Deputy FM Ayalon Apologizes to Turkish Ambassador

Turkey infuriated after Ayalon rebuked envoy Ahmet Oguz Celikkol over an anti-Israel TV show.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon issued a special statement of apology Tuesday night for his treatment of Turkish ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oguz Celikkol on Monday. Ayalon had delivered a rebuke to Celikkol regarding an anti-Israeli television show in Turkey.

"My protest of the attacks against Israel in Turkey still stands," Ayalon said. "However, it is not my way to insult foreign ambassadors and in the future I will clarify my position by more acceptable diplomatic means."

At the beginning of the conversation with the Turkish envoy on Monday, Ayalon told cameramen in Hebrew: "Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair ... that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling."

The Turkish ambassador and the Turkish government were furious at the humiliation of the envoy. In a sharply worded ultimatum to Israel earlier Tuesday, Ankara demanded an apology for what it described as Ayalon's demeaning treatment of its ambassador on Monday.

Also Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a press conference in London that relations between Israel and Turkey will return to normal "when Israel resumes a peaceful policy."

A troubling trend

Earlier Tuesday, Ayalon had not expressed any regret for his behavior. "I do not think I went too far," he said. "Others will respect us only when we protect our honor."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed concern at the deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey. In talks behind closed doors, he said that during the past two years "Turkey has been steadily and systematically slipping eastward toward Syria and Iran," instead of westward, toward Europe and the United States.

"This is a trend that should really trouble Israel," Netanyahu was quoted as saying.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said Tuesday the decision to invite the Turkish ambassador for a reprimand by Ayalon was made together with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

At the Prime Minister's Bureau, they noted that Netanyahu was not aware of the way the reprimand would be carried out, "but the minute it happened the prime minister [gave] the foreign minister his full backing."

The Turkish Foreign Ministry Tuesday issued two statements critical of Israel. One focused on the treatment of the Turkish ambassador, the other on the TV program that angered Israel along with Israel's criticism of statements made by Erdogan Monday.

'Undiplomatic attitude'

"We hope the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which has assumed an undiplomatic attitude in its statements, will comply with diplomatic courtesy rules," the first statement read.

In the second statement, which was longer, the Turkish Foreign Ministry charged that the behavior at Israel's Foreign Ministry stemmed from domestic political considerations held by Lieberman and Ayalon.

The statement added that Prime Minister Erdogan has consistently worked to further peace in the Middle East and has been complimented for his efforts by many in the region.

Commenting on Israel's complaints about anti-Semitic programs on Turkish television, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials said these were "baseless." "Turkey views anti-Semitism as a crime against humanity and the statements of Prime Minister Erdogan on the subject are the best proof of this. Throughout history Jews and Turks have had good relations of respect and tolerance, even before the establishment of the State of Israel," the ministry stated.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to travel to Ankara on Sunday for meetings with his counterpart and Foreign Minister Davutoglu.



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