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It seems that no country is as friendly to Israel as Turkey, and not only in the Middle East. Turkey is also the only Muslim country that maintains full - one could even say ideal - relations with Israel. The relationship involves more than the billions of dollars exchanged between the two countries through private and governmental trade agreements, or the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who view Turkey as almost an Israeli leisure destination. Turkey's relationship to Israel is based on a worldview that sees the Jewish state as an example not only of success, but also of historic loyalties that date back to the relationship between the Jews and the Ottoman Empire.

But Turkey's attitude to Israel must not be taken for granted. It has an interest in firming up its status in the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe.

Israel can consider it an achievement that Turkey's relationship with countries like Iran and Syria has not come at the expense of its relationship with Israel, and that Turkey has continued to disregard the demands of Arab countries that it cool its relationship with Israel. Turkey is also an important ally in the war against terror, and itself takes drastic steps, sometimes in opposition to international treaties, when fighting terrorism by radical Kurdish groups. It is too easy to tell Turkey to look at the mote in its own eye and to present it with pictures of the thousands of razed Kurdish villages whose inhabitants were expelled in the name of what Turkey defines as its war against terror. It is also too easy to seek the reasons for Turkey's censure of Israel in an attempt to toe the line of the European Union, which Turkey wants to join.

Beyond all these considerations, the Turkish government is bound by the opinion of the public that elected it. That same public opposes the war with Iraq and sees Israeli soldiers on television destroying Palestinian homes. Accordingly, when Turkey's leadership criticizes Israeli policies and considers calling its ambassador back for consultations and raising the rank of its diplomatic mission in East Jerusalem, Israel should sit up and take notice.

Turkey is not threatening to cut off relations with Israel. It stresses that a distinction must be made between the state and the people of Israel, on one hand, and the policy of Israel's government, on the other. But Turkey is calling on its old friend to look around and beware of the implications of a policy that has gone awry. This Israeli policy can no longer narrow its vision to the Zeitun neighborhood or Tel Sultan or Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The destruction of a tunnel or a workshop, as important as they are, must be weighed against a vital relationship that is no less important in the war against terror than are the activities of the Israel Defense Forces.