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Diplomatic strains intensify between Turkey and Israel 6 septembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The New York Times (USA)  Tuesday, September 6, 2011, p. A 6

By Ethan Bronner and Sebnem Arsu

Tensions between Israel and Turkey mounted further on Monday, as Turkish officials ordered senior Israeli diplomats to leave the country by midweek and Israeli passengers arriving at the Istanbul airport were taken aside and questioned for 90 minutes by officials. Turkish officials said that Turkish tourists were treated the same way at the Tel Aviv airport last week.

The fraying relationship — once Israel’s strongest with a Muslim country, with hundreds of thousands of visitors traveling in each direction — unwound further last week when Israel said it would not apologize for the deaths of nine Turks and an American of Turkish origin last year on a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

A United Nations report on the event called Israel’s sea blockade a legal and legitimate means of stopping arms from reaching militant Palestinian groups in Gaza, and said Israeli commandos were attacked when they boarded a ship in the flotilla. But the report said the Israeli forces reacted to the attack in a way that was both excessive and unreasonable. Efforts to negotiate an Israeli apology and compensation for the victims failed, and Turkey announced a series of tough measures against Israel, including a freeze on military contracts and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and his deputy.

Turkey has also threatened to seek international legal measures against Israel’s Gaza blockade and use its navy in the eastern Mediterranean to protect its actions there.

« As a littoral state which has the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey will take whatever measures it deems necessary in order to ensure the freedom of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean, » the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said in Ankara.

Ministry officials declined to give specifics. Turkish news reports suggested that the measures might include naval escorts for any aid boats or flotillas destined for Gaza in the future.

Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, said in an interview that Turkey might be thinking of interfering with future Israeli gas exports to Cyprus by placing its navy in between. He said that Israel exports about $2 billion in goods a year to Turkey, and that about half of that was oil and chemical products.

Mr. Liel, who is no longer in government, was critical of Israel’s actions in this affair, saying relations with Turkey could have been saved. He now worries that Egypt and Jordan will come under domestic pressure to expel Israeli ambassadors, especially as uprisings have spread.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is planning to visit Egypt next week and has raised the possibility of going from there to Gaza, which would be a direct challenge to Israel. But most analysts predicted that he would drop the idea of visiting Gaza, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas, to avoid alienating Turkey’s American and other Western allies.

Some in the Israeli government urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer the apology to salvage relations with Turkey. But he and most of those around him believe that Turkey is uninterested in such a move. Many analysts in both countries said the relationship would not improve soon.

« No matter what anyone says about the continuation of their historical alliance, the relationship crossed the Rubicon — the red line, » said Cengiz Candar, a Turkish journalist and analyst. « Turkey now claims the leadership of the Arab world that Egypt once held, and therefore it is in competition with Iran. It is in a standoff with Israel in a display of power. »

Ethan Bronner reported from Jerusalem, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.


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