TURKISH-ISRAELI RELATIONS HEAD TO UNCHARTED WATERS

Today's Zaman
Nov 2 2010
Turkey

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, Oguz Celikkol, 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 Erdogan 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 Oguz Celikkol, 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 Celikkol 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.

Ozdem 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.




From: A. Papazian