ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Verbal sparring, canceled meetings and an escalating diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel are recalling sharp memories from last year at Davos when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a discussion panel with Israel’s President Shimon Peres. ‘The word scandal is not enough to describe this move,’ says one Turkish parliamentarian
Nearly a year after the Davos crisis between Turkey and Israel, the former regional allies are engaged in another round of fresh turmoil full of diplomatic protests and criticism-laden statements.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to Ankara on Tuesday, seeking an explanation for the undiplomatic treatment in Tel Aviv of the Turkish ambassador and for the strongly worded statement made by the Israeli foreign ministry.
Israeli Ambassador Gaby Levy coincidentally had a scheduled meeting at the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, diplomatic sources said, but after the escalating tension, he was summoned for another meeting with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu.
Issuing a counter-statement to the Turkish government’s repeated criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said, “Turkey is the last [country] that can preach morality to Israel and the [Israeli Defense Forces.]”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Israeli statement, saying it was made to serve domestic political purposes.
In a written statement, the ministry said Turkey favors dialogue, engagement and peaceful methods in the region rather than the use of disproportionate force and isolation policies. It also defended the Turkish prime minister’s move targeting “Israel’s unacceptable policies in Gaza.”
“Thus, we are rejecting the allegation that Turkey is the last country that can preach morality to Israel, which itself does not comply with the Jewish people’s memory. This expression that distorts the truth is unjust to history,” the ministry said.
Ankara added that the relationship between Turks and Jews dating back before the establishment of the Israeli state, as well as the general texture of Turkish-Israeli relations, has given Turkey the responsibility to give warnings and make criticisms. The ministry rejected the allegations of anti-Semitism, saying that throughout history, whenever Jews faced difficulty, Turks have extended a hand and that the culture of co-existence between Turks and Jews was based on respect and tolerance.
“The claims from the other side of provoking anti-Semitism are baseless,” read the statement.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the presence of a coalition government in Israel was not an excuse for the treatment and harsh statements targeting Turkey.
“A coalition government usually adopts common principles that everyone approaches respectfully. We are not tolerating this approach,” Erdogan said before departing for Russia on Tuesday. “History is the witness that we have demonstrated the necessary tolerance to Jewish people. But any sort of an approach like that will always be retaliated by Turkey.”
In response to a question, Erdogan said he would not meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who will visit Turkey on Sunday.
Late Monday, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, summoned Ambassador Oguz Celikkol to answer criticisms of a Turkish television drama, “Valley of the Wolves,” that depicts Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping children and shooting old men. Even more than the criticism, the photographic and video images from that meeting, first published in the Israeli press and then displayed on almost all Turkish televisions, sparked resentment.
According to the Israeli press, Ayalon told the cameramen in Hebrew that Celikkol had been purposely seated on a sofa lower than his own chair. In the video images, the Turkish ambassador is seen being kept waiting at the door before meeting with Israeli officials; in the room, there is only an Israeli flag on display. No Turkish flag is seen.
Turkey’s protest of this undiplomatic treatment was conveyed to Israel during the meeting between the Israeli envoy and the ministry undersecretary and Ankara is awaiting an explanation and apology, said another written statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
“We are calling on the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which adopted an undiplomatic stance both in rhetoric and treatment during the meeting with our ambassador in Tel Aviv, to abide by the rules of diplomatic courtesy and respect,” warned the ministry.
“We see it useful to stress that nobody has the right to subject Turkey to such a moral listing,” the ministry added, referring to the Israel statement about Turkey preaching morality to Israel.
Relations between Turkey and Israel have been on the decline, especially in the wake of Israel’s Gaza war last year, and were further strained when Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion in Davos after a heated duel with the Israeli president, and when Ankara excluded Tel Aviv from an international military exercise.
The latest skirmish was sparked by Erdogan’s remarks at a joint press conference with the Lebanese prime minister Monday in Ankara, in which he lashed out at Israel and accused it of threatening peace in the region and using disproportionate force.
The Israeli government is divided over its relationship with Turkey. The Labor Party camp led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who will pay a one-day visit to Turkey on Sunday, favors mending ties with Turkey, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman adopts a more hawkish attitude.
According to Israeli media, Lieberman has been trying to stop Barak from visiting Turkey next week to keep tensions high between the two allied countries while preventing Turkey from resuming its role as a mediator in Israel’s peace talks with Syria.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınc blamed “Lieberman and his team” for the recent tension. “This is unpleasant behavior, but it is not unexpected. This, however, does not mean that we are forgiving Israel,” said Arinc, an influential figure in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Israel’s treatment of the Turkish ambassador drew reactions from the country’s opposition parties as well. Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), described it as impudence and called on Israel to apologize. Onur Oymen, a former diplomat and deputy leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said no country had the right to behave in such a way to the representative of the Republic of Turkey.
“The word ‘scandal’ is not enough to describe this move,” Oymen said.