In an interview to mark the launch of the Euronews television channel’s new Turkish language service, Erdoğan was asked on Saturday how he regarded the future of Turkish-Israeli relations. “After all that has happened, do you still think Turkey can mediate between Israel and Syria and other Arab states,” Euronews asked, in an apparent reference to the fact that bilateral relations were further strained recently after Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s ill-treatment of Turkish Ambassador in Tel Aviv Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol last month.
“Losing a friend like Turkey in the future should be an issue to which Israel should give some thought as to what it would be like,” Erdoğan responded.
“The behavior towards our ambassador has no place in international diplomacy. We have done our best for Israeli-Syrian relations,” he went on to say.
Israel and Syria held four indirect rounds of peace talks with Turkish mediation in 2008, but they were suspended following the deadly Israeli offensive in Gaza at the end of 2008.
“But now we see Benjamin Netanyahu saying ‘I do not trust Erdoğan, but I trust [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy.’ Do you have to mention names? This is lacking in diplomacy, too. Because when you say this … how can I trust you if you say you don’t trust me? At the moment, we have very significant agreements between us and Israel. How can these agreements be kept going in this climate of mistrust? I think Israel had better take another look at its relations with its neighbors if it believes it is a world power,” Erdoğan said.
In the fall of 2009, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that he objected to Turkey resuming its role as mediator and did not see how the country could become “an honest broker” between the two sides.
Weeks after Israel’s deputy foreign minister enraged Turkey by summoning Ankara’s ambassador for a humiliating public reprimand, a report by the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Center for Political Research last week accused Erdoğan of fueling anti-Semitism with his criticism of Israel.
Recalling the report, Euronews asked Erdoğan whether he felt that he could have handled his criticism against Israel more diplomatically.
“I am telling the truth and I will keep telling the truth,” Erdoğan said. “Turkey is a state which has a centuries-old history. When you talk to such a state you must be careful. When innocent civilians are ruthlessly killed, struck by phosphorus bombs, the infrastructure is destroyed by bombs and people are forced to live in an open-air prison, we cannot see this as compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, simply human rights, and we cannot close our eyes to all this happening.”
Sarkozy also got his share of criticism from Erdoğan over his opposition to Turkey joining the European Union.
EU membership has been “a dream for our country for half a century,” Erdoğan said, voicing determination for pressing on with the project.
“Mr. Sarkozy sometimes says things that reason cannot accept. But no matter what he says, we will continue, unless the EU members all say they do not want Turkey,” Erdoğan said when asked about Sarkozy’s opposition to Turkish membership.