Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to travel to Egypt on Monday on the first leg of what the Turkish media is calling his “Arab Spring Tour,” amid concern in Jerusalem he will use the visit to further bash Israel and try to drive the current wedge between Israel and Egypt even deeper.
From Israel’s standpoint the visit itself is not a problem, one diplomatic official said, the problem is that Erdogan will likely “try to spin it against Israel.”
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There is also concern that he will try to use the trip to build an alliance with Egypt against Israel.
At the same time, it does not seem that Erdogan will carry out his threat to visit Gaza from Egypt, with the Turkish website Today’s Zaman
reporting that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday that following Egypt, Erdogan was going to Libya and Tunisia, but that his trip would be limited to those countries.
Nevertheless, the website reported that Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh said on
Sunday that preparations for Erdogan’s visit were still taking place. In
an interview with the Anatolia news agency, Haniyeh praised Turkish
sanctions against Israel, calling them “a great support for the people
of Palestine and the Palestinian cause.”
Israeli officials said it was unlikely Erdogan would visit Gaza, because
such a visit – and meetings with Hamas leaders – would do more damage
to Turkey’s position in the US, than it would hurt Israel. The officials
also said that such a move would also be frowned upon by the
The officials noted the irony that Erdogan, who for the last several
years was a major backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and who in
December received the Gaddafi International Prize for humanitarian
rights award, was now touring the Arab world as if he were the leader of
the Muslim world and still a bridge to the west. In December Erdogan
said receiving the Gaddafi award would strengthen and support his
struggle for human rights.
Meanwhile, Friday’s report in Yediot Aharonot
that Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman was preparing a basket of possible responses to
Turkish actions against Israel, including the possibility of supporting
the Kurdish PKK fighting the Turks, predictably raised Turkish ire, even
though Lieberman denied the report in a Channel 2 interview on
According to Today’s Zaman
, Davutoglu said Sunday that Lieberman’s
“alleged words come at a time when a battle against terrorism is being
fought on a global scale. One cannot make distinctions between terrorist
organizations. We are hoping that Israel will also back up its denial
of the alleged plans [to support the PKK] through its actions.”
Davutoglu said that Turkey would not be blackmailed.
“Support extended to the PKK by Israel or any other country whoever they
may be will be reciprocated equally,” Davutoglu reportedly said.Today’s Zaman
also quoted Turkey’s parliament speaker Cemil Çiçek as
saying Sunday that “It’s very troubling that someone with the rank of
minister should make such irresponsible remarks.”
“The things with which Turkey has been struggling is not only ethnic and
separatist terror. With these statements, it is becoming clear who is
and will be behind these [terrorists]. We know that these irresponsible
mentalities have a role in shedding the blood of martyrs and in the
flowing of tears.”
Israel has for years avoided all contact with Kurdish leaders because of the fear of infuriating the Turks.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers Sunday to be
“restrained” in what they say about Turkey, and expressed the hope that
“we can stabilize the situation.” Without going into details, he said
nobody was “giving up on trying to stabilize relations with Turkey.”
Nevertheless, Channel 2 reported that diplomatic cables have been sent
to Jerusalem in recent days warning that that among other steps Erdogan
was considering were barring Israeli ships form Turkish ports;
unspecified action against Israeli businesses in Turkey; not paying some
$350 million that Turkish businesses owe Israeli companies; expelling
the Israeli consul-general in Istanbul; launching a diplomatic campaign
to get the world to recognize Hamas; and turning the Israel Atomic
Energy Agency against Israel’s nuclear program.
Referring to the developments in the region, Netanyahu reportedly told
the ministers there was no need for self-flagellation, and that the
events in the region – including the developments with Turkey and Egypt –
were not connected to Israel and the diplomatic process with the
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, asked in the cabinet for an
in-depth discussion in the government to be held to deal with Israel’s
diplomatic situation: the worsening ties with Egypt and Turkey, the lack
of negotiations with the Palestinians, and Israel’s increasing
isolation. He reportedly wants to bring into the discussion relevant
intelligence and security bodies saying that what is needed is an
Israeli diplomatic initiative to improve the situation.
In a related development, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau
said Sunday Israel will develop and defend gas platforms recently
discovered in its waters. His comments follow Turkish threats to boost
naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Israel can support and secure the rigs that we are going to have in the
Mediterranean,” Landau said at security conference when asked if Israel
would safeguard the gas platforms after the warship challenge floated
last week by Erdogan.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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