Israel's Ties With Turkey Fray in Wake of Gaza Conflict

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A masked man shouts slogans as Pro-Palestinian Turks stage a protest rally near the residence of Israeli ambassador in Ankara, on Friday. Credit: AP

The conflict in Gaza has strained already tense relations between Turkey and Israel, prompting a new diplomatic crisis.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has recalled the families of Israeli diplomats in Turkey and issued a travel advisory recommending Israelis refrain from traveling to the country, in the wake of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sharp attacks on Israel, as well as violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy in Ankara and its consulate in Istanbul.

On Thursday night, thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including some from the IHH Relief Foundation which organized the flotilla to Gaza in 2010, gathered around the offices of the two Israeli delegations, in Ankara and Istanbul. In the course of the demonstration in Istanbul, some demonstrators managed to get into the outer courtyard of the consulate, throwing rocks and breaking windows. In Ankara, demonstrators scaled the walls of the ambassador’s house and hoisted the Palestinian flag. The police removed them as they were about to break into the ambassador’s house.

Senior officials at the Foreign Ministry stated that the violent demonstrations occurred after incitement by Turkey’s prime minister, as well as by Ankara’s mayor Melih Gokcek, who claimed that Israel was perpetrating genocide in Gaza, “ten times worse than that conducted by Hitler.” These officials added that Israel requested Turkish defense authorities to augment the protection of Israeli facilities, but that Turkish security forces did not do their job during the demonstrations in order to prevent the outbreak of violence.

Following these incidents, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the evacuation of the families of Israeli diplomats in Turkey and a reduction of diplomatic staff there to the bare minimum. Lieberman also instructed officials to lodge an official protest, claiming a breach of accepted diplomatic norms and of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which obliges countries to protect foreign diplomats on their soil. “We place the responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of our diplomats on the government of Turkey”, said Lieberman.

Even after Israel’s protests and the violent demonstrations, Erdogan continued his verbal assault on Israel, saying at a speech after Friday prayers that “Israel is currently waging terror and genocide.”

The Foreign Ministry subsequently warned Israelis not to travel to Turkey. The advisory is a particularly outspoken one, intended to also convey a diplomatic message. “In view of public sentiment in Turkey during Operation Protective Edge, we emphasize our recommendation not to travel to Turkey for non-essential reasons and, if there, to take precautionary measures,” said the advisory, adding that “we suggest staying away from demonstrations or other anti-Israel activities.” The crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey began during the operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008. They deteriorated sharply after Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turkish activists during a raid on a flotilla of ships trying to breach the blockade on the Gaza Strip in May, 2010. The two countries came close to signing a reconciliation agreement this year, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ultimately refused to endorse the accord.

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