As relations between the two long-standing allies continue to sour, Turkey has cancelled Israel's participation in the annual Anatolian Eagle air exercises because Turkish authorities did not want to see the planes that bombed Gaza flying in Turkish skies. 'We are forced to heed the sounds of persecution,' said the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Following Turkey's cancellation of the joint military exercise on Sunday, Israel's defence minister Ehud Barak said that "despite the ups and downs, Turkey continues to be a major player in our region." Speaking on Monday, Mr Barak stressed that Turkey's relations with Israel had "existed for decades" and were "strategic," adding that there was "no need for harsh words" to be directed against Ankara, The Jerusalem Post reported. Mustafa Akyol from Turkish Daily News said in an interview on Al Jazeera English: "Israel's presence in the joint operations was cancelled because Turkish authorities did not, quote: 'want to see the planes that bombed Gaza in Turkish skies'." "Turkey was more Arab than the Arabs and more Palestinian than the Palestinians when it cancelled Israel's participation in the annual Anatolian Eagle air exercises," opined Mazen Hammad in his column for the Qatari daily Al Watan. Agence France-Presse reported: "Israel's vice premier on Tuesday urged Turkey 'to come to its senses' following a recent spike in tensions between the two allies after Turkey's decision to scrap a joint military drill. "'The deterioration of ties with Turkey in recent days is regrettable,' Silvan Shalom was quoted by his office as saying. "'Turkey is an important Muslim state sharing strategic ties with Israel. I hope the Turks come to their senses and realise that the relationship between the two states is in their interest no less than our,' Shalom said." Providing some political context for the Turkish decision, Zvi Bar'el in Haaretz noted: "Turkey did not hide its deep opposition to Israel's policies in the territories in general and to Operation Lead Cast in particular. Erdogan's outburst against President Shimon Peres last January at the Davos gathering did not stem from Islamist or pro-Iranian objectives. "Erdogan's support for a UN deliberation of the Goldstone Report and his declaration that 'those responsible for war crimes must be identified and held accountable,' is not based on any wish to please Iran or Syria. Turkey has a steady and clear policy on this issue and it is not a proxy for any country. "Public opinion exists in Turkey too and it is influential, and when the prime minister sees thousands of Turks protesting against Israel's policy in Jerusalem, he cannot remain indifferent. At the same time, Turkey continues and will continue to have normal ties with Israel because such a relationship is part of Turkey's strategy, but today it finds itself in a different international status, of the sort that allows it to also take swipes at Israel." According to the Sabah newspaper, Mr Erdogan told religious leaders at the Fourth Religious Council in Ankara on Monday, "While in some countries children are provided with comfort, peace, the most advanced education and health opportunities while other children are faced with poverty, destitution, helplessness, war, conflict, weapons of mass destruction and phosphorus bombs. We are forced to heed the sounds of persecution." "Iraq was occupied. Baghdad and Basra were bombed while all of humanity watched as it was broadcast live on their television," Erdogan went on to say. "It was the same when phosphorus bombs were rained on innocent children in Gaza, the whole world, all of humanity, watched from their comfortable chairs and their safe havens. However, as all this was happening, unfortunately from time to time in international discussion platforms, the term 'Islamic terror' began to be used, and efforts were made to place blame on the Muslims and Islam." In Ynet, Aryeh Egozi wrote: "Israel did not need to wait until its joint military exercise with Nato and Turkey was cancelled in order to understand that the honeymoon between Turkey's and Israel's defence establishment is over ? particularly when it comes to military procurement in Israel. "Israel's Military Industries said Sunday that they are concerned about the future of arms deals and joint efforts slated to develop specialised weapons systems. "In unofficial talks, the military industries have said that the military export potential to Turkey is getting smaller and smaller every month. 'The Americans and the Europeans have identified the change and are currently investing massive marketing efforts in Turkey,' said an IMI source on Sunday. "Surprisingly, Italy has become the largest military supplier to Turkey. After the Turks failed large-scale procurement of American helicopters, the Italians launched a marketing campaign and won last year a massive deal supplying military choppers that could rake in billions of dollars." Meanwhile, as Turkish-Israeli relations become increasingly cool, relations with Syria are rapidly improving. Today's Zaman reported: "The Öncüpınar border gate on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday served as the venue for a symbolic gesture reflecting remarkable progress in bilateral relations between the two countries with the signing of a historic deal by the foreign ministers of the two countries, which came to the brink of war more than a decade ago. "Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, officially signed an agreement on Tuesday in Gaziantep to end visa requirements between the two countries, a goal announced in mid-September by the two ministers during a visit to İstanbul by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While announcing the end to visa requirements, Davutoğlu and al-Moallem made an accord last month to end visa requirements and signed a bilateral co-operation agreement under which top ministers from the two countries will meet each year. "The accord, titled the 'High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council Agreement,' is similar to a strategic mechanism recently established between Turkey and Iraq... "The lifting of visa requirements is only one aspect of a planned multidimensional bilateral relationship between Syria and Turkey, the final goal of which was dubbed at the time by Davutoğlu as 'maximum integration'. " 'Our slogan is a joint destiny, a joint history and a joint future,' Davutoğ lu said, speaking both in Arabic and in Turkish at a joint press conference with al-Moallem following the first part of the meeting. "Both Davutoğlu and al-Moallem called yesterday 'a historic day,' while the former also said the day was like a 'third holiday for the peoples of Syria and Turkey,' referring to the two Muslim religious holidays in a year."
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