations with Israel.

Yadlin's address comes days after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Ankara, a trip that had been scheduled prior to the Ayalon affair.

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