No more zero problems: Turkey’s tough talk on Israel

President Barack Obama and his top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pleaded this week with Turkey to turn down the volume in its public statements on Israel. Not that long ago, it seemed that Jerusalem and Ankara were getting along rather well, but the two regional powers have had a bitter falling out of ...

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TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and his top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pleaded this week with Turkey to turn down the volume in its public statements on Israel. Not that long ago, it seemed that Jerusalem and Ankara were getting along rather well, but the two regional powers have had a bitter falling out of late.

Today, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave his answer, delivering a sharply worded rebuke of Israeli policies before the U.N. General Assembly, and suggesting it was unfair that Israel is not sanctioned for its violation of U.N. resolutions while other countries -- including Sudan -- without powerful patrons, must endure them.

President Barack Obama and his top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pleaded this week with Turkey to turn down the volume in its public statements on Israel. Not that long ago, it seemed that Jerusalem and Ankara were getting along rather well, but the two regional powers have had a bitter falling out of late.

Today, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave his answer, delivering a sharply worded rebuke of Israeli policies before the U.N. General Assembly, and suggesting it was unfair that Israel is not sanctioned for its violation of U.N. resolutions while other countries — including Sudan — without powerful patrons, must endure them.

Turkey’s relationship with Israel has deteriorated since May 2010, when Israeli commandos raided an aid flotilla seeking to deliver supplies to the Gaza Strip in violation of an Israeli naval blockade. Nine people were killed.

In recent weeks, Turkey has downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Israel. Erodgan reiterated his demand that “Israel must apologize, pay compensation to the families of our martyrs and lift the…blockade on Gaza. Until Israel meets these demands and takes steps in this direction our position will not change.”

Israel has maintained that it has the right to control international ships entering waters near Gaza on the grounds that its rival, Hamas, has imported illegal arms through the area. A U.N. panel, established by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, found that Israel was within its right to enforce the naval blockade, but that it had used excessive force in the raid.

The United States has sought to ease diplomatic tensions between Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East, and Turkey, one of Washington’s most important Muslim allies.

It has had little success.

And judging by Erdogan’s performance today, the relationship may be long in repairing. Erdogan portrayed the Israeli government as the source of paralysis in the Middle East peace process, saying that they have failed to emulate the spirit of change sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.

“This country takes steps every day, which instead of paving the way for peace, build new barriers preventing peace,” he said. “It is Israel that uses disproportionate force to solve its problems.”

Erdogan also blasted Israel’s rival, Syria, saying its brutal crackdown on protesters was “unacceptable.”

“One cannot prosper through persecution,” he said. “It is important to listen to the demands of the people and not direct or point the gun at the people. Unfortunately, the Syrian leadership has persisted in not listening to our warnings.”

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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