Turkey sets deadline for Israel to apologize for humiliating its ambassador

By Amy Teibel, AP
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Turkey sets deadline for Israeli apology

JERUSALEM — Turkey rejected an Israeli attempt Wednesday to make amends for humiliating its ambassador, and threatened to bring its envoy home if Israel didn’t deliver an apology by the evening.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a statement criticizing his own undiplomatic behavior, which included forcing Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol to sit on a lower seat and not shaking his hand. But the statement fell short of an apology and failed to defuse a diplomatic feud that has further strained ties between the once-close allies.

“They have been given time until tonight, they either fix it or our ambassador will head for Turkey on the first flight tomorrow” for consultations, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said. “After that, we will make an evaluation.”

Ayalon set off the diplomatic firestorm when he summoned Celikkol late Monday, ostensibly to complain about a Turkish TV drama that has been perceived as anti-Semitic. The show, “The Valley of the Wolves,” depicts Israeli security forces as kidnapping children and shooting old men.

Ayalon invited Israeli TV crews to watch the meeting, and pointedly explained to the cameramen how he was snubbing the ambassador by placing him on a lower chair and refusing to shake his hand.

Celikkol later said he hadn’t known what Ayalon was saying to the cameramen.

In a statement delivered to Israeli media late Tuesday, Ayalon stood behind his decision to summon Celikkol.

But “it’s not my custom to offend ambassadors,” said Ayalon. “And in the future I will explain my positions in accepted diplomatic ways.”

The Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office had no comment on the Turkish deadline.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu weighed in publicly on the feud for the first time, saying in a statement that he was satisfied with what he characterized as Ayalon’s “apology,” but chided him for his undiplomatic conduct.

Ayalon’s protest to the Turkish envoy was justified, the statement said, but it “should have been expressed in an accepted diplomatic fashion.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has caused several diplomatic flaps of his own with undiplomatic remarks about the Arab world, said Israel sought direct dialogue with Turkey to ease the tensions.

Israel won’t “tolerate any anti-Semitic remarks and incitement against Jews of the state of Israel,” but doesn’t want confrontation with Turkey, Lieberman said in Cyprus, where he was visiting political leaders.

Lieberman said he was hopeful talks could restore “normal relations” between the two countries. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is set to pay a previously scheduled one-day visit to Turkey on Sunday.

Israel’s highly publicized snub of the Turkish ambassador has deepened the rift that has emerged over the past year between the Jewish state and its closest friend in the Muslim world.

Israel has been worried by Ankara’s tilt away from the West and toward the Jewish state’s archenemy, Iran, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been fiercely critical of Israel’s use of overwhelming firepower against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

For years, Israel had enjoyed close military and economic ties with Turkey as Ankara sought to grow closer to the West. In 2008, the Turks mediated several rounds of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria that have since broken down.

But Israel’s war against Gaza Strip militants, who had fired thousands of rockets at Israel for years, signaled a sharp downtown in relations, exacerbated by Turkey’s improved ties with neighboring Iran.

Erdogan was outraged by the high Palestinian civilian death toll, and days after the offensive began, he stalked off a stage he was sharing with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with the parting shot: “You kill people.”

Turkey also canceled a high-profile military exercise with Israel last fall.

Erdogan reignited tensions on Monday by accusing Israel of threatening world peace. That same day, Ayalon summoned Celikkol, and the frictions exploded.

Headlines in Turkish newspapers Wednesday reflected the deep outrage there over the incident.

“Insolence,” blared the daily Vatan, and Cumhuriyet proclaimed, “Ties with Israel are breaking down.” ”Vile conspiracy,” railed the Sabah, while the pro-Islamic Yeni Safak newspaper fumed: “Despicable and immoral.”

In Israel, where Ayalon’s conduct has been criticized by those eager to repair ties with Ankara, newspapers carried headlines about his conciliation attempt. But as the day wore on, news coverage shifted from the Israel-Turkey spat to the devastating earthquake in Haiti.


Associated Press Writer Selcan Hacaoglu contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.

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