'Erdogan will speak differently now'

Ayalon aides say Israeli will benefit from his actions; Peres: Deputy FM did not represent country.

January 15, 2010 08:22
3 minute read.
'Erdogan will speak differently now'

erdogan hands up 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

A day after Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was forced to apologize for his undiplomatic treatment earlier this week of Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol, sources in his office said on Thursday Ankara would be more careful in the future regarding its statements on Israel.

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"Israel will benefit from the way in which Ayalon managed the crisis," the sources said. "The result is that today Turkey will be much more careful in its statements [about Israel]."

That assessment, however, was not shared by many in the ministry. One senior official said there was no chance that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who routinely lambasts Israel, would now tone down his comments after having seen the anger they were causing in Israel.

"Erdogan will only change his rhetoric if he sees that it costs him something," one senior official said. "But blasting Israel does not cost him anything, and actually gains him points both at home and in the Arab world."

The official said Ayalon's comments hurt those in Turkey who wanted to see Erdogan lower the tone of his rhetoric toward Israel, because Ayalon's treatment of Celikkol in front of the television cameras was something that everybody in Turkey, including those who wanted better ties with Israel, found insulting.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres, who was instrumental in getting Ayalon to issue his apology, said that this incident was one man's error, and not the policy of the government.

"This is not a mistake that the state organized, and it is good that the deputy foreign minister corrected the mistake that he made. You can't attribute this to the state or to Israel's diplomacy," he said at an agricultural fair in Tel Aviv.

Dov Weissglas, Ariel Sharon's chief of staff when he served as prime minister, reportedly called Peres and asked him to intervene. Both Weissglas, and - ironically enough - Ayalon himself, before he entered politics last year, have previously intervened on Turkey's behalf in Washington.

Peres, whom Erdogan upbraided last January at a conference in Davos, Switzerland, before storming off the stage, then reportedly convinced Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Ayalon that a written apology was in order.

Ayalon's office on Thursday took to task a group of 17 MKs for sending their own letter to Celikkol.

The missive, initiated by freshman MK Robert Tibayev (Kadima), chairman of the Israel-Turkey Friendship Organization, and drafted with the support of opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni (Kadima), expressed "sorrow" over the incident.

"We express our regret regarding the inappropriate way in which Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon [Israel Beiteinu] acted in order to express Israel's criticism of the Turkish government's policies," wrote the MKs. The goal of the letter, they explained, was to "correct at least a little the damage caused and to return the relations between the two countries to their usual scope."

Thirteen of the 17 lawmakers were from Kadima, and only two coalition members - Labor MKs Eitan Cabel and Daniel Ben-Simon - were among the group.

Tibayev later defended the decision to write the letter, adding that he did not have any personal criticism of Ayalon's performance in the Foreign Ministry. He emphasized that maintaining strong relations with Turkey, if not with the current Turkish administration, was of upmost importance to Israel.

"Compare relations with Turkey with our relations with Egypt. With Egypt, we have a peace between governments, but not between peoples. With Turkey, we have the opposite - peace between the peoples, but conflict between the administrations," he said.

Sources in Ayalon's office asked where these MKs were during the last two years, "when the Turkish leadership attacked Israel time after time - even when Israel did what was necessary and defended itself from missile and terror attacks from Gaza. Now they write a letter of apology, instead of standing up for Israel's honor and its right to defend its citizens."

Livni took Ayalon, Netanyahu and Lieberman to task during a speech on Thursday for the manner in which they handled the crisis, while saying there were troubling signs over the last few months about whether Turkey was on the side of the extremists or the moderates in the region.

Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.

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