In another sign of continued tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem, the Turkish military canceled a planned joint exercise with the Israel Air Force scheduled for this week, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Defense officials told the Post that Turkey informed Israel of the cancellation of the Anatolian Eagle exercise last week, which was to also include US, Italian and NATO forces, saying this was because the planes that Israel was going to send likely bombed Hamas targets during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
According to reports over the weekend in the Turkish press, Ankara decided last week to cancel international participation in the annual air force exercise, in which Israel has taken part in several times in the past. The reports claimed that the move was aimed specifically at preventing the Israel Air Force from participating, an idea confirmed by the IDF Spokesman's Office on Saturday night.
"The exercise was postponed due to a Turkish decision to change the composition of the participants and not allow the Israel Air Force to participate, a decision we were informed of only several days ago," read a statement from the IDF Spokesman's Office.
On Thursday, the Turkish military issued a statement saying, "Anatolian Eagle Exercise will be executed as planned between October 12-23, [but] multinational participation is postponed."
Israeli defense officials confirmed that the cancellation was connected to tension between Jerusalem and Ankara that was sparked by Operation Cast Lead.
"Ties between the countries are still tense," explained one defense official. "The announcement about the cancellation was sudden and unexpected."
Anatolian Eagle was first held in 2001, with Turkish, Israeli and American participation. The drill lasted almost two weeks and included Israeli F-16s, helicopters and refueling tankers. Israel last participated in the exercise in September 2008, but has not flown in Turkey since Operation Cast Lead, due to the increase in tensions.
Israel's absence from the last Anatolian Eagle exercise in June drew headlines in Turkey. Israeli officials said at the time that the IAF would participate in the upcoming exercise scheduled for October.