Turkey: Israel Is Strategic Ally With Shared Interests

Israel-Turkey ties strained following Deputy FM's snub of Turkey's ambassador to Israel.

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul on Sunday publicly put an end to a week-long row that threatened already tense ties between Israel and Turkey, saying his country would remain strategic allies with Israel for as long as necessary.

"We are living in the same area, although we don't have common borders, we have the same interests," Gonul told reporters following a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Ankara.

"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 do so," said Gonul.

Gonul also said, in response to a question on Iran's nuclear program, that Turkey does not aspire to develop a nuclear arsenal, and does not wish to see other countries have such arms.

After day-long talks with Turkish officials, Barak said the countries managed to move beyond the latest disagreement after Israel apologized for its treatment of the Turkish ambassador.

Barak is the first Israeli official to visit Turkey since the diplomatic row erupted Monday after Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned the Turkish ambassador to complain about a TV show depicting Israeli agents kidnapping children and shooting old men.

The ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, was forced to sit on a low sofa without a handshake or presence of the Turkish flag, while Ayalon told local TV stations that the humiliation was intentional. Outraged, Turkey threatened to recall the ambassador, forcing Ayalon to apologize twice.

"I believe it was a mistake, and the right step was taken according to the norms of diplomacy," Barak said Sunday. "It is appropriate that all the ups and downs in our relationship over the years should be solved and put behind us."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that he hoped Israel and Turkey could resume the strong diplomatic relations they once had.

"In essence, the protest against Turkey was correct," Lieberman told reporters at a press conference with his Norweigian counterpart, referring to the contentious TV show.

"However, whoever is sensitive to honor must also be sensitive to the honor of others," Lieberman said. "I hope we can turn the wheels backward on our relations with Turkey."

The quarrel last week was the latest in a series of disputes between allies who had built strong military and economic ties over the past 15 years.

The visit was scheduled before the row, but is being closely watched for efforts to control the damage to the relationship that has also been hurt by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's frequent outbursts of fury over what he considers Israel's aggressive treatment of Palestinians.

Barak went ahead with Sunday's official visit despite a petition last week by an Islamic human rights group calling on a Turkish state prosecutor to launch legal proceedings against him for alleged crimes against Gazans during Operation Cast Lead.

Turkey's Justice Ministry has previously rejected similar appeals against Israeli officials, and authorities haven't acted on the petition authored by the Istanbul-based Mazlum-Der group.

Mazlum-Der released a statement saying, "Israel is committing crimes against humanity and genocide by occupying Palestine. Their disregard for international law in front of the eyes of world public opinion is known very well."

Hours before Barak's departure, Ayalon said the Turkish ambassador could be expelled if Turkish TV dramas continue to depict Israeli security forces as brutal.

Ayalon had called in the ambassador to reprimand him over a TV program that showed Israeli agents kidnapping children and shooting old men. It was the second such program to be aired on Turkish television in recent months.

Turkish newspapers reacted harshly to Ayalon's latest comment. Ayalon is talking nonsense again, the daily Milliyet and Yeni Safak newspapers said Sunday. The daily Radikal said in a banner headline: Second episode in diplomatic shame.

Barak and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held a 3 1/2-hour meeting, which an Israeli official said was conducted in a very friendly atmosphere. The Israeli official, traveling with Barak, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Barak and his fellow Labor Party member, Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer, have significantly warmer relations with Turkey than Ayalon and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's ultra-nationalist party.

Upon his arrival in Turkey, Barak was greeted warmly at the airport by a Turkish admiral. His first stop was at the mausoleum of modern and secular Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whom Barak praised as an inspiration in making the region one of peace and security.

Although there are ongoing military cooperation projects between Turkey and Israel, such as the purchase from Israel of Israeli-made Heron unmanned aircraft that the military hopes to use to monitor Kurdish rebel hideouts, the level of cooperation has decreased.

Barak was expected to discuss the $190 million deal involving the sale of Israeli Herons, which was signed several years ago, but which has been held up due to a malfunction in a camera system manufactured for the drones by a Turkish subcontractor.