Syrian Crisis Warms Turkey-Israel Ties

Unrest in Syria is triggering early signs of a thaw in relations between Israel and Turkey, as Ankara adapts its assertive foreign policy to meet fallout from the Arab Spring, diplomats and analysts said.

In the latest sign Friday, Turkish newspapers published an interview with Israel’s hard-line Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in which he called for reconciliation with Ankara and praised Turkey’s Syria policy, appealing to a common interest in the stability of a country both Israel and Turkey border.

“The leadership demonstrated by Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan over the issue of Syria was very, very encouraging. This should be noticed and appreciated in the region,” said Mr. Ayalon, who became infamous in Turkey after he humiliated Ankara’s ambassador on camera last year.

Mr. Ayalon’s comments followed surprisingly warm letters of congratulation to Mr. Erdogan for his June 12 re-election, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Knesset.

Turkey, for its part, pressed a Turkish charity not to send the Mavi Marmara, the Gaza-bound aid ship on which Israeli commandos last year killed nine passengers, for a repeat voyage later this month.

That is a significant change from a year ago, when Turkey’s relations with Israel and then the U.S. chilled in the wake of the Mavi Marmara clash and Ankara’s decision to vote against a U.S.-backed resolution to impose new United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran.

It also appears Syria’s crackdown has pushed Ankara and Washington into closer cooperation. U.S. officials said Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan and President Barack Obama have discussed Syria twice by phone during the recent crisis and have developed a similar view on how to handle President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. officials said Washington in many ways is now following Ankara’s lead on Syria, as Turkey tries to persuade the regime to change, but not necessarily to leave power.

The State Department doesn’t believe it can pass any significant sanctions on Damascus through the United Nations Security Council, due to opposition from China and Russia.

“We have been cautious and, of course, we have interests—economic in Libya and very direct interests in Syria. We have to continue relations with the various regimes,” said a senior Turkish diplomat.

Turkey and Israel remain at odds, however, over the Palestinian issue. And Ankara still maintains its goal of extending its influence in the region, diplomats and analysts said.

On Friday, Mr. Erdogan called Israel’s treatment of Gaza “inhumane” at a news conference in Ankara with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He also pledged to support Mr. Abbas’s bid to secure UN recognition in September—a move Israel and the U.S. oppose.

An Israeli diplomat acknowledged that relations with Ankara remain difficult.

“There are things going on behind the scenes, but when it comes to heads- of-state meetings, we are not there. It is more quiet diplomacy,” he said.

(online.wsj.com / 24.06.2011)

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