Turkish Public Won't Forgive Israel's Insult

Israel's conduct this week reminds many Turks of how Ottoman sultans used to humiliate foreign envoys.

Not a single cabinet minister is running to the media to condemn the tarring and feathering of the Turkish ambassador by Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon.

Not even Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who expects, despite the insult, to be received in Turkey on Sunday with a seat befitting a minister. He obviously also wants to forge a compromise between the Turkish defense ministry and Israel Aerospace Industries over a deal involving unmanned aircraft. He will very much want to pave the way for future Turkish deals with Israeli industries, which have done NIS 4 billion in business already.

But honor and especially peace within the governing coalition are more important.

It is true that Turkey decided to leave its ambassador in Israel, understanding that Israel is a country that never apologizes. Therefore with appropriate generosity, it gave Israel a two-day extension to draft a letter of apology.

But the damage has already been done. There is no need to trot out the numbers and talk about how many Israeli tourists won't go to Turkey this year or how many business deals will be canceled. While 26 million tourists from around the world that visit Turkey every year, only half a million of them are from Israel, in peak years. The Israeli tourists who have decided to punish Turkey have already been replaced by a 226 percent increase in Saudi tourists and an 88 percent jump in visitors from Iran.

The serious damage is really in the deep erosion in Turkish public opinion, which was the basis for Turkey's warm relations with Israel. But the Turkish public is not ready to suffer insult to its envoys. It is the public that takes to the streets when it is not satisfied with its government. They are vocal when their government's policies are not to their liking.

It is this same public that in 2003 didn't let the Erdogan government permit American use of Turkish airspace en route to Iraq and the same public that turned out in huge numbers to protest Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. It is also the same Turkish public that viewed the Jews as an historic ally, from Ottoman times.

That foundation was shaken this week by treatment that reminded the Turks of the way Ottoman sultans humiliated foreign emissaries. That will be very difficult for the Turkish public to forgive.