Turkish PM calls Lieberman ‘Israel’s chief problem’

Erdogan calls Netanyahu government "perhaps the worst" in Israel's history; FM, in Greece, stays quiet in face of Turkish PM's latest outburst.

Erdogan flag 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Erdogan flag 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Some three weeks after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly slammed the Turkish leadership, breaking the government’s policy of refraining from responding in kind to Turkey’s anti-Israel rhetoric, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Lieberman, saying he should be fired.
In an interview on Al-Jazeera that aired Wednesday evening, Erdogan said, “Lieberman is Israel’s chief problem, and the Israelis should get rid of him. This is their problem, not ours. If Israel doesn’t fire him, their problems will get worse.”
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The prime minister’s comments came on the day Lieberman traveled to Greece, a trip that further illustrates a flowering relationship between Jerusalem and Athens that has blossomed as quickly as ties between Turkey and Israel have faded.
At the end of December, during a speech to Israel’s ambassadors, Lieberman characterized Turkey’s demand for an apology over the Mavi Marmara incident as “beyond chutzpa,” and said both Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spread “lies” about Israel.
Erdogan, however, did not suffice with attacking Lieberman in his interview, saying, “The Netanyahu government may be the worst or least fortunate in the history of Israel.”
“I will not renew agreements signed with Israel,” Erdogan said, again demanding an apology for the Mavi Marmara and compensation payments. “When [Israel] responds to these conditions, we will assess the situation.”
Erdogan also defended Hamas, saying it “is not a terrorist movement. They are people defending their land. It is a movement that entered the elections and won...[Israel] sees them as enemies of democracy.”
Erdogan said he had told Quartet envoy Tony Blair that “peace will not come out of any negotiating table without Hamas.”
Erdogan is up for reelection in the summer. According to cables released by WikiLeaks that were sent by US ambassador James Jeffrey in October 2009 and January 2010, Erdogan used “populist” rhetoric against Israel to “shore up his right political flank.” Neither Lieberman nor Netanyahu’s office would comment Thursday on the recent statements.
But on Tuesday, at a speech in Jerusalem to foreign journalists, Netanyahu said the deterioration in ties with Turkey was not Israel’s fault.
“There’s a country with which we [once] had tremendously close relations. We had the exchange [between] the leaders. There were exchanges between our security forces.[There was] economic trade. That country is called Iran. And that changed overnight,” Netanyahu said.
“There’s another country with which we had flowering peaceful relations: meeting of leaders, joint military exercises, 400,000 Israeli tourists a year – that country is called Turkey. And I still hope we can arrest the slide in the relationship between Turkey and Israel. It wasn’t eroded by our choice.”
In a related development, Lieberman met in Athens Thursday with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and said that, in light of the enhanced relations between the two states, there should be improved cooperation between the countries, and with the Balkan states, in various international forums.
He also said Israel expected Greek support in upgrading its relations with the EU – something opposed by a number of EU countries at this time because of the stalemate in the diplomatic process.
In addition to strengthening its ties with Greece, the deterioration in Israel’s relations with Turkey has also led to better ties with other historic rivals of Turkey, such as Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria.