Israel-Turkey Ties Worsened Due to Leak of Gaza Flotilla Report, Diplomats Say

Turkey announces measures against Israel, including downgrading bilateral relations; Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says 'the time has come for Israel to pay a price for its actions.'

Turkey has followed through on a series of measures against Israel, after a UN review on the 2010 Israeli raid on the Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza was leaked to The New York Times - foiling a last-ditch attempt to patch up relations between the two countries.

On Friday morning Turkey announced a series of measures against Israel, beginning with the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the downgrading of bilateral relations to the level of second secretary.

Reuters

All military agreements between the two countries have been suspended. In practice, military cooperation between Ankara and Jerusalem has been reduced drastically in the past two years.

The third step announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu could lead to a military confrontation with Israel. "Turkey would take every precaution it deems necessary for the safety of maritime navigation in the eastern Mediterranean," Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News quoted him as saying Friday. The paper reported that Turkey's navy would escort civilian vessels carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and would guarantee free navigation in the zone between Israel and Cyprus.

Davutoglu announced his country's intention to appeal this week to the International Court of Justice against Israel's blockade on Gaza. Turkey will request a discussion of the blockade by the UN General Assembly, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has instructed his Foreign Ministry to begin arranging for him to visit the Gaza Strip in the near future.

As another step, Turkey promised to back legal actions against Israeli officers and soldiers by families of the nine pro-Palestinian activists killed during the naval commando raid on the Mavi Marmara last year.

Western diplomats have said that on Thursday afternoon Turkey accepted a U.S. request to delay until the end of September the publication of the UN's Palmer Report on last year's flotilla raid, only to reverse the decision within hours, after quotes from the report appeared on the Internet. The publication of the leaked document led to the worst crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey in 30 years.

When The New York Times on Thursday posted the UN review after it was leaked to the newspaper, it foiled a last-ditch attempt to save Israeli-Turkish relations.

A personal favor

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Davutoglu met on Thursday afternoon in Paris, where international leaders convened to discuss Libya. Clinton told her Turkish counterpart she was aware that Ankara had refused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request last week to postpone the report's publication by six months, but asked Davutoglu to agree to a one-month delay as a personal favor to her.

Davutoglu agreed, on condition that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon approved the move. He and Clinton proceeded to the Libya summit, where Davutoglu's aides passed him notes about the publication of the leaked report on The New York Times' website.

An angry Davutoglu and a frustrated Clinton recognized that the U.S. attempt had failed. The Turkish foreign minister informed his aides of the change in plans, and flew back to Ankara the same night. While en route Davutoglu called Ban and complained about the leak.

Over the weekend senior Turkish officials claimed that Israeli government figures engineered the leak as part of what they termed an Israeli disinformation campaign being waged in connection to the UN report. The Turkish sources believe that Israeli cabinet members who oppose issuing an apology to Turkey, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, or even officials in the Prime Minister's Bureau, leaked the report to the Times in order to prevent any additional postponement of its publication.

Aides to Davutoglu told members of the press flying with the foreign minister's entourage that he planned to announce sanctions against Israel in a Friday-morning press conference. By then it was clear that Turkish-Israeli relations had reached their lowest point since 1980, when the Knesset approved the Basic Law on Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, declaring the "complete and united" city as the Israeli capital.

In announcing his country's sanctions against Israel, Davutoglu emphasized that they were aimed against the current government, not against the Israeli public. He noted that Netanyahu had backtracked a number of times after accepting a formula for solving the bilateral crisis that included an apology, due to coalition problems.

"The time has come for Israel to pay a price for its actions," Davutoglu said.