We will not be Turkey’s punching bag

Recent outrageous remarks and events emanating from the country make it extremely hard for us to show restraint. We will react, as any other sovereign nation, to such insults and abuse.

mavi marmara 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
mavi marmara 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Contrary to popular assertions, the current crisis with Turkey did not begin yesterday and certainly not after the events surrounding the flotilla in May. The crisis began long before this government was established and was long predetermined in Ankara. The exact genesis of the current crisis can be traced to the moment in January 2009 when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan verbally attacked and humiliated President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Everyone who saw this unsettling scene was left in no doubt that this outburst was not improvised or reactive, but part of a carefully thought-out strategy.
Israel has never sought a change in its relationship with Turkey and even today it remains in the best interests of both nations for relations to return to pre- Davos levels. However, the understandable offense Israelis feel towards Turkey’s continued harsh rhetoric makes it very difficult for the government to accept any preconditions for normalization.
The completely unilateral change in the relations is not reflective of our actions; rather it is the result of Turkey’s internal politics. Turkey’s relations with Israel are only a small reflection of what is occurring in Turkish society. The best example of this is Ankara’s decision not to vote for sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, in direct opposition to its allies in NATO.
UNFORTUNATELY, RECENT events in Turkey are reminiscent of Iran before the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei. Like Turkey, Iran was among Israel’s closest allies and the two nations held good relations between both governments and people.
Similarly, the Khomenei revolution was the result of internal factors and had absolutely no connection to Israel.
During the last couple of months, the incitement against Israel has reached new heights. During Erdogan’s visit to Lebanon in late November, he said that Turkey will not “remain silent” while Israel will “kill women and children using modern aircraft, tanks... phosphorus munitions and cluster bombs.”
It is important to note that Erdogan’s visit followed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon a month prior. It was difficult for us to perceive any differences in the vitriol of the two. We had to make difficult decisions concerning how to react to this dangerous rhetoric, and it ultimately was decided the best course of action was to exercise restraint and refrain from a response.
However, in December the trailer for the upcoming film as part of the Valley of the Wolves series was released. This series continues to depict classic anti- Semitic motifs like the kidnapping of non-Jewish children, Jewish obsession with blood and murder and portraying Jews as the most evil people in the world.
ON DECEMBER 25, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke about Turkey’s quick dispatch of planes to help us battle the Carmel Forest fire, and suggested that, had the situation been reversed, Israel would not have reciprocated. Davutoglu must have forgotten or been unaware of our immediate response to the tragic earthquake disaster in 1999 when a contingent of 250 emergency workers was dispatched to Turkey, where they erected a field hospital and rescued many from the rubble.
The contingent stayed for weeks, long after most other international emergency workers went back home. In addition, the Israeli public launched a spontaneous campaign to assist the earthquake victims, in an impressive display of friendship and goodwill.
I repeat once again that we are extremely grateful to the Turkish government for its assistance during the Carmel fire and I say assuredly that should there be a disaster in Turkey we will once again immediately offer our complete cooperation and assistance, regardless of the current political atmosphere.
However, while presenting itself as interested in a rapprochement, the Turkish government maintains a disingenuous position. Subsequent to the Carmel fire when Davutoglu spoke of his hope for a repair in relations, the government refused to renew a trade agreement that will leave 800 Turkish workers here without jobs. The inexplicable cancellation was unilateral and without warning.
The hatred and incitement reached its peak during the dreadful spectacle when a crowd of 100,000 welcomed the terror ship Mavi Marmara back to Istanbul chanting jihadist slogans and “Death to Israel.”
The lack of condemnation for these outrageous scenes from any official Turkish sources makes it extremely hard for us to show restraint. We will not be a punching bag and will react, as any other sovereign nation, to such insults and abuse.
If the Turkish government is truly honest about seeking to normalize relations with Israel, it needs to stop looking for excuses and attaching preconditions. Israel should not be used as an issue in the upcoming Turkish national elections in June.
We are seeking a return to a frank and honest dialogue with Turkey, and I invite my counterpart, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, to Jerusalem, or any other location, where we can discuss all issues of relevance to both nations and the wider region. Allies can have disagreements; it is how we deal with these disagreements that is the true mark of any relationship.

The writer is deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.