Israel-Turkey relations continue to plummet

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 |  Israel Today Staff

The severe tension between Israel and its traditional regional ally Turkey escalated significantly this week with high officials exchanging barbs in the media.

Relations between the two countries had begun to fray a year ago when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the lead in harshly criticizing Israel's anti-terror incursion into Gaza, even referring to the military action as a "war crime."

The latest confrontation centered on the weekend airing of a new television series in Turkey that depicted Israeli Mossad agents as baby-snatchers.

Following the provocative broadcast, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Monday summoned the Turkish ambassador to the Knesset in Jerusalem for a reprimand. In a break from protocol, Ayalon invited the press to the meeting, and urged cameramen to film himself and his aide sitting in a higher chairs, while the Turkish envoy was forced to sit in a noticeably lower couch.

Ayalon said the stunt was not meant as an insult, but rather to make a very strong point that Israel is tired of even those neighbors who claim to be its friends inciting hatred for the citizens of the Jewish state.

"I won't apologize," Ayalon told Israel Radio. "It's the Turks who should - for what Erdogan said and for the television series. We are merely setting boundaries."

A day later, Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Gabby Levy was summoned by the Turkish government to be reprimanded for what the Turks saw as a great humiliation of their envoy.

Also at the weekend, Erdogan repeated his criticism of Israel's Gaza incursion in response to Hamas rockets, prompting Israel's Foreign Ministry to release a statement saying that Turkey had "no right to preach morality to Israel."

Turkey responded angrily, pointing out the historical peaceful coexistence between Turks and Jews and insisting that that history did indeed entitle Turkey to preach morality to Israel.

The rising tension is hitting a lot of people in the Turkish holiday industry in the wallet. According to a new survey, Israeli tourism to Turkey in the coming year will drop by seven percent compared to 2009.

Turkey is a traditional holiday hotspot for many Israelis due to the low costs of getting there and finding accommodations, but more and more Israelis feel uncomfortable visiting a country where they are portrayed as bloodthirsty war criminals.

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