PARIS (AFP)–Persisting in his harsh criticism toward Israel, Turkey’s prime minister said on Wednesday that Israel is the main threat to peace in the Middle East, marking a new low in deteriorating relations between the two allies who once had close military and political.
“If a country uses disproportionate force in Palestine, in Gaza – uses phosphorous shells – we’re not going to say ‘bravo,’” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared at a breakfast meeting in Paris, referring to Israel’s deadly January 2009 attack on the Gaza Strip. Operation Cast Lead left around 1,400 Palestinians dead and destroyed thousands of homes.
Erdogan said Israel’s justification for the offensive was based on “lies” and cited a report by U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who accused both Israel and Palestinians of war crimes.
“Goldstone is a Jew and his report is clear,” the Turkish leader told reporters invited to meet him at the Paris Ritz Hotel. “It’s not because we are Muslims that we take this position. Our position is humanitarian. It’s Israel that is the principal threat to regional peace,” said Erdogan speaking in Turkish, through a French interpreter.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at what he said were Turkey’s repeated attacks. “We are interested in good relations with Turkey and regret that Erdogan chooses time after time to attack Israel,” he said at a Jerusalem news conference held to review his first year in office.
“It is a regrettable occurrence which I don’t think serves the interests of stability and improved relations in our region,” said Netanyahu, adding that he had not discussed the issue with Erdogan.
Erdogan’s remarks came after Israel’s firebrand foreign minister likened him to the leaders of Libya and Venezuela. On Tuesday, Ankara “vehemently condemned” remarks attributed to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that compared Erdogan to Muammar al-Gadhafi of Libya and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Israeli Web site Ynet quoted Lieberman as saying on Monday that Erdogan is “slowly turning into Gaddafi or Hugo Chavez” and added: “It’s his choice. The problem is not Turkey, the problem is Erdogan.”
This spat followed tensions caused when Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon gave Turkey’s ambassador a public dressing down in January to protest a Turkish television series that criticized Israel.
After having kept Oguz Celikkol waiting, the envoy was made to sit on a low couch and the Turkish flag was removed from their table. Ayalon had pictures taken of the humiliating scene, infuriating Ankara.
One year after the Gaza battle, in a memorable outburst, Erdogan stormed out of a debate at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos after telling Israeli President Shimon Peres: “You know well how to kill people.”
Turkey is currently a member of the U.N. Security Council, which will soon have to decide whether to follow French and U.S. pressure to impose tougher penalties on Iran over its nuclear program.
At the Paris meeting, Erdogan pointed the finger at Israel’s undeclared stock of nuclear warheads, arguing that the fact that it had not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, should not exempt it from international safeguards.
“Is this situation logical?” he demanded. “Should not being a member of the NPT mean you can do whatever you like every day?”
He repeated his opposition to sanctions against Iran, which Western capitals accuse of secretly seeking a nuclear bomb, insisting the International Atomic Energy Agency has found no hard proof of Tehran cheating.