Turkish-Israeli relations head to uncharted waters

November 02, 2010, Tuesday/ 17:20:00/ AYŞE KARABAT
It is expected that after the retirement of Israeli Ambassador Gaby Levy at the beginning of next year, Ankara and Tel Aviv's already troubled relations will head to uncharted waters. It is not clear yet if Israel will seek an agreement for a new ambassador and, even if it does, it is not clear if Turkey will give a green light to a new ambassador, especially while Turkey is not represented in Israel at the highest level. After the killing of nine Turkish citizens by Israeli soldiers in international waters in a ship carrying humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza, already-deteriorated ties between the two countries worsened further.

Turkey recalled its ambassador, Oğuz Çelikkol, and since then Turkey has not been represented in Israel. Israeli Embassy spokesperson Amit Zarouk confirmed that Ambassador Levy will be retired at the beginning of next year but denied the rumors that he had in actuality already retired but asked to stay in Turkey in order to not to trouble the relations further.

When he was if the Israeli government sought an agreement for a new ambassador he said he is not updated on the issue. Diplomatic circles in Ankara are arguing that Israel might not appoint a new ambassador and,  even if Tel Aviv takes the step, it is not clear if Ankara will agree on a new one, especially if Turkey’s demands for an official apology and compensation regarding the flotilla issue are not meet until that time.

Alon Liel, who served as a diplomat in Turkey and former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told Today’s Zaman that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has already started the process of looking for a new ambassador to Turkey and there are already several candidates for the position:

“But the question is if it will be a wise to thing to do that since Turkey might not agree to the appointment. Israel should examine the situation very carefully, otherwise it will be an embarrassment for Israel. If I were the director-general of the Foreign Ministry I would not take the risk. The way to solve this is to ask to Turkish side and maybe they did,” he said.

Professor Hasan Köni from Culture University said that if the US Republicans lose in the upcoming mid-term elections as is expected and the Jewish lobby-supported Democrats are strengthened, then most probably Israel will not appoint a new ambassador.

“Not to appoint a new ambassador would mean lowering the level of the relations de facto and it would not be a wise thing to do. I think this issue will lead to discussions in the Israeli cabinet. Lieberman will be against the appointment of a new ambassador but Defense Minister Ehud Barak might be in favor of the idea. But if Israel appoints a new ambassador, Turkey might lend its support. Ankara will have the chance of saying, ‘They are not acting wisely, but I am still tolerating them,’” Köni told Today’s Zaman.

Gaby Levy, who was actually born in Bergama, was appointed as an ambassador to Turkey in 2007 but shortly after his appointments, due to a serious of events, relations started to deteriorate.

The National Security Council (MGK) last week, while revising the security document referred to as the “Red Book,” in which the main threats to Turkey’s security are outlined, mentioned Israel’s instability-inducing actions in the Middle East as a threat. After this move Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Mizeshnikov urged the citizens of Israel to boycott Turkey as a matter of honor.

Relations between the two countries started to falter at the end of the 2008 when Turkey was mediating talks between Syria and Israel to secure a peace deal. Ankara was expecting an agreement when Israel launched a large-scale aggression in Gaza, killing about 1,400 people in the coastal strip at the end of a three-week offensive in the winter of 2008-2009. It was the beginning of the decline in relations. At that time, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan harshly criticized Israel and Israeli President Shimon Peres in a meeting in Davos in January 2009.

Later, at the beginning of this year, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Dany Ayalon,  summoned Oğuz Çelikkol, the Turkish ambassador to Israel at that time, to express outrage over an episode of the popular Turkish television series, “Valley of the Wolves: Ambush,” which depicted Israeli intelligence service Mossad agents spying inside Turkey and kidnapping Turkish babies.

At the beginning of the meeting, Ayalon was seen telling the cameramen to film him and his aide sitting on tall chairs, and Çelikkol on a lower chair, with the Israeli flag in the middle. The ambassador was also filmed waiting in a corridor for the meeting to begin, and when it did, he was offered nothing to drink or eat.

But the last straw was the killing of the Turkish citizens on a ship bound to Gaza. As an example of deteriorated relations, Levy was not invited to the traditional ifthar diner of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) this year. Levy has been criticized by his own minister Lieberman for being sided with Turkey.

It is expected that Israel, while giving its decision, will recall another ambassador crisis that occurred during a period of excellent relations. In 1997, Israel requested appoint history professor Ehud Toledano as ambassador to Turkey, but Ankara simply ignored this request due to previous remarks Toledano had made about the killing of Armenians during World War I.

Özdem Sanberk, the director of the International Strategic Research Center (USAK) and the Turkish member of the panel established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the deadly attack of Israeli soldiers on the flotilla, said the precondition for putting relations back on track is to let the flotilla issue go, but this can be ensured only after apology and compensation. “I think under these conditions the governments of both sides should refrain from acts that will complicate the situation further,” he told Today’s Zaman.


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