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(photo credit: AP)
The Obama administration is very concerned about Turkey's actions towards Israel and growing closeness with Syria, US sources told The Jerusalem Post.
The sources said the US hadn't determined whether Ankara's increasing affinity with Damascus indicated a strategic decision to reorient away from the West, but that it was monitoring Turkey's behavior with some alarm.
However, the White House released an upbeat announcement following US President Barack Obama's call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul Saturday. The statement said the two discussed "a range of issues, reflecting the broad strategic dialogue the United States conducts with this key ally."
Topics included Turkish-Armenian normalization efforts, Cyprus and Bosnia-Herzegovina stability.
"The two presidents agreed on the importance of continued consultations on these and other key topics on the global security agenda," the statement said, with no reference to Israel or the Middle East more generally.
US sources speaking to the Post, though, praised the mature and restrained reaction of Israel in the face of affronts from Turkey, including pushing the Jewish state out of a joint military exercise that was to have also included the US and Italy.
The two latter countries pulled out after Turkey disinvited Israel.
American Jewish leaders, concerned over Turkey's recent actions, met with Ankara's emissary in Washington for nearly two hours on Friday.
While the Jewish leadership is underscoring its deep apprehension over the direction the country has taken under the Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party after years of cultivating close ties, they also indicated that they didn't intend to change their approach to working with the Turkish government at this point.
The half-dozen participants in the hastily convened meeting noted their appreciation for the initiative Ambassador Nabi Sensoy took in inviting the leaders to discuss their concerns, which include the scrapped military drill followed by agreements and exercises completed with Syria, as well as the broadcast on state TV of a program demonizing IDF soldiers.
Still, according to one participant in the closed-door conversation, the ambassador "denied that there was a pattern in recent developments" in Turkey's actions, and said that the Jewish community "shouldn't make more of what's happening than what there is."
The participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described Sensoy as warning against "crying wolf" and urging the group to "keep a cool head as we examine all these things."
He characterized the ambassador as accessible and the meeting as "useful," even while acknowledging that "there are clearly problems."
The Post was unable to reach the Turkish Embassy to confirm the comments following the meeting, which took place late on Friday afternoon.
Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, who also attended Friday's meeting, called it "very frank, very candid and very open," in which "the message was one of very, very deep concern."
He noted that among Washington Jewish leaders, "Many of us have really invested years in developing, prioritizing closer Turkish-Israeli, Turkish-Jewish, Turkish-American relationships."
Despite the frustration over the recent events in the face of years of bridge-building, Mariaschin indicated that, "we are always going to strive for good relations between Israeli and its neighbors, and that would include Turkey."
But he added, "We certainly are taking the temperature pretty frequently."
Anti-Defamation League Washington Director Jess Hordes, whose organization has long cultivated ties with Turkey, also stressed the important role that Turkey plays and said that despite "going through a difficult patch right now," at the end "we are strong allies."
Hordes, who was unable to attend Friday's meeting, said the key need was to "stabilize the situation."
He also said that, in spite of the recent "disappointments," the ADL hasn't shifted its orientation toward the country and how to work with it.
"We still believe that Turkey can and should be an important ally of Israel," he explained. "We're basically where we've been on this."
Turkey expert Soner Cagaptay, though, saw the recent events as a major shift in Turkish-Israel relations in which the alliance that had held for decades was breaking apart.
"This is the real beginning of the ending of Israel-Turkey ties," he said. "Now the government is looking at Israel from the perspective of the Muslim world, in perpetual conflict.
He said that the cancelling of the military exercise, a tradition of more than a dozen years, was particularly important because it was an example of the regime matching heated criticism of Israel with actual policy.
Cagaptay also said Turkey was sending a message to NATO that it would have to chose between Turkey and Israel.
He described the message as one where: "It won't help NATO if NATO helps Israel."
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan implicitly condemned Israel as a "persecutor" in televised remarks Saturday night.
"Turkey has never, in its history, been on the side of persecutors, it has always defended the oppressed," he said in a speech in Kirsehir, central Turkey.
"Turkey is not hostile toward any country...but we oppose injustice," he added.
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report