Turkey Expels Israeli Ambassador

Turkey, (Pal Telegraph) – Turkey said Friday that it was suspending all military agreements with Israel and would expel its ambassador from Ankara, blaming the Israeli government for the collapse of a once-strategic alliance.

The comments from Foreign Minister Ahment Davutoglu came as a United Nations panel was due to release its report on last year’s clash off the coast of Gaza, in which Israeli commandoes killed eight Turkish citizens and one American of Turkish descent while blocking an aid flotilla.

Mr. Davutoglu said Turkey was taking action due to Israel’s failure to apologize for the deaths. “Israel’s government is responsible for the point that we have reached today. Unless necessary steps are taken, it won’t be possible to return from this point,” Mr. Davutoglu said in a televised statement.

“Relations between Turkey and Israel will be downgraded to second-secretary level. All officials over the level of second secretary, primarily the ambassador, will turn back to their country at the latest on Wednesday.”

Turkey and Israel signed a number of military agreements in the 1990s that led to a close, military-led alliance. At its peak, the relationship had Israeli pilots training over Turkish airspace and Israel supplying Turkey with high-end technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. A foreign-ministry official said “all” agreements would be suspended, but didn’t elaborate.

The rapprochement between two countries that hadn’t always been close came at a time when Turkey was isolated from many of its neighbors. In the 1990s, Turkey came close to war with both Greece and Syria, while its relations with Iraq and Iran were strained. Turkey’s military at the same time was engaged in a vicious conflict with ethnic Kurdish militants and needed Israeli expertise.

Since then, however, Turkey’s situation has changed dramatically, in part due to Mr. Davutoglu’s foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors.” Its defense industry has also become significantly more sophisticated. As Turkey has opened up to the Muslim Middle East, its need for alliance with Israel has declined, analysts say.

Indeed, it wasn’t immediately clear Friday what impact the downgrading of relations Mr. Davutoglu announced would have. Turkey has been freezing joint military exercises since 2009, while there have been few high-level political contacts. Turkey withdrew its own ambassador from Israel more than a year ago.

The conclusions of the U.N. panel, headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s former president, have come as a disappointment to Turkish officials. An earlier report from the U.N.’s human-rights commission was considerably more supportive of the Turkish account of events.

The Palmer report supports Israel’s right to enforce a naval blockade of Gaza, even in international waters, a right that Ankara has strongly contested. The report, a copy of which was posted on the website of The New York Times, also described the Mavi Marmara’s attempt to breach the blockade as “reckless.”

The report found that at least some of the Turkish activists on board had prepared for a fight and didn’t confirm the Turkish claim that Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition against the Mavi Marmara’s passengers even before boarding the ship.

At the same time, the report found the force that Israel used in stopping the flotilla to be “excessive and unreasonable.” It also cast doubt over Israel’s exoneration of its soldiers’ conduct, saying that Israel had failed to explain the fact that several of the dead had been shot in the head from behind, while lying down wounded, or in one case with a single shot to the head while armed
only with a hose pipe.

(networkedblogs.com / 02.09.2011)

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