Turkish protesters
Turkish protesters burning American, Israeli and British flags during a rally in Istanbul. Photo by Reuters
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Turkish charter airlines yesterday began to cut back weekly flights on routes to and from Israel against the backdrop of the crisis in relations between the two counties and the rise in canceled reservations for travel to Turkey.

Meanwhile, El Al Israel Airlines has contingency plans that would address the possibility that Turkey would bar the Israeli carrier from overflying Turkish territory, Haaretz has learned.

The contingency plan was developed after relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorated last year in the wake of a confrontation between the Israel Navy and the Gaza flotilla ship Mavi Marmara. Relations deteriorated further this past week with the release of a United Nations commission report on the incident, a clash in which nine Turkish passengers were killed.

On Monday, a group of air travelers who arrived in Istanbul on a flight from Israel complained of humiliating treatment. Turkish passengers claimed similar treatment at Ben-Gurion International Airport the day before.

If Turkish airspace is closed to Israeli airlines, it would require El Al to fly longer routes to several destinations, particularly in the Far East, including flights to China and Thailand, and to former Soviet republics. In addition to the inconvenience it would cause passengers due to longer flights, it would also require El Al aircraft to use more fuel, with the added expense involved.

Foreign Ministry staff expressed the hope that the Turks would not disrupt Israeli air traffic over Turkey, noting that it would engender international condemnation as a violation of agreements. Israeli carriers pay Turkey for the right to overfly the country, payments that collectively can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The latest decline in ties between Turkey and Israel follows a summer travel season in which there was an upturn in travel between the two countries with charter operators increasing service between Israel and Turkish destinations. Tourism operators will not only suffer a loss of flight business if Israelis don't travel to Turkey, but will also lose out on guarantees they made on hotel space in Turkey for future stays. A reduction in air service from Turkey could also affect foreign tourism by travelers who add short stays in Israel to vacations in Turkey.