McCain criticizes Turkey for broken ties with Israel

US senator calls diplomatic break painful for the US as it counts both Israel and Turkey as vital allies.

US Senator John McCain 370 (R) (photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
US Senator John McCain 370 (R)
(photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – US Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) on Wednesday slammed Turkey for the handling of its ties with Israel.
“The recent deterioration of Turkey’s relationship with Israel cannot serve any responsible interest, and is especially painful for us as we count both Israel and Turkey as vital allies,” McCain said as part of a brief list of troubling trends in Turkey that he identified in an address on the country.
McCain, the ranking member of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, was speaking at the Middle East Institute’s third annual conference on Turkey.
Turkish Ambassador to the US Namik Tan, who once served in Israel, spoke after McCain and said that Ankara’s conditions for reconciling with Israel remain unchanged.
Turkey has demanded an apology from Israel after the IDF killed nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara ship that was trying to break the Gaza blockade in 2010.
Israel says the soldiers were being attacked and acted in self defense.
“Today Israel has a strong government,” Tan said, indicating that the newly expanded coalition is seen in Turkey as a change to the political environment that could lead Jerusalem to take a new approach to Ankara’s demands.
“We expect them to honor all those conditions, and if they do so, we are ready to move on,” he said.
McCain stressed that even though the US takes issue with Turkey’s treatment of Israel, the many journalists the government has recently jailed and its prosecution of military officers that seems to be politically motivated, the two countries still share common visions for the region and the future.
“Despite our occasional differences, our countries increasingly share a larger vision for the future of this vital region, that is a vision of democracy, individual rights, opportunity and the rule of law,” he said. “The interests and values of a rising and democratic Turkey are increasingly in alignment with ours.”
McCain pointed to collaboration on missile defense, similar hopes for the outcome of the Arab Spring revolutions and interests in Afghanistan.
David Pollock, a Middle East expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who attended the conference, said that even though Turkey has taken some steps that concern the US and Israel, the country does share common ground with the West and provides an important model for the region.
He said the relationship between the US and Turkey has gotten closer in the past year, which has been helped by its “toning down” of some of its worst rhetoric on Israel.
While there are still points of friction, he pointed out that there haven’t been further flotillas from Turkey and that economic ties with Israel are booming.
Also, Pollock noted that Turkey has downgraded its courting of Hamas, a policy of grave concern to Israel and the US.
He assessed that the shift away from Hamas came from Ankara’s growing awareness of the dangers in supporting Hamas amidst the regional upheaval.
“With so much other instability all around them, that’s not what they want,” he said. “They don’t want to push this over the edge.”