News / Europe

Turkey Expels Israel's Ambassador, Cuts Military Ties Over UN Report

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, September 2, 2011.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, September 2, 2011.
Dorian Jones

Turkey has expelled Israel's ambassador to Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced Ankara's expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, along with a suspension of all military agreements with Israel, in a short statement to the media.

He said Turkey is reducing its relations with Israel to the level of second secretary, and expects the ambassador to leave by Wednesday.

The expulsion comes after details were leaked of a U.N. report into the killing last year by Israeli forces of nine Turks who were taking part in a flotilla of ships seeking to break Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Ankara gave Friday, the day the U.N. report is to be officially released, as the deadline for an apology from Jerusalem and for the payment of compensation to the families of those killed.  Davutoglu blamed divisions in the Israeli government for its failure to meet Turkey's demands.

Turkey met four times with the Israelis, he said, and on two occasions reached an agreement to which the Israeli prime minister agreed, but not the Israeli Cabinet.

The Turkish foreign minister said his government will now provide full support to the families of those killed to pursue prosecution of any Israeli military or government members responsible for the deaths.

The U.N. report said excessive force was used by Israel. It also said some of those killed were shot in the back and at close quarters. But the report also defended Israel's right to enforce its economic embargo on Gaza. That finding is strongly condemned by the Turkish government. President Abdullah Gul strongly condemned the report.

Such a report does not exist for Turkey,he said.  He went on to issue a warning, saying Turkey, as the most powerful country in the region, will not only protect its own rights but also those of all the people in need. He said the international community should be aware of this.

Mr. Gul's warning came after Foreign Minister Davutoglu said Turkey would take measures to ensure free maritime movement in the eastern Mediterranean.  Davutoglu refused to explain how exactly Turkey will do this.

Diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz says such ambiguity will cause concern.

"It does suggest that the Turkish navy will be patrolling the area and obviously against Israeli ships," says Idiz. "Some groups may decide to force the blockade, relying on Turkish intervention."

The Turkish Islamic charity, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, could be key to determining what direction Turkish-Israeli relations take.

Last year's killings took place during the seizure by Israeli forces of the group's ship, the Mavi Marmara.  Huseyin Oruc, deputy head of the foundation, welcomed Ankara's tough stance.  He said the group has no current plans to send ships to Gaza, but did not rule it out in the future.

"What Israel says in [the] eastern Mediterranean, 'I can stop anyone. I can kill whoever out of my beliefs. I can do whatever I like.' But now another country says that is not acceptable. 'If you do something, I will prevent them.' It's very, very important.  If we feel that the Gazan people are in need, we can go of course. Still we have a boat," says Oruc.

The foundation withdrew the Mavi Marmara at the last minute from this year's attempt to break Israel's Gaza blockade.

That withdrawal is widely believed to have come about because of pressure from the Turkish government. There had been hopes and rumors that Jerusalem would meet Turkey's demands, under reported intense pressure from the United States. Now there seems little hope of that, according to diplomatic columnist Idiz.

"Well, the implications are that they are more or less finished.  I mean, the sides have just drawn their red lines and they [are] not prepared to concede in any way. This could have been resolved a long time ago, but clearly there is no will on either [side] to do so."

Observers say with the crisis in Syria continuing to deepen, another crisis could now be looming between two of Syria's neighbors, Israel and Turkey, the region's most powerful countries.

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