'Turkey No Longer Needs a Close Relationship With Israel'

Military intelligence chief: Ankara turning away from secularism and toward more radical Islam.

The rift in Israeli-Turkish relations is the result of Ankara turning away from secularism and toward more radical Islam, Israel's military intelligence chief said on Tuesday.

The comments to a parliamentary committee by Maj. General Amos Yadlin reflected wider concern in Israel and followed a high profile visit to Turkey on Sunday by Defense Minister Ehud Barak that was meant to help mend the relationship after a sharp diplomatic row.

"Turkey no longer needs a close relationship with Israel," a parliamentary official quoted Yadlin as telling the foreign affairs committee of the Knesset.

"They are currently in the midst of a fundamental process of moving further away from the secular Ataturk approach, closer to a radical approach," Yadlin said, adding that key factors had been an easing of Turkish concerns about Syria and Ankara's failure to clinch membership of the European Union.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern secular state on the ruins of Ottoman muslim theocratic rule in the 1920s. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan insists he remains loyal to Ataturk's legacy but secularist conservatives suspect him of ambitions to found a religious state, an allegation he denies.

Turkey, a member of the NATO defense pact, has a history of military cooperation with Israel and of mediating for Israel with the Arab world.

But ties have been shaken by a series of harsh and public criticism from both sides, culminating last week in a televised reprimand in Jerusalem of Turkey's ambassador.

Last year, Erdogan, whose party has its roots in political Islam but also embraces center-right and nationalist elements, offended many Israelis with strong public condemnation of the war in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

"There are still joint interests, but not the kind of close relationship today as there was in the past," Yadlin said.

Erdogan has denied reports of rising tensions with the Turkish military, seen as guarantor of the secular constitution.

On Sunday, after meeting Turkey's foreign and defense ministers, Barak said: "A big part of the disagreement between the two countries was resolved."

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said the near neighbors would remain allies as long as they had common interests.