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Israeli Defense Minister Visits Turkey to Mend Fences

  • Robert Berger

Last week, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister intentionally humiliated Turkey's ambassador over a television program unfavorable to Israel

A senior Israeli official visited Turkey amid strained relations between the two regional allies.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met Turkey's foreign and defense ministers in Ankara to try and mend fences. The two nations have close strategic ties, but relations have plummeted since the Gaza War a year ago, when Turkey accused Israel of using excessive force against the Palestinians.

Turkey has frequently criticized Israel since then, and last week Israel issued a strong protest over a program on Turkish television which showed Israeli agents kidnapping children and shooting old men. A previous program showed Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian woman and children. The programs seem to reflect popular sentiment in predominately Muslim Turkey.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was outraged. "We will not tolerate any anti-Semitic remarks and incitement against the Jews or the State of Israel," he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned the Turkish ambassador, who was publicly humiliated. The ambassador was forced to sit on a low sofa without a handshake, while Ayalon explained before the TV cameras that the humiliation was intentional. Turkey was furious; and fearing that relations could be permanently damaged, Israel apologized.

Lieberman says it is time to move on. "We are not interested in confronting or arguing with Turkey. We have had good relations with Turkey for many years and I hope that we can come back to the normal relations between (the) two countries," he said.

Israel is also concerned that Turkey has been warming up to two of the Jewish state's most bitter enemies: Syria and Iran.

At the same time, Turkey has a strong interest in military ties with Israel. During his visit to Ankara, Defense Minister Barak discussed a $190-million sale of Israeli-made drones to Turkey. The unmanned aircraft will enable the Turkish military to spy on Kurdish guerrilla strongholds in northern Iraq.

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