Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer will be the only government minister attending the Turkish Republic Day reception Thursday evening at the home of the Turkish ambassador in Kfar Shmaryahu, a reflection of the current tension between the two countries.
Neither President Shimon Peres, who Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan harangued at the Davos Conference in January, nor Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, nor Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will be attending.
A spokeswoman for Peres, when asked whether he would attend the reception, as he had last year, said simply he would be "unable to make it." Asked whether this was a form of protest, she said she had nothing to add.
The same response was given by Lieberman's spokesman, who said the foreign minister would not attend, but would also not give any details as to why not.
A spokesman for Netanyahu said the prime minister had other obligations Thursday night. Another source in the Prime Minister's Office said that the prime minister did not generally attend national day receptions, with the exception of the July 4 party at the US ambassador's home. This year, the source noted, Netanyahu also attended the Egyptian national day reception to mark 30 years since the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
A spokeswoman at the Turkish embassy said that invitations are usually sent to the entire cabinet. She said Ben-Eliezer and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon had said they would attend. A spokeswoman for Ayalon said later in the day, however, that he too had scheduling problems, and that the Foreign Ministry would be represented by director-general Yossi Gal.
Ben Eliezer, meanwhile, said on Israel Radio that the Turkish-Israeli relationship was a strategic one important to both countries.
"We have to look at our strategic interests, and out strategic interest is to continue having a relationship with the Turks. Those who know Turkey's geo-strategic position know about its importance. And, amazingly enough, we are also important to the Turks."
There was currently a "cloud" hovering over the relationship, he said, adding that efforts must be taken to ensure that it passes.
One senior Foreign Ministry official praised Ben-Eliezer's decision to attend the reception, saying that even though it seemed as if Erdogan was determined to set back the relationship, there were "many elements in Turkey" who wanted to preserve it and with whom it was possible to have a "rational dialogue."
"Erdogan is trying to destroy everything," the official said. "And while he represents an important sector, he doesn't represent everyone."
The official defended the decision made by the other ministers, as well as Peres, not to attend, saying it was enough to send one minister to show that Israel was willing to "keep the door open" with Turkey. There was no need to "exaggerate" and send Peres, the symbol of the state, said the official, especially considering the way Erdogan treated him in Davos.
And even as Israeli ministers stayed away from Turkish reception in droves, Erdogan said during a press conference in Iran that he would once again be willing to mediate indirect talks between Israel and Syria.
"My country is interesting in mediating negotiations between Israel and Syria, if both sides are interested," Army Radio reported him as saying.
Following Erdogan's vicious criticism earlier in the year of Israel following Operation Cast Lead, and even before the current nosedive in relations sparked in large part by the Turkish prime minister's statements and actions, senior Israeli officials said that Erdogan had lost Israel's trust and confidence as an honest broker.
Erdogan's comments about wanting to mediate again between Jerusalem and Damascus came after Syrian President Bashar Assad said earlier in the day that he was ready to resume peace talks with Israel, and that there was national support in his country for the negotiations.
"As far as it concerns us in Syria we have national support to continue talks with Israel," Assad said in Zagreb after meeting Croatian President Stipe Mesic. "However, there is a condition: that on the Israeli side we also have those who want to continue the negotiations."
Assad hailed Turkey for its recent mediation efforts and said a "third side" would be necessary for the talks to restart.
"We call on European countries to also give their contribution, to help Turkey but also us to be able to resume from where we have stopped," he added.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to Assad's comments, saying that while peace with Syria was a "central brick" in any stable regional settlement, responsible leadership from both Syria and Hizbullah was required to "prevent the dangers of deterioration in the region."