Israeli defense minister seeks thaw in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey - Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak met Turkey’s foreign and defense ministers on Sunday to try to repair ties between the allies that have been further strained this week by a diplomatic row in which Israel was forced to apologize for its treatment of the Turkish ambassador.

By (AP)

Published: Sun 17 Jan 2010, 8:50 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:39 AM

Barak is the first Israeli official to visit Turkey since the diplomatic feud that erupted Monday after Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, summoned Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol to complain about a TV show. The ambassador was forced to sit on a low sofa without a handshake, while Ayalon explained to local TV stations that the humiliation was intentional. Outraged, Turkey threatened to recall the ambassador, forcing Ayalon to apologize.

The quarrel 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.

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.”

In Israel on Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized the way Ayalon handled the protest, but defended its substance.

“We don’t seek conflicts, but we will stand our ground,” Lieberman said at a Jerusalem news conference.

In a goodwill gesture, Barak asked his personal photographer to take a picture of him with Celikkol, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. Celikkol had returned to Ankara for Barak’s visit.

Barak and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held a 3 ½-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.

The Israeli defense minister later met with his Turkish counterpart, Vecdi Gonul.

Barak and his fellow Labor Party member, Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, have significantly warmer relations with Turkey than Ayalon and 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 US$190 million (¤131 million) deal for the 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.

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