Israel and Turkey will eventually mend fences rather than become foes, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday, describing their unprecedented dispute over Gaza as "spilled milk."
Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the Mediterranean after Israel refused to apologize for killing nine Turks aboard a ship that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave last year.
Noting that an inquiry commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had vindicated the blockade, Barak predicted that wider Middle East upheaval would help bring Israel back together with its Muslim ally.
"Ultimately this wave will pass. We recognize reality. They recognize reality," Barak told Israel Radio. "We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region ... I am certain that we can overcome these (disagreements).The main thing is not to get confused, not to get into a tailspin. Turkey is not about to become an enemy of Israel and we have no cause to waste invective and energy over this."
Asked whether Israel might yet say sorry for its May 31, 2010 seizure of the Turkish activist ship Mavi Marmara, Barak said: "Look, its spilled milk. It's not important right now."
In addition to an apology, NATO-member Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian guerrillas by sea.
Turkish Foreign Minister Condemns Main Opposition for Israel Remarks
Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, has condemned Turkey's main opposition leader for overtly pro-Israel remarks and urged the opposition to learn solidarity from Israel's main opposition.
Davutoğlu lashed out at main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during a joint news conference with his Bulgarian counterpart, Nikolay Mladenov, on Wednesday and said if one were to black out the main opposition leader's name when reporting remarks in which he criticized the government for the UN's controversial Mavi Marmara report, it could seem as if an Israeli official had made the statement.
"Whatever is said in Israel, Kılıçdaroğlu reiterated that; this is very sad," Davutoğlu argued, condemning Kılıçdaroğlu.
Kılıçdaroğlu slammed the government's policy towards Israel earlier, saying the pro-Israel UN report on the flotilla dealt a direct blow to the Turkish government, which had tried hard to undermine the blockade. He also said the UN panel report, released last Friday, gave Israel a valuable opportunity to legitimize itself before the international community.
"The government's foreign policy was aimed at delegitimizing the Gaza blockade and resulted in the UN legitimizing it. Can this be called successful foreign policy?" Kılıçdaroğlu said at a press conference in the province of Aydın. "Turkey lost on all fronts. Its citizens were killed, it lost the legal battle, it lost prestige and it lost in its drive to get the Gaza blockade lifted, as it was not lifted but, rather, solidified."
The UN panel report said Israeli commandos used "excessive and unreasonable" force against passengers on the Mavi Marmara when they raided the vessel in international waters on May 31, 2010. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed on the ship, which was part of an international flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade. Kılıçdaroğlu said the UN panel's report was "one of the biggest debacles" in the history of Turkish foreign policy.
Davutoğlu spoke about the importance of keeping Turkey's national position and interests in mind when offering criticism, adding that while aiming to damage the ruling party through criticism, the opposition must avoid "hurting the cause of a nation that lost nine of its citizens."
Davutoğlu also pointed to the main opposition party in Israel as an example of solidarity and urged the CHP to learn from it, referring to the fact that the Israeli opposition was also on the same page with the Israeli government on its policy toward Turkey.
Further vowing more sanctions against Israel if necessary, Davutoğlu said Turkey will continue to pursue its demands of Israel on every international platform, including the UN. He continued by saying Turkey is determined to implement the announced sanctions.
Hours after the report was leaked to the press ahead of its formal announcement, Turkey announced diplomatic and military sanctions against Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats and suspending military agreements. It also said the Gaza blockade was illegal and vowed to seek a review of it by the International Court of Justice.
The Turkish foreign minister asserted that the UN's flotilla report is not binding and the reason for this is that Turkey did not sign the document, recalling President Abdullah Gül's earlier remarks when he said the report is null and void for Turkey.
Davutoğlu further slammed the main opposition leader and said instead of accusing the Turkish government of injustice in the UN, Kılıçdaroğlu should first bring the world's largest international body to account. "A total of 74 million people will bring Israel and, if necessary, those who prepared the report to account on all international platforms," he said.
Erdogan's 'Plan C' Against Israel Could Mean Cutting Trade Ties
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday that Turkish Navy ships would "show up" more frequently in the East Mediterranean as part of measures that he referred to as "Plan B" against Israel.
Erdoğan also mentioned a possible new "Plan C" in Turkey's Israel policy.
"Different steps can be taken according to new developments," he said. An order for the dispatch of Turkish Navy ships has not been issued yet, the Daily News has learned from the Prime Ministry.
Former Turkish Ambassador to Israel Onur Gökçe said new measures in a Plan C could only mean cutting economic and trade ties with Israel.
"Tough measures are already being taken against Israel, now the only thing left is the trade ties between the two countries. The most influential sanction against Israel would be taking economic measures by cutting off trade," Gökçe said.
Ali Faik Demir, an associate professor in the international relations department at Galatasaray University, said besides cutting off trade ties, taking tougher measures against Israel would also mean trying to discredit Israel in the international arena because of its regional policies in the Middle East and Mediterranean.
Ankara on Friday said it would take action to ensure the safety of maritime navigation in the East Mediterranean as part of measures against Israel.
"The meaning of that is not clear," Israel Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor told the Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday in response to Ankara's position.
"What does it mean? How many ships? How often and where will they be sailing? We can't comment on hypothetical scenarios. Everyone is free to sail in international waters. Turkey is not an enemy country," Palmor said. "Its presence in international waters would not bother any country. We do not think there is an intention to create an incident, which would be very bad. There is no need to escalate the tension."
President Obama Has Good Relationship with Turkish Counterpart, Press Secretary Says
President Barack Obama has a good relationship with his Turkish counterpart, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a press briefing.
"The president has engaged with Turkey and has a good relationship with his counterpart there," Carney said.
Asked about recent developments in the region, Carney said:
"The fundamental issue here is the need to resolve the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which goes back to our view that both sides need to return to direct negotiations," he said, "and that a two-state solution and long-term peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations. I think that is what we remain focused on."
Turkey PM to Embark on Arab Spring Tour Next Week
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is planning to embark on a tour of the Arab Spring countries next week, including Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, a government official said.
"The prime minister had already planned a visit to Egypt, but negotiations and preparations are under way for this trip to include Tunisia and Libya as well," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP on Wednesday.
The trip is scheduled to begin on September 12, he said.
Erdoğan is expected to be accompanied by a number of cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan.
Government officials and cabinet ministers were meeting at the foreign ministry on Wednesday morning to coordinate next week's tour. On Tuesday, Erdoğan said he might pay a visit to Hamas-run Gaza, entering via neighboring Egypt.
"We are talking with the Egyptians on this matter. A trip to Gaza is not finalized yet," he said.
Such a visit to the Palestinian territory alongside the Mediterranean is bound to infuriate Israel.
Ties between Turkey and the Jewish state have hit a low after the latter's refusal to apologize for a May 31, 2010 deadly raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla, which left nine people dead.
In retaliation, Ankara announced last week that the Israeli ambassador was expelled and all bilateral military agreements were suspended. Erdoğan said further sanctions would follow.
Government, Opposition Bicker on Israeli Rift
Turkey will stand firm on its hardening policy against Israel, whatever the cost, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday as the main opposition leader accused the government of "blundering" in its approach.
"Whatever the cost, be it $15 million, or $150 million. What matters is to not let anyone trample on our honor. It is priceless," Erdoğan said.
Turkey's conflict with Israel has resulted in "one of the most crushing defeats" in its foreign policy history, the main opposition chief said.
Erdoğan claimed that Israel had failed to obey the terms of defense industry contracts, noting that Turkish unmanned surveillance aircraft sent to Israel for maintenance had not been returned.
"They are still not being returned because of the problems between us. Is this ethical? You can have problems with somebody but there are international agreements, there are international trade ethics," he said. "Turkish warships setting off from Aksaz or İskenderun will be there. We have calculated the pros and cons. We have been present in these waters [east Mediterranean] throughout history and we will be there today and tomorrow."
Erdoğan added that Turkey could enact more sanctions against Israel in the future.
Hitting back at the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, which harshly criticized the government's foreign policy, Erdoğan said: "[CHP's Leader] must give up his advocacy of Israel and be the spokesman of his own party."
Blunders by Turkey's government helped legitimize Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip via a recent UN report, the main opposition said Wednesday.
"The legal ground Israel was looking for to justify the unlawful and ruthless blockade of Gaza has been handed to them almost as a present through the UN report," Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the head of the Republican People's Party, said in a speech Wednesday in the Aegean province of Aydın.
"Turkey has been the loser in this affair since the beginning. Turkey lost lives ... the legal struggle ... prestige," he said. Kılıçdaroğlu played down a series of measures Turkey announced against Israel, saying they "have no function other than deceiving the Turkish people."
Kılıçdaroğlu also said a U.S. radar to be stationed in Turkey as part of NATO's missile defense system would serve to protect Israel.
Erdogan Says Israel Not Keeping Defense Deals
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Israel of failing to meet its obligations in defense deals, saying Israel had not returned drones that Turkey had bought and sent back for maintenance.
"Israel is not being loyal to bilateral agreements in the defense industry," he told reporters. "There could be difficulties, problems with another country, such things may happen, but there is an international code of ethics that needs to be upheld in business agreements," he said.
Erdoğan's comments add to tensions with Israel, which have escalated since an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla killed nine people last year. Last week, Turkey announced a set of measures against Israel after it refused to offer an apology for a deadly raid on an aid ship trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2011. It expelled the Israeli ambassador and other senior officials and suspended military agreements.
Erdoğan said on Tuesday that more sanctions could be imposed and that trade ties have also been suspended, but officials at the Prime Ministry said he referred to the defense industry.
On Wednesday, Erdoğan said Turkey would not care if the sanctions prove costly for Turkey because it is national pride that is at stake. "The cost could be $15 or $150 million. We as Turkey would not be bothered by this. What is important for us is that we don't let anyone trample our pride," he said.
Erdoğan also played down the harassment of Turkish tourists in Israel, saying it is a "temporary" issue, but added that Israeli treatment of Turks reveals "Israel's character."
Suspension of Deals with Israel no Harm to Turkey, Minister Says
Turkey will continue to decry Israel's failure to apologize for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship last year, said Minister of Science, Industry and Technology Nihat Ergün on Wednesday, calling the raid a "piracy."
The recent suspension of defense industry contracts with Israel following the peaking of tension between two countries would cause no weakness for the Turkish side, he said.
"Turkey might continue its way of relying on its own resources," Ergün said in response to questions from the Hürriyet Daily News during a meeting with a group of economy reporters in Istanbul. He also said Turkey's recent approach of suspending military contracts with Israel would not result in "a downturn in Turkey's defense industry."
"Work – in the defense industry – continues in other channels through other sources," Ergün said.
The military contracts between Turkey and Israel are estimated to be worth around $2 billion, according to a Saturday CNNTürk report.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday that Turkey was enacting a "full freeze" of "diplomatic, commercial and military defense industry ties with Israel." Ergün touched on the matter, giving the first signs that the trade ties might continue as they always have, excluding the millions of dollars in military contracts.
Noting that Israeli politics do not help ease the current political turmoil, Ergün said that despite the suspension of military contracts and the downgrading of diplomatic relations with Israel to the level of second secretary last week, the industrialists and business communities in both countries continue to trade with each other. "Trade ties continue to remain," Ergün said.
Ergün said that the bilateral trade volume hit $3.1 billion in 2010, jumping by 26 percent from $2.5 billion in 2009.
Noting that Turkey's exports to Israel in the first seven months of this year reached $1.3 billion and its imports reached $1.2 billion, Ergün said, "In other words there is no downward trend in bilateral trade."
Israeli Central Bank Gov. Stanley Fischer said Monday that the deterioration of ties with Turkey "would be potentially expensive."
"Particularly for us, as in terms of sophisticated economies in the region [Turkey] is the most important," he said.
Ergün has denied criticism related to new regulations, stating the Turkish government and the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, would appoint two-thirds of the members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, or TÜBA.
"There is no ideological choice in the regulations," he said. "Some people have voiced concern about the regulations, but all we want to do is to create a more transparent TÜBA."
According to the new rules, both the Turkish government and YÖK will appoint 100 members out of 300 members in the academy.
Al-Assad Dismayed by Ankara's Stance toward Syria
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has expressed frustration with Ankara's stance on the recent developments in his country, but said he was committed to maintaining good relations with the Turkish people, a senior Turkish politician said Wednesday.
"The policies of the government obviously disappointed the Syrian leadership," main opposition deputy leader Faruk Loğoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News after meeting with al-Assad in Damascus for an hour and a half on Tuesday.
Veteran diplomat Loğoğlu led a delegation from the Republican People's Party, or CHP, on a trip to Syria to get first-hand information about the current state of the Syrian people's revolt against authoritarian leadership and al-Assad's crackdown on dissidents.
Nearly 2,000 people have reportedly been killed by security forces since mid- March when a massive uprising erupted with demands for more freedoms and rights, following similar movements in other Middle Eastern and North African countries.
"The most important part of the trip was our meeting with al-Assad," Loğoğlu said, though he refused to give details about the delegation's conversation with the defiant Syrian leader. He said that al-Assad informed them about his plans for the future and what steps he will take.
Loğoğlu also said the Syrian leader accused al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, some Western countries and Israel of plotting against Syria. According to Loğoğlu's observations, Syrians also see Turkey in the camp of the West, which has caused disappointment in the Damascus administration.
Loğoğlu said al-Assad did not refer to this meeting but that he named certain Turkish figures who had deepened his frustration toward Turkey. Loğoğlu said he was planning to share some of his observations and information with the Foreign Ministry if CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu approves of the idea.
"I am of the opinion that these [reports] should be passed on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," he said. The deputy leader will also prepare a report highlighting the delegation's observations that will be shared with the public. "I always thought this trip should be a transparent one." he added.
Prosecutor Launches Investigation into BDP's Congress
Ankara's Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation regarding the second regular congress meeting of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP.
The investigation will be carried on within the scope of "making propaganda of terrorist organization."
The office will investigate the slogans as well as the banners of Abdullah Ocalan, head of PKK terrorist organization, which were unfurled during the BDP's congress meeting on September 4.
The BDP held its second regular congress meeting in Ankara on September 4; Selahattin Demirtas was re-elected the chairman of the party with 627 of 629 votes, while Gultan Kisanak was elected co-chair of the party.