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Middle east

'This crisis clearly marks a turning point for Israeli-Turkish ties'

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Mehdi Chebil

Latest update : 2010-06-02

Israel’s deadly pre-dawn raid on the Turkish-led, Gaza-bound aid flotilla on Monday has plunged Israeli-Turkish relations into deep crisis. FRANCE24 speaks to OVIPOT head Jean Marcou on the diplomatic significance of the past 48 hours.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Israel over its deadly raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla on Monday, calling the botched takeover an act of “inhuman state terrorism” and a “bloody massacre”. Turkey’s foreign ministry said at least four Turks were among the nine pro-Palestinian activists killed when Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship.

Ankara has already recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and scrapped a series of planned joint military exercises. According to Jean Marcou, head of an Istanbul-based think tank (OVIPOT), this latest diplomatic crisis will deal a devastating blow to already strained relations between the two countries.

France 24: What will be the long-term impact of this crisis as regardsTurkish-Israeli relations?

Jean Marcou: This crisis clearly marks a turning point, even though bilateral relations were already badly strained following the Davos incident (where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of the Davos World Economic Forum meeting after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres).

The military agreement signed between the two countries in 1996 hasn’t been formally abandoned but its implementation is more and more limited. While arms sales continue, joint military exercises have been scrapped – there have been no such manoeuvres in the last two years. It looks like an agreement being gradually terminated, not a military treaty bound to be renewed.

F24: Does this imply the end of Turkey’s mediating role in the Middle East?

JM: This mediating role had already been undermined by the election of a hard right-wing government in Israel and the Gaza war. In practice, Turkey hasn't hosted any fresh Syrian-Israeli talks since the end of 2008. But deteriorating relations with Israel don’t necessarily imply the end of Turkey’s mediating ambitions.

On the contrary, Ankara is still pushing for a greater role as a regional mediator on big international issues, beyond the Israeli-Arab conflict. That’s something we saw with the alternative nuclear fuel deal that Turkey signed with Iran and Brazil.

F24: Is this deterioration in bilateral ties due mostly to AKP, the pro-Islamic ruling party? Would tensions ease between the two countries if there was a change of government in Turkey?

JM: Erdogan and the AKP try to portray themselves as defending Muslims worldwide for obvious internal politicsal reasons. But strained ties with Israel also reflect a much-deeper shift in Turkey’s strategic position in the Middle East, on which the ruling AKP and the leading opposition party CHP mostly agree.

The Gaza aid flotilla itself was supported by representatives from across the entire Turkish political spectrum. Several opposition parliamentarians even wore keffiyehs (traditional Arab headdress) as a sign of support.

Turkish-Israeli relations at a breaking point

Date created : 2010-06-01