Turkish and Israeli relations worsened in May 2010 and have remained strained since then after Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a ship carrying humanitarian aid to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade, killing nine Turkish civilians.
Turkey said it will not allow Israel, a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program with seven non-NATO nations, to take part in the alliance’s new “Partnership Cooperation Menu (PCM),” during a NATO meeting in Brussels last week attended by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Because of Ankara’s veto, Israel will not attend the NATO summit due to take place from May 20 to 21 in Chicago, an important diplomatic summit to be hosted by US President Barack Obama.
According to information obtained from Turkish diplomatic sources, Davutoğlu reacted to the criticism raised by some NATO members in the Brussels meeting who claimed bilateral problems should not be brought to the alliance by underlining that Turkey cannot consider a country which killed Turkish citizens in international waters as a partner.
Davutoğlu reminded the members that Turkey was a country that rescued citizens of other NATO member countries who were detained by Israel during the Mavi Marmara raid. “Go and tell Israel to apologize for the incident and to pay compensation for the Turkish citizens whom it massacred,” Davutoğlu said.
Turkey demands an official apology, compensation for the families of victims and an end to the Gaza blockade. Israel claims its soldiers acted in self-defense.
As Turkey vetoed Israel’s participation in the Chicago summit, other NATO members vetoed participation by other members of the Mediterranean Dialogue in protest.
In reference to the vetoes, Davutoğlu asked rhetorically, “How did these countries hurt your country and your citizens? Why do you veto these countries?”
A senior diplomatic source said Turkey’s bargaining power is too strong. “We [Turkey] are blocking Israel in many areas. We avoid contact with Israel in any international meeting,” the same source said.
Another diplomatic source emphasized that NATO-Israel relations could not be restored until Turkey-Israel relations are normalized.
When asked whether Turkey would allow Israel to participate in the NATO process if Israel offers an apology and pays compensation for the lethal Mavi Marmara raid, diplomatic sources replied that a new assessment of the situation would be done in that case. “For Israel the biggest prize will be the normalization of relations with Turkey,” said the same diplomatic source. In addition, Turkey prevented Israel from taking part in NATO’s long-term operation “Active Endeavor” in the Mediterranean Sea.
The naval patrols -- known as Operation Active Endeavor and usually including four warships -- were launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The operation was initially restricted to member nations but since 2004 has included vessels from partner nations. Turkey is also blocking Israel’s attempt to appoint a representative to NATO headquarters due to Israel’s non-membership in NATO.
In 2010 Turkey also repeatedly asked NATO during the alliance summit in Lisbon not to share intelligence from radar systems with Israel. Turkey agreed to host the radar last September as part of NATO’s missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats from neighboring Iran. Ankara claims the shield does not target a specific country and had threatened to block the deal if Iran was explicitly named as a threat.
“Data collected within the missile defense system will not be shared with third countries. It will be shared with the allies within our alliance,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in Ankara to mark the 60th anniversary of Turkey’s membership in NATO, said at a joint news conference with Davutoğlu last February. The top NATO official emphasized once again that the system is a defensive project aimed at protecting NATO members from missile threats. Turkey agreed last fall to deploy US radar as part of the missile defense system after seeking guarantees that Israel would not have access to data to be collected by the radar.
“We will never allow a NATO facility to be used by a third party. I want to make this very clear. And, if this party were Israel, our attitude would be more clear and visible,” Davutoğlu said in the press conference.
Some NATO member states have opposed past attempts to forge closer cooperation with Israel, saying that could hurt the alliance’s relations with other Muslim states, including Afghanistan, which remains NATO’s top operational priority.
Davutoğlu confirmed on Monday that Turkey vetoed Israel’s participation in Chicago and vowed that Turkey won’t cooperate with Israel unless it realizes Turkey’s demands.
He said Turkey doesn’t consider Israel as a partner in any international platform, including NATO.