ANALYSIS / Turkish Envoy 'Has Never Been More Humiliated'

Turkish envoy arrived with positive intentions; 3 months later, it's doubtful any optimism remains.

The notice issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry last October announcing the appointment of Ahmet Oguz Celikkol as ambassador to Israel filled him with joy. Celikkol, among the Turkish Foreign Ministry's senior officials, had visited Israel a number of times as part of his duties as head of the Middle Eastern division and hoped to get to know the country from up close.

When he arrived, he spoke of Turkey's intentions to broaden trade with Israel to $8 billion, to hold business and cultural forums, and to tighten security cooperation. Three months later, it's doubtful whether any of that optimism remains.

Those close to him say "he had never been so humiliated in the three decades he served as a diplomat. The kind of [treatment] he was subjected to is not done even to an enemy, and certainly not to the ambassador of a friendly country."

Celikkol is an experienced diplomat. He has served as ambassador to Syria and Greece, and as Turkish coordinator in Iraq. He has experienced difficult situations, even dangerous ones, "but he did not imagine that in a country that aspires to expand its trade with Turkey, and which seeks security cooperation, and which has similar attitudes on what Israel's and Jewish interests are, he would suffer the gravest insult in his life," a source close to the ambassador said.

Celikkol was at his office late into the night Tuesday, going over the details of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's pending visit to Ankara. Barak will not meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but at the embassy they were quick to note that this "is not a retaliation to the incident at the Foreign Ministry."

Indeed, that was the plan from the start. What is puzzling to the Turks is the behavior of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who had been a regular guest of the embassy and was viewed as a friend. "How could he behave so rudely? On the one hand he says something to the ambassador that makes him smile, and then he turns to the cameramen and tells them something else, something so insulting," sources close to Celikkol said.

It turns out the ambassador was not aware that he had been called in for a reprimand. He had asked to meet with Ayalon several days earlier, but had been told this week that the meeting would be scheduled for Thursday. He attributed the call to come in on Monday to a change in scheduling, nothing else.

When Celikkol arrived at the deputy foreign minister's office he was surprised to find television cameras and the tribunal, headed by Ayalon, waiting to reprimand him. "The only thing missing," said one source, "was for a shiny sword to be pulled out from one of the drawers and the deputy minister taking off his head and sending it to Ankara, as was typical under the Sultans."