News / Middle East

Hit TV Series Behind Latest Israel-Turkey Spat

A scene from the popular Turkish fictional television series Valley of the Wolves shows Turkish agents rescuing a baby kidnapped by the Israeli secret service as they storm an Israeli diplomatic mission.

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A Turkish soap opera that depicted the Israeli intelligence service Mossad spying inside Turkey and kidnapping Turkish babies has become the center of an increasingly bitter diplomatic dispute between Israel and Turkey. Once, close allies, relations between the two countries started deteriorating following Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip in 2008.

A scene from the popular Turkish fictional television series Valley of the Wolves shows Turkish agents rescuing a baby kidnapped by the Israeli secret service as they storm an Israeli diplomatic mission.

In this episode, the show's star, secret agent Polat Alemdar, storms an Israeli diplomatic mission to rescue a Turkish boy.

One scene shows blood splaying over the Star of David as Polat Alemdar shoots and kills an Israeli agent. When a second Israeli agent warns him that he is on foreign soil and is committing a war crime, the agent responds: "Is it only you who is allowed to carry out war crimes?"

On Monday after it aired, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon  summoned the Turkish ambassador to complain about the television show.

Ayalon's treatment of Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol at the start of the meeting Monday drew immediate criticism when Ayalon refused to shake his hand.

The Turkish ambassador was also forced to sit on a low sofa, while Ayalon, sitting on a much higher seat, explained to local TV stations in Hebrew that the humiliation was intentional.

Outraged, Turkey threatened to recall the ambassador.

Late Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office sent a letter of apology.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted the apology.

Over the past decade, the two countries had built up a strong relationship, including military cooperation and tourism, making Turkey Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world. But lately, Israel has been troubled by harsh statements from Mr. Erdogan, who was outraged by the high Palestinian civilian death toll during Israel's Gaza offensive a year ago.
 
Israel is also concerned with a perception that Turkey is moving closer to Iran, considered by Israel as a strategic threat.

Days after the Gaza offensive began, Mr. Erdogan stalked off a stage he was sharing with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with the parting shot: "You kill people."

On the streets of Istanbul,  there is also growing support for the government's tough stance towards Israel. This man's view is not uncommon.

I support the prime minister, this man says. It is important to speak out about what is happening in the Gaza, as the world has remained silent. He is right in what he did.

With the support of both the European Union and the United States,  Turkey developed a strategic relationship with Israel. In 1995, Israel and Turkey signed a military cooperation agreement, which allowed Israeli jets to use Turkish airspace to train while Turkish forces were allowed use of Israel's training facilities.

The agreement was the start of a deepening relationship both militarily and politically.

Analysts say the basis for that strategic alliance was protection from their common enemy, Syria. At the time, Damascus was providing protection for Abdullah Ocalan whose Kurdistan workers party or PKK was fighting the Turkish state.

 "Turkey was fighting a war against an insurrectionary movement whose leader was sitting in Syria. And the relation with Israel within two years allowed Turkey to tell the Syrians you either kick him out or we will come in there to pick him up. And, it worked," explains analyst Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Bilgi University.

But, since then, Turkish-Syrian relations have dramatically improved. In late December,  Syria and Turkey announced they have decided to cancel entry visa requirements of each other for their passport-holding citizens. At the end of a high-level meeting in Damascus, Mr. Erdogan hailed the the "brotherly ties" between the two countries and said it was an example to be followed.

The Turkish-Syrian relationship could spell trouble for relations with Israel.    Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is due to travel to Turkey on Sunday on a visit planned before the two nations' diplomatic quarrel erupted.

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