An inflammatory anti-Israeli television show in Turkey on Tuesday did what Ankara's cancellation of Israeli participation in an international military exercise last week failed to do - lead the Foreign Ministry to call in Turkey's envoy to register a protest.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a statement Wednesday night announcing that the Turkish envoy would be summoned to protest the "inciting" television program that appeared Tuesday evening on prime time on the government-controlled station TRT1.
In the first episode of a series on a Palestinian family living in the West Bank, IDF soldiers are variously seen killing a baby and a young girl, and lining up Palestinians to be shot before a firing squad.
Lieberman, currently holding meetings in Austria, issued a statement saying the airing of this show, on a government-controlled station, represented the "gravest form of incitement."
"This series, which has absolutely no connection to reality, and which presents IDF soldiers as murderers of innocent children, is not fit to be broadcast even in the most hostile countries, and certainly not in a country that has full diplomatic relations with Israel," he said.
Since the start of the current diplomatic tension with Ankara, Israel has opted to take a very low profile, not wanting to exacerbate the situation with harsh public comments.
Tuesday's airing of the television show - on top of the cancellation of Israel's participation in the military exercise, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's harangue Monday accusing Israel of killing children with phosphorus bombs in Gaza, and the announcement of joint military maneuvers with Syria - has now changed the situation.
To make matters even more complicated, Turkey - in the midst of all this tension - is not currently represented by an ambassador in Israel, as the previous ambassador left the country a few weeks ago, and his replacement has not yet arrived. Some diplomatic observers in Israel doubted this was a mere coincidence.
In a related development, Israel reacted skeptically Wednesday to Turkish press reports that the IAF was dropped from the annual Anatolian Eagle military exercise because of an Israeli delay in supplying unmanned aviation vehicles (UAVs), and not because of deep political differences.
The Turkish daily Today's Zaman on Wednesday quoted a Turkish air force official as saying that Israel failed "yet again" to deliver the Heron surveillance drones.
"Turkey needs those vehicles in its fight against terror. What led to the recent crisis between Turkey and Israel was the delay in the delivery," the paper quoted the official as saying.
According to the paper, Turkey agreed four years ago to buy 10 Heron UAVs for over $180 million from Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems, Ltd.
However, the paper said, "Israeli firms have missed the deadline for delivery."
According to the paper, basing itself on the Turkish air force official, "As Israeli authorities failed to satisfactorily convince Turkey that they would be able to achieve the planned date for delivery of the Herons, the Air Forces Command informed the General Staff of the situation. Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug shared his concerns with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a security meeting in late September.
"The prime minister assured Basbug that the government would back any military sanction on Israel. The General Staff asked Israeli authorities one last time about the delivery of the Herons. Israeli authorities refused to give an exact date and said they planned to deliver the vehicles by the end of 2009, whereupon the General Staff decided to cancel the international part of the exercises."
Israeli officials, however, dismissed this version of events, with one Defense Ministry official saying that Israel had met all its contractual commitments to Turkey. The official said it was the IAF's actions in Gaza, and not the Heron, that led Turkey to bump Israel from the military exercise.
One diplomatic official said that it was hard to believe a dispute like this over the Heron would lead to the cancelling of a major military exercise, and the hectoring of Israel by Erdogan. Rather, he said, if there were indeed a problem in the delivery of the UAVs, then a more likely response would have been to keep Israel out of the bidding for other Turkish military contracts.
Moreover, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu indicated in an interview with CNN on Sunday night that Turkey's decision to bar Israel from the military exercise did, indeed, have to do with Gaza.
"We hope that the situation in Gaza will be improved, that the situation will be back to the diplomatic track. And that will create a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations as well. But in the existing situation, of course, we are criticizing this approach, [the] Israeli approach," he had said.
Another Turkish daily, Hurriyet, quoted a Turkish official as saying that Turkey was "not warm to the idea of opening its air corridor to Israeli jets for training." But, the paper reported, the cancellation of the recent exercise did not mean an end to all joint military exercises and that Ankara would approve other military exercises involving Israel in November.
Turkey's decision to bar Israel from a NATO military drill earlier this week was based on "the people's" concern over Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Erdogan reportedly said Wednesday evening.
Citing an Al Arabiya television interview, Reuters quoted Erdogan as saying, "There are diplomatic sensitivities in the region which we had to take into consideration... and we took into consideration the conscience of our people ... because our people did not want Israel's participation."