TURKEY: Public censure for Israel amid reports of private overtures

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If you are confused about Turkey’s current policy towards Israel, you are not alone.

The former Israeli strategic partner continues to demand that Israel be held accountable for last month’s deadly raid on a Gaza flotilla, even as reports emerge that the Turkish foreign minister held a secret meeting Wednesday with an Israeli lawmaker in Europe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reportedly met with Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel’s industry, trade and labor minister in an unnamed European capital in an effort to defuse the diplomatic crisis between the two nations, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

In the wake of the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara aid ship, which left eight Turks and one Turkish-American activist dead, Turkey has taken a tough stance on Israel while trying not to jeopardize its good relations with the United States and Europe, or even Israel itself for that matter.


This week, it banned Israeli military planes from flying over Turkish airspace after reportedly canceling all defense contracts and joint military maneuvers. Despite all this, Ankara insists that it has no intention of severing ties with Israel, and even admitted to using Israeli drones to monitor Kurdish rebel movements in Northern Iraq.

‘In the Middle East, we are friends with Israel as well,’ Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Charlie Rose this week from Toronto, Canada, where he was attending the G-20 summit.

‘But more recently, because of the position that Israel has taken and also because they attacked in international waters three ships where there were Turkish citizens . . . this has made it difficult because there is no explanation,’ he said. ‘This is state terror; it would be impossible to define it in any international legal terms.’

Erdogan also called on the U.S. administration to ‘take ownership of the situation’ following the death of Furkan Dogan, the American citizen. ‘The families have a right to ask their governments what happened,’ Erdogan said.

Turkey has said that relations with Israel will remain strained until Israel meets all four of Turkey’s conditions: offer a formal apology, pay compensation to the families of the victims, allow an international investigation and lift its embargo on the Gaza Strip. Israel has announced that it will ease restrictions of goods flowing into the Gaza Strip, but has so far refused to allow an independent, international inquiry into the flotilla disaster.

Turkish officials deny that Turkey’s foreign policy has shifted eastward, but some observers wonder if Turkey has overplayed its hand.

‘Did the AKP [ruling party] sincerely believe that it could push Washington to take a position against Israel, dump it if necessary and support the Turkish position all the way?,’ read one editorial in the Hurriyet Daily News.

‘Turkey now seems to be put in a doghouse in Washington for a while,’ it continued. ‘This stonewalling attitude of the U.S. administration does not mean necessarily it wishes to alienate the Turkish administration. However, it does signal that it will not tolerate some of the harsher rhetoric that repeatedly comes from there.’

Meris Lutz in Beirut

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to Charlie Rose. Credit: Meris Lutz via YouTube video