By Daniella Peled
January 6, 2009
Israel seems to have only alienated one diplomatic ally thus far through its Gaza operation – but a vital strategic one.
Turkey is Israel’s closest Muslim partner, enjoying a far warmer relationship with the Jewish state than the cold peaces extant with Egypt and Jordan, for instance.
And yet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a speech on Sunday which appeared nearer the rhetoric of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than the words of an old– though not uncritical - friend.
Israel, he told a crowd in Anatalia, was “perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction. Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents.”
Hamas, he thundered, had kept to its side of the truce. “But Israel failed to lift embargoes. In Gaza, people seem to live in an open prison. In fact, all Palestine looks like an open prison.”
Israel was shocked and displeased, to say the least. The Turkish ambassador was called in for some stern words. But Jerusalem has steered clear of any dramatic pronouncements, acutely aware of the delicacy of its ties with Turkey.
As the cliché goes, Turkey straddles the axis of both East and West. Perennially cold-shouldered by the EU, it has in the last few years drifted closer to its Islamic allies. But this also makes it a potential interlocutor for Israel – witness the recently stalled talks it brokered with Syria.
Erdogan is said to be insulted that Ehud Olmert fialed to warn him of an imminent operation in a recent visit to Ankara, and may just be letting off steam. Israel will be monitoring his next move closely. But as ever, such pronouncements tend to have more to do with domestic consumption than foreign affairs. Popular feeling is overwhelmingly against the IDF operation in Gaza, and Erdogan was speaking at a local election rally; the country is to hold municipal elections in March.