Turkey swiftly dismisses Israeli call for talks on Syria

Pinhas Avivi (Photo: Today's Zaman)

October 22, 2012, Monday/ 14:17:00

Israel, whose relations with Turkey have been strained over disputes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has offered to hold talks with Ankara to discuss the 19-month-long Syrian crisis, but Ankara has promptly dismissed the possibility, saying Israeli officials should fulfill the Turkish criteria for normalization of ties instead of using the media to send messages to Turkey.

The call for dialogue came from Pinhas Avivi, former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, who currently serves as the political director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Speaking to a group of Turkish journalists on Monday, Avivi said Israel seeks to hold talks with Turkey regarding the Syrian crisis, noting that the situation in Syria will have an impact on the future of Turkey as well as Israel. “We should leave aside the problems between Israel and Turkey and look to the future,” he was quoted as saying by NTV television.

In Ankara, however, Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal said Israel should speak through deeds rather than messages conveyed through the media. "Everybody knows how Turkish-Israeli relations ended up in their current state," he told the Anatolia news agency, apparently referring to a May 31, 2010 raid by Israeli commandos of an aid ship that was trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza in breach of an Israeli embargo. Nine people -- eight Turks and one Turkish-American -- were killed during the raid, infuriating Turkey.

Ankara demands an official apology and compensation for the families of the victims, as well as the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, for relations to normalize. Israel has rejected these demands, claiming its soldiers acted in self-defense. In protest of the Israeli refusal to meet Turkish demands, Ankara expelled Israel's ambassador and cut military ties with the country.

Ünal said Turkey's conditions for the normalization of ties remain in place. "There is no change in Turkey's position. Israeli officials should take the steps expected [of them], instead of sending messages through statements to the media," he said.

Avivi, however, described the crisis between Israel and Turkey as “artificial," and said the two countries should try to resolve their problems through dialogue. “Both countries made mistakes. But thereafter the two countries should sit at the table and strive to find solutions without preconditions and with good faith,” said Avivi.

Avivi also signaled that an apology could be made, but only if Turkey considers the situation in Gaza as separate from Turkish-Israeli relations, adding that only then would it be easy to resolve the crisis between the two countries. The former ambassador also emphasized that relations with Turkey were of great importance to Israel.

Israel, which has followed developments in Syria closely since the beginning of the uprising in the war-torn country, is concerned by the escalating tensions in Syria and the spillover effect onto its territory.

Avivi also called on the officials of the two countries to create a mechanism for cooperation on the Syrian crisis instead of delivering harsh messages to each other through the media.

Israeli officials have complained that the bombs of Syrian forces are also landing in their territory, criticizing the international media for neglecting the threat posed by Syria to Israel. Mortar rounds fired from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in September in a spillover from the conflict in the Arab country, according to Reuters.

“We support Turkey's stance following the Akçakale incident. We support Turkey due to the humanitarian issue, even though we have tense relations currently,” an Israeli official has recently told Today's Zaman.

In the latest blow to the already strained ties between Turkey and Syria, mortar shells fired from Syria landed in a residential district of the southeastern Turkish town of Akçakale in early October, killing two women and three children from the same family and wounding at least eight people. In response, Turkey attacked targets inside Syria. The incident represents the most serious cross-border escalation of the 18-month uprising in Syria.

The same official stated that the Syrian crisis also poses a threat to Israel.

According to Israeli reports, in recent weeks senior Israeli officials have said in meetings with foreign guests that Israel is particularly concerned about one of three dangers regarding the Syrian crisis, which include the transfer of Syria's chemical weapons to a third party like Hezbollah and the fragmentation of the country.

Meanwhile, according to Turkish reports, officials at the Israeli Foreign Ministry have been instructed to avoid making statements which would escalate tensions between Turkey and Israel.

Prior to the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan walked out of a World Economic Forum (WEF) panel discussion in Davos in 2009 following a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres -- a move that is considered the starting point of tense relations between the two former allies.

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