Danny Ayalon Turkey
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon heightens already tense ties with Turkey by seating Ankara's ambassador on a 'lower chair' during talks in Tel Aviv. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Nearly two years after Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon publicly humiliated Turkey's ambassador to Israel by seating him in a lower chair than his during a televised meeting, Ayalon on Thursday sat with a group of seven Turkish journalists in an attempt to explain the incident, which marked a climax in the diplomatic tear between the two countries.

The Turkish Journalists told Ayalon that he has come to be known in their country as "the man with the low chair," but Ayalon insisted that the incident was a joke that was blown out of proportion.

Ayalon explained that nothing in the meeting, which provoked harsh criticism from the Turkish government, was planned in advance. He added that he had sent a letter of apology to the ambassador after the incident in which he explained that he had no intention to humiliate him.

A journalist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet was not satisfied with the deputy FM's explanation and asked him to sit in a low chair as he posed for a picture with her.

Ayalon agreed.

Following the meeting, the Turkish reporter wrote in her article which adorned the paper's front page on Friday, "I pulled the Turkish ambassador trick on Ayalon."

Ayalon also stressed during the press conference that this was an instrumental time to restore Israel's relations with Turkey, praising the humanitarian aid group IHH's announcement that they will not be sending a ship to join the aid flotilla planned to set sail for Gaza later this month.

“The fact that the Mavi Marmara will not be coming [to Gaza for a second time] is also a good opportunity for us to renew our ties. We should get together and speak about everything we need to speak about,” Ayalon said.

He also urged the Turks to condemn Hamas' terror attacks on Israel and recognize Israel.

“Turkey has the right to form its own foreign policy. We respect that. We have no right to tell them not to make contact with different factions. But this must not be a game where everyone loses. Israel must not be sacrificed to develop their relations. If an announcement declaring unity was made today regarding the meeting over Hamas with Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], then we would be happy. Palestinian unity is in our interests; that way we will know who to engage with [in talks.] We would kiss the hands of each and every Turk if Hamas said they accept the Oslo [Treaty], condemn terror and recognize Israel,” Turkish daily Hurriyet quoted Ayalon.

“I believe what we have lost over the past few years is trust. Now we need to let go of this mutual blame game as to why this trust was lost. Political tensions in Turkey have been left behind following the [general] elections,” Ayalon said.

He added that Israel would welcome a Turkish role in the region as a mediator under the right circumstances.

“If Turkey wants to bring together Palestinian groups, this presents no problem for us. We respect that. Turkey is a regional power and has a historical role, and it might be able to influence the process,” he said.

Earlier this week Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon to serve as an envoy to work for Israel's reconciliation with Turkey.

This revelation came days after another report that Israeli and Turkish officials have been holding secret direct talks to try to solve the diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

A source in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and a U.S. official confirmed that talks are being held, though in Israel the prime minister and foreign minister's aides declined to comment.

The Israeli official said that Israel is maintaining its position of refusing to apologize to Turkey over the deadly raid, but is ready to express regret over the incident.