Ayalon: Ties with Ankara still strong

Ayalon Ties with Ankara

Israeli-Turkish relations will continue to be strong despite the current tensions between the two countries, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Wednesday. Speaking in the Knesset at a session on relations with Ankara, Ayalon said there was no crisis in relations with Turkey. "All the systems, including diplomatic and military, are continuing," he said. Ayalon's comments came after a series of anti-Israel measures initiated by Ankara this year, which intensified over the past several weeks, including the cancellation of a joint military exercise, harsh condemnation of Operation Cast Lead, and the broadcast on Turkish state TV of a virulently anti-Israeli series portraying IDF soldiers as child-killers. Ayalon has been trying to temper the tone of the debate in Israel over relations with Turkey for the past several weeks and continued in this vein Wednesday, arguing for a rational instead of an emotional approach to the problem. "We don't like everything we hear, but we shouldn't shoot from the hip and become afraid of everything. We have the channels that we're using even now to deal with our problems. It's important to maintain stability in the region, and Turkey is a partner for that and future peace moves," Ayalon said. Diplomatic officials this week noted that several years ago, Turkish state TV had broadcast a show portraying Russian soldiers perpetrating atrocities on Muslims in Chechnya, but that Russia had not made as much of a diplomatic noise about that show as Israel had about the recent Turkish TV series called Ayrilik (Farewell) . At the Knesset on Wednesday, Ayalon said relations with Ankara were important to Israel because Turkey was not only a NATO member, but also "an antithesis to Iran: a tolerant Muslim democracy with a constitution, unlike Iran." Ayalon added that Israel supported Turkey's joining the EU. He also said he thought it had been a "serious mistake" for the Olmert government to ask Ankara to mediate peace talks between Jerusalem and Damascus. "Syria never wanted a real engagement; they wanted a process to get them out of the [assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafik] Hariri mess. They spoke about peace without making peace; they talk of peace while they're making war through Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah," Ayalon said. At the same Knesset debate, meanwhile, Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham called on Turkish Jews to immigrate to Israel, saying they had "nothing left to do there." Avraham noted that 10 years ago, Israel had sent rescue teams to Turkey after a devastating earthquake. "Israel sent three Hercules planes with IDF Home Front Command reservists with a lot of experience to save Turkish lives. Ten years later, these same soldiers who saved Turkish lives were last week portrayed as child-killers on Turkish state TV," Avraham said.