Barak Lauds Turkey Visit as Successful, Despite Degraded Ties

Turkish defense minister: Turkey and Israel will remain strategic allies as long as their interests align.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Defense Minister Ehud Barak concluded a one-day visit to Ankara Sunday where he met his Turkish counterpart Vecdi Gonul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Israeli officials accompanying Barak to Turkey said that in spite the tensions following a diplomatic spat last week, their impression is that the visit was successful and that the Turks are interested in preserving good relations.

Turkish Defense Minister Gonul said Sunday after the meeting with Barak that Turkey and Israel will remain strategic allies as long as those interests align.

"As long as we have the same interests, we work together, to fix the common problems. Also we are allies, we are strategic allies as long as our interests force us to be so," said Gonul.

In response to a question on Iran's nuclear program, Gonul said Turkey does not aspire to develop a nuclear arsenal, and does not wish to see other countries with nuclear arms.

Barak's visit to Ankara came days after the Turkish ambassador to Israel was publicly reprimanded by deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in what became known as the "couch crisis." Ayalon arranged for the ambassador to be photographed on a low couch last week, as a means of humiliating Turkey in response to what Ayalon said was government sanctioned anti-Semitism.

Barak said that Ayalon had apologized. He told the Turkish ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, whom he met in Ankara Sunday, that Ayalon's actions had been a mistake.

"Diplomatic relations need to be conducted on the basis of the rules of diplomacy. We are committed to this and we will follow these standards. There have been ups and downs in the relations between the two countries recently. I hope we will put it behind us," Barak said.

Sources in Barak's entourage said the Turks would like to see cooperation continue and prevent further deterioration in relations.

"Turkey is our strategic partner. We must not allow relations with it to deteriorate. We have no other alternative," a senior figure in Barak's group said.

Barak said that he was convinced that Israel and Turkey would be able to carry on in the tradition of friendly cooperation in the future.

Barak received an invitation to visit Turkey prior to the reprimand of the Turkish ambassador, but the timing seemed to work in his favor because he was able to present himself as a moderate, mediating Israeli leader.

The Turks themselves did not in anyway seek to give any impression that Barak would suffer the consequences of Ayalon's behavior.

However, in spite the overall warm atmosphere, and even though nothing was said publicly, there is a feeling in Israel that Turkish-Israeli relations won't come back to their 1990s-era peak.

The rise of the Islamic party, along with a gradual erosion in the standing of the army in Turkey, make a return to that "golden period" difficult.

Israel's effort now is to focus on limiting the damage that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman may have done to the ties, through defense sales deals.

It is unlikely that military cooperation will continue at high levels and include joint training, as in the past.

Regarding the possibility of Turkey resuming its role as mediator in talks between Israel and Syria, Barak said that "at this time there is nothing to say on this."

Barak also met with Davutoglu yesterday for more than three hours. No statements were made after the meeting.

The main agenda of the meetings at the Defense Ministry was cooperation in military industry. The Turkish defense minister said that the dispute over the Heron drones - a deal worth $180 million - will be resolved by year's end.



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