Israel Apologizes To Turkey In Diplomatic Spat After Ultimatum

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Israel apologized to Turkey on Wednesday for berating Ankara’s ambassador on live television in a dispute that has strained the once strong ties between the Jewish state and the Muslim regional power.  

In a stern warning to Israel, Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday said that Israel has until midnight to rectify what many in Turkey regarded an unprecedented example of diplomatic rudeness to the Turkish ambassador by an Israeli official earlier this week. Gul said Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, will be recalled if the row over his treatment is not resolved by Wednesday night.

After Ankara on Tuesday demanded an apology for the televised berating of Celikkol on Monday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a statement conceding that his behavior toward Celikkol had been inappropriate.

“I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologize for the way the demarche was handled and perceived,” Ayalon said in the letter, released by the Israeli government.  

“Please convey this to the Turkish people for whom we have great respect. I hope that both Israel and Turkey will seek diplomatic and courteous channels to convey messages as two allies should,” he added.

While Ayalon stopped short of using the word sorry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the statement as an “apology” and said he was glad that it had been made. But President Gul appeared not to see it that way. “If the problem is not resolved by tonight, our ambassador will take the first flight tomorrow [Thursday] to return home for further consultations,” Gul said, speaking to reporters during a reception on Wednesday. The Turkish leader stressed it is up to the Israeli leadership to defuse the tension.

“We will later evaluate the case,” he said, hinting that Turkey might be lowering its representation in Tel Aviv to the charge d’affairs level.

President Gul described the insult to the Turkish ambassador as “unacceptable” and called on Israeli higher leadership to rectify the situation. “It may have been the act of a man who does not know what he was doing,” he said, “However, in the final analysis the liability lies with the Israeli government.” “Israel is responsible here,” he added. Asked why Turkey is having problems with Israel while enjoying very good relations with all other neighbors, Gül said the question should be directed to the Israeli side. “Look at what they have been doing.

The question should be posed to them as to why Israel is isolating itself from the region and the world,” he noted.

In the meantime, the apology expressed by the Israeli side was found insufficient and did not go as far as satisfying the conditions set forth by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, diplomatic sources here in Ankara said.

Reports posted from Jerusalem said Ayalon’s “apology” came in a statement conceding that his behavior toward the envoy had been inappropriate.

“My protest against the attacks on Israel in Turkey remains valid,” Ayalon said, referring to Turkish leaders’ criticisms of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and to a Turkish television drama which portrayed Israeli diplomats as criminals. “Nevertheless,” the statement continued, “It is not my way to disrespect ambassadors’ honor and in the future I will clarify my position in a diplomatically acceptable manner.”

According to reports, a separate statement from Netanyahu’s office which described Ayalon’s statement as an “apology” said, “The prime minister feels that the protest issued to the Turkish ambassador was fundamentally correct but it should have been conveyed in the conventional diplomatic mode.”

“Thus, it is not possible for us to accept some expressions conveyed through news reports as an official and appropriate apology. We haven’t yet received any official statement by the Israeli side here at the Foreign Ministry headquarters either,” the same sources said.

Earlier on Wednesday, diplomatic sources accompanying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoGan during an official visit to Moscow had already told the Anatolia news agency that Ayalon’s statement was not “sufficient.”

Israel sent a formal letter of apology to celikkol on Thursday.

“I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologize for the way the demarche was handled and perceived,” Ayalon said in the letter, released by the Israeli government.

“Please convey this to the Turkish people for whom we have great respect. I hope that both Israel and Turkey will seek diplomatic and courteous channels to convey messages as two allies should.”

On Monday, Ayalon had made clear in televised remarks that he would not shake hands with celikkol, ensured no Turkish flag was displayed on the table and made the envoy sit on a low couch, confronted by three Israeli officials in higher chairs, in order to ram home his displeasure with Ankara.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, one of whose priorities is countering a perceived nuclear threat from Turkey’s neighbor Iran, was due to hold previously announced talks in Turkey on Sunday. Reports posted from Jerusalem suggested that the visit would take place at the invitation of President Gul. However, Turkish diplomatic sources in Ankara made clear that Barak would be the guest of his Turkish counterpart, Vecdi Gonul.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Turkey was ready to go ahead with its scheduled plans to host Barak. Celikkol was already scheduled to travel to Ankara later this week for preparations for the visit, yet it will become clear whether he will stay longer than planned in Ankara according to Israel’s response, which was expected by Ankara within the deadline declared by Gul.

Turkish-Israeli relations have been strained since Israel’s deadly offensive in the Gaza Strip, which left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, including many civilians, and brought heavy international criticism upon Israel, including accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by a United Nations investigation. Since the offensive, Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations have seen exchanges of harsh remarks between Israeli and Turkish officials and crisis incidents despite efforts to tone down the crisis atmosphere.

During a visit to Greek Cyprus, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman urged the Turkish leadership to use official channels for such criticism.

“We have had good relations with Turkey for many years and we respect the Turkish state and people. But that is exactly what we expect in return — for them to treat us with dignity and respect. Any issues or questions that they may have can be raised using dialogue, direct dialogue, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye [on] some issues.”

Nonetheless, Lieberman’s remarks were far from reflecting an understanding of Turkey’s anger and sensitivities over diplomatic customs as the latest diplomatic kerfuffle between the two sides has been an exception, since the way Celikkol was treated by Ayalon introduced an unprecedented example of diplomatic rudeness.

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4 Comments

  1. Sako said:

    The truth is, no matter what Israel’s sins, and they are many, the fallout between Turkey and Israel is Turkey’s fault.  
    Erdogan has gone out of his way to insult Jews, all the while ignoring Turkey’s own sins, such as its extermination of its Christian population. 
    Erdogan complains about the Turkish military and then goes ahead and buys $150 million worth of drones from Israel.  Israel ought to give Turkey the swift kick that it deserves by officially acknowledging the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian genocides.

  2. Samvel Jeshmaridian, PhD said:

    The Russian saying says, “The cat knows whose meat she has eaten.” In Israel, it sounds this way, “The Tiger knows whose meat he has eaten.” After apologizing before Turkey for berating Ankara’s ambassador on a Wednesday live television in a dispute, Israel will make Erdoghan mew like a momsik kitten before Israel for Erdoghan’s last year’s rudeness toward the Israeli Prime Minister. Tigers know whose meat they are going to enjoy!

  3. turkish citizen said:

    Not only Israel, but many others will jump in the queue to apologise from us soon.

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