Israel-Turkey relations deteriorate as FM seeks to recall envoy in Ankara
Senior officials in his own ministry say Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is trying to foil the scheduled visit of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Ankara following renewed tensions in relations between the two countries. Barak is scheduled to travel to Turkey on Sunday for an official visit in which he will meet with Turkey's defense and foreign ministers.
The Foreign Ministry officials made the comments over Lieberman's instructions yesterday to respond harshly to the broadcast of an episode of a Turkish television series that was full of anti-Israeli messages and to vitriol from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"There's a feeling Lieberman wants to heat things up before Barak's visit to Turkey," a senior Foreign Ministry official said. "Everything that took place yesterday was part of Lieberman's political agenda."
Barak and his labor colleague, Minister of Industry and Trade Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, have been trying to mend relations with Turkey, and the Turks are expected to greet them with an exceptionally warm welcome for Barak as a message to Lieberman, said ministry sources.
Lieberman has declared he will never accept Turkey as a mediator in talks with Syria. According to Channel 1 news, Lieberman suggested to Netanyahu that Israel should recall its envoy in Ankara, but the prime minister vetoed the idea.
Meanwhile, Haaretz has learned that Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguc Celikkol, met yesterday at short notice, which was seen as a Lieberman attempt to embarrass the Turkish diplomat. A photo-op was held at the start of the meeting, during which Ayalon 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."
During the meeting itself, Ayalon protested to the Turkish ambassador and told him the substance of the offensive television program in question was unacceptable.
"These things endanger the lives of Jews in Turkey and may harm relations between our countries," Ayalon said. "Israel expects that the government of Turkey will find a way to prevent the repetition of such phenomena and state that such views are not acceptable."
The series, "Valley of Wolves," is something like the American series "24" and is very popular. It does not usually deal with Israel but the last episode showed Mossad agents kidnapping Turkish babies and hiding them in the Israeli embassy. One scene depicts the assassination of Israel's ambassador. This is not the first time the series has stirred controversy in Turkey. In previous episodes on Kurdish terrorism, public criticism was intense.
A short while after the meeting between Ayalon and Tan, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan once more attacked Israel during a joint press conference with his visiting Lebanese counterpart, Saad Hariri.
Erdogan insisted Israel must cease violating the airspace of Lebanon and its territorial waters and accused Israel of threatening world peace. He also called on the United Nations Security Council to pressure Israel in the same way it is pressuring Iran with regard to each country's nuclear program.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "Israel is careful to respect Turkey and seeks continued proper ties between the countries, but we expect reciprocity." The statement called Erdogan's remarks an "unbridled tongue-lashing."
The statement added: "The State of Israel has every right to protect its citizens from the missiles and terror of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the Turks are the last [people] who can preach morality to the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces."