Barak says Turkey major player in ME

After drill cancellation

turkey ship 248 88 AP (photo credit: )
turkey ship 248 88 AP
(photo credit: )
Following Turkey's cancellation of a joint military exercise on Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that "despite the ups and downs, Turkey continues to be a major player in our region." Speaking on Monday, Barak stressed that Turkey's relations with Israel had "existed for decades" and were "strategic," adding that there was "no need for harsh words" to be directed against Ankara. Turkey informed Israel on Thursday that it would not allow the IAF to participate in the annual Anatolian Eagle exercise that was scheduled for this week. Turkey said that it was concerned the aircraft Israel planned to send had participated in bombing runs against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. As a result, the United States and Italy also dropped out of the exercise. On Monday, however, Turkey's Foreign Ministry released a statement denying that the cancellation of the air drill was political in nature. According to the statement, the exercise had not been canceled, but only postponed. The ministry urged Israel to exert "good sense in its approach and statements." It came despite Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu apparently confirming in an interview with CNN on Sunday night that the decision had been partly connected to the IDF's Operation Cast Lead. "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. Davutoglu said Turkey would be conducting "a national military exercise now after consultations with all the parties involved." Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon played down the tensions between Israel and Turkey on Sunday, saying that "Turkey is very important, and our relationship is very strategic. Turkey is very important for the stability and promotion of peace in the Middle East." "Here is a Muslim country that is both a democracy and tolerant, living in good relations with Israel because it is in the interest of both countries to do so," said Ayalon, describing Turkey as "the antithesis to Iran. However, many in Israel were not so optimistic about the way the Turkish wind was blowing. "This is a country that appears to be distancing itself from the West and there could be repercussions," said one defense official. Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report