A joint military exercise that Israel, the US, NATO, Turkey and Italy were scheduled to conduct this week, was taken off the table because of American disappointment with Ankara's decision to withdraw from the maneuver due to Israel's planned participation, Israeli defense officials said Sunday.
Turkey informed Israel of the cancellation of the Anatolian Eagle exercise last week, 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 officials quoted by Israel Radio, the cancellation of the exercise came after both the US and NATO threatened to pull out if the IAF did not participate.
Similar comments were made to the Associated Press by officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
However, a statement released by the IDF's Spokesperson's Office on Saturday said that "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."
Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Radio on Sunday afternoon that "the incident must be looked into accurately without bowing our heads."
Israel is "better off in a coalition of NATO countries led by the US, who will negotiate with the Turks, because [the country's decision to back out of participating in the joint drill] also harms European and American interests," the deputy minister said.
"Turkey was and remains a very important strategic anchor in the Middle East," Ayalon concluded.
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 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.