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Week in review: Israel's clash with Turkey

An official apology by Israel to Turkey has calmed the latest upset in relations between the two countries but an insult to Turkey's ambassador to Israel came in the wake of multiple diplomatic clashes following the war on Gaza. With very few allies in the region, Israel can ill afford to make new enemies yet at a recent meeting with 150 of his envoys, Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman shocked his audience by telling them they must stop 'grovelling'.

An official apology by Israel to Turkey has calmed the latest upset in relations between the two countries but an insult to Turkey's ambassador to Israel came in the wake of multiple diplomatic clashes following the war on Gaza. With very few allies in the region, Israel can ill afford to make new enemies yet at a recent meeting with 150 of his envoys, Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman shocked his audience by telling them they must stop "grovelling" and should "stop turning the other cheek" whenever Israel was insulted. On Monday, Lieberman-style diplomacy was put into effect by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon when he called in Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol to express Israel's objections to a popular Turkish television show, The Valley of the Wolves. The Turkish daily, Today's Zaman reported: "Ayalon on Tuesday refused to apologise for his manner toward Celikkol, suggesting that he 'didn't intend to humiliate him, merely to convey a message.' After he summoned Celikkol, in a break from the diplomatic norm, Ayalon invited the press for a photo-op, during which he was seen telling the cameramen to film him and his aide sitting on tall chairs, and the Turkish envoy on a lower chair, with the Israeli flag in the middle, Israeli reports said. The ambassador was also filmed waiting in a corridor for the meeting to begin. When it did, he was offered nothing to drink or eat. "During the photo-op at the start of the meeting, Ayalon reportedly told the photographers in Hebrew: 'Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair and we are in the higher ones, that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling.' Celikkol's associates told Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday that the meeting with Ayalon was the most humiliating event he had experienced in 35 years as a diplomat." Israel's Ynet reported: "The deputy foreign minister addressed the Knesset on Wednesday evening and said that 'Israel will eventually benefit, and I believe that the relations between Israel and Turkey will also benefit' from the diplomatic incident. "The deputy minister was asked by Knesset Member Carmel Shama (Likud), 'Was everything that happened preplanned?' Ayalon responded, 'I think we should leave an element of surprise for our rivals and enemies- Let's leave it, let them decide.' "MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) asked Ayalon whether there would be another Israeli response following the Turks' demand for an apology. He replied, 'We will respond when and where we choose to.' "Meanwhile Wednesday, 17 Knesset members signed a letter sent to the Turkish ambassador, in which they expressed their regret over 'the inappropriate behavior of Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon'." The Jerusalem Post said: "Ayalon faced harsh criticism from inside his Israel Beiteinu party on Tuesday, a day after the evening news broadcasts showed him scolding Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol in a way that Ayalon's critics called humiliating... "Israel Beiteinu officials said the incident would greatly harm Ayalon's chances of succeeding party head Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister if Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decides to indict him on corruption charges before his term as attorney-general ends on January 31. " 'He is finished politically,' an Israel Beiteinu official said. 'This ruins his reputation as a diplomat. It is a stain that cannot be erased. He damaged Lieberman and first and foremost himself. It is too soon to say if it will completely disqualify him, but people in the party will no doubt remember this if a decision would be made on who should be acting foreign minister. This erases the notion that he is the obvious front-runner.'" The Israeli newspaper also reported: "Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Tuesday expressed his outrage over what he considered to be a public humiliation of Turkey's ambassador by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. " 'I don't like this step,' Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio from India, where he is conducting an official visit. 'The respect for Israel is not judged by how you humiliate an ambassador; humiliation doesn't help, it only harms.'" Al Jazeera reported: "A statement from the office of the Israeli prime minister on Wednesday said: 'Prime minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu, together with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman co-ordinated the apology letter sent by deputy foreign minister Ayalon to the Turkish ambassador and hopes this would end the affair.' "Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, said that his country had received the apology it 'wanted and expected' from Israel over the dressing down of its ambassador. " 'I was told that we received the response that we wanted and expected in diplomatic terms,' Erdogan told reporters at the airport after returning from a visit to Russia. " 'The letter includes an expression of apology,' he said. "Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, deemed an earlier Israeli apology on Wednesday as insufficient and threatened to recall his ambassador unless a formal apology was made by the end of the day. " 'Unless they make up for it by this evening, our ambassador will return on the first plane tomorrow to hold consultations,' Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, was quoted as saying by the country's NTV news channel. "After Wednesday's official apology, Netanyahu 'again expressed his concern over the cooling of the ties between Israel and Turkey' and instructed officials 'to find ways to prevent this trend,' the statement from his office said." Noting the wider implications of the latest spat between Israel and Turkey, Yusuf Kanli in a column appearing in Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News said: "Even though some scars will remain, this nasty development will perhaps be forgotten soon, but it appears unavoidable not to live through similar or even worse crises in Turkish-Israeli relations as long as Israel continues its adamancy in dealing with the Palestinians and Turkey continues to improve its relations with Iran, a country that Israel considers as its worst enemy. "The more of a hypocritical manner Israel and the West criticize Iran's nuclear programme and remain silent on the existing nuclear weapons potential of Israel, the more Turkey will stress its support for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, as long as it is peaceful."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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