Τρίτη, 9 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014

Israel, Turkey exchange diplomatic cold shoulders

Turkey's Erdogan pinpointing the villain
The State of Israel was not among the more than 90 countries that sent a representative to the festive Aug. 27 inauguration ceremony of Turkey’s 12th president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, officially named the most powerful man in the country’s history since the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Nor could a message from Jerusalem be found among the many dozens of congratulatory telegrams that arrived in Ankara to mark the event.
Erdogan’s crude attacks on Israel during his campaign coincided with the fighting against Hamas in Gaza. Israel must also have noticed that Turkey completely ignored its own presidential inauguration one month earlier, when Reuven Rivlin took the oath of office July 24.
I can testify that Rivlin is an enthusiastic supporter of mending the relationship between Israel and Turkey (as was his predecessor, former President Shimon Peres). Even in the midst of his presidential campaign, he had no qualms about stating so publicly. While there was somewhat more optimism then about the possibility of improving ties with Turkey, it was still not considered a very popular move.
It is safe to assume that Rivlin would have happily accepted the invitation sent by the Turkish government to the Israeli Embassy in Ankara to send an official representative to the inauguration if he had thought it would provide the momentum to break away from the crisis.
Two days later, Erdogan hosted all the senior diplomats in Turkey at a traditional reception to mark “Victory Day.” He even shook hands with the official Israeli representative and exchanged a few polite words with him. That representative was the charge d’affaires Yossi Levy-Sfari, the most senior Israeli diplomat in Ankara since Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu (then foreign minister and now prime minister) downgraded diplomatic relations between the two countries, recalled the Turkish ambassador and other senior embassy officials in Tel Aviv and expelled top Israeli representatives from Ankara.
It was the first time that Erdogan shook hands with an official Israeli representative since the Davos incident in 2009, when he lashed out at then-President Shimon Peres over the killing of Palestinians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
In Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry expressed a measured degree of satisfaction that Erdogan did not prevent an invitation to the inauguration from being sent to the Israeli mission in Ankara. At the same time, however, the ministry avoided attributing a hidden or symbolic meaning to this nongesture. After all, relations between the two countries reached an unprecedented low following Erdogan’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany during Operation Protective Edge.
Diplomatic sources in Israel are frustrated by what they call Turkish ingratitude toward Israel after it allowed the country to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza, despite Erdogan's tongue lashing.
The few Israeli diplomats who remained in Turkey were kept very busy during the fighting in Gaza. They were not only tasked with explaining Israel’s positions — an essentially meaningless exercise in Erdogan’s Turkey — but even more importantly, with helping the Turkish government provide aid to the civilian population in Gaza. At the height of the fighting, Davutoglu announced an “airlift” of humanitarian aid from the Turks to Gaza.
An airlift is a beautiful idea, but as everybody knows, there is no airport in Gaza that can accept such a delivery — or a seaport, for that matter. Sending the aid via Egypt wasn’t an option, either, due to tensions between Cairo and Ankara. As such, the only way that Turkey could provide its emergency aid in the face of what it considered “diabolical Israeli violence” was through Israel itself.
And so, even while Erdogan continued to attack Israel in less than diplomatic language, transport planes from the Turkish air force were granted permission to land at Ben Gurion Airport. These planes carried tons of equipment and supplies intended for the people of Gaza.
According to figures provided by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, Turkey provided thousands of meals to families in Gaza during Ramadan. As the fighting continued, that same agency provided 12 truckloads of medical and sanitation supplies to Gaza in the name of the Turkish people. The trucks passed from Israel to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. The coordinator of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) activities in the territories told Al-Monitor that at the request of Turkish representatives in Gaza, these trucks contained “medicine and medical equipment as well as school bags, oil, toothpaste, garbage bags, canned tuna, disposable diapers, women’s sanitary pads, laundry detergent and towelettes.”
The C-130 Hercules transport planes of the Turkish military then flew back from Ben Gurion Airport to Turkey carrying a group of Palestinians from Gaza who had been wounded in the Israeli air raids. Each transportee was carefully selected to receive medical treatment in Turkey. So far, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has been working to approve the departure of dozens of injured Gazans and their escorts to Turkey, based on a detailed list provided by the Turks.
The decision to allow Turkey to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza at the height of the campaign should not be taken lightly. It was made despite opposition from those who believed that Erdogan did not deserve such a gesture from Israel while he attacked Israel and its leaders. In the end, it was decided to allow the aid as a gesture of goodwill, with the intention — or perhaps the hope — of improving relations between the two countries in some small way.
But good intentions were not enough. Jerusalem was surprised to read reports and telegrams arriving from Ankara, indicating that Erdogan was not only continuing with his diatribes against the Israeli government, but that Davutoglu also contributed to the vitriol. In his appearances before various forums, Davutoglu described efforts to provide aid to Israel as a Sisyphean task, working against Israel’s fervent opposition. He went on to say that Israel was doing everything it could to make it difficult for Turkey to provide aid to Gaza.
As part of the changes underway in Turkey, Erdogan chose Davutoglu to be his prime minister. Turkish officials involved in the relationship between the two countries estimate that it will be very difficult if not impossible to get back on the track of normalization between the two countries, mainly because Turkey is facing yet another election in 2015 (this one for parliament). Erdogan and Davutoglu, they say, both believe that their anti-Israel approach will win lots of votes.
One person who maintains a certain degree of optimism about the relationship between the two countries is the head of the Israel-Turkey Business Council, Menashe Carmon. In a conversation with Al-Monitor, he said Turkish businessmen tend to avoid politics. This year, trade between the two countries will amount to $5 billion (in 2011 it was $4 billion, and $1.5 billion in 2005), and the only threat he mentioned was the possibility of an economic crisis in Turkey. Furthermore, he emphasized that Turkey is not like Europe in that there are no calls there for a boycott of Israel. Quite the contrary, he pointed out, it is Israelis who are boycotting Turkish products. As a result of Erdogan’s statements and policies, many Israelis canceled their summer vacation reservations in Turkey and workers committees have announced that they will not be purchasing vacation packages there, at least in the foreseeable future.
Turkey will manage without Israeli tourists, who made up just 2% of visitors to the country in 2010. Israel emphasizes, though, that the real culprit in this ongoing crisis is Erdogan, who insists on foregoing any chance he may have had to have a real impact on the fate of the people he calls “his Palestinian brothers.” Had he conducted his affairs differently, he could have really helped the suffering people of Gaza with more than just garbage bags and canned goods.

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