Turkey’s Erdogan: Normalization of ties with Israel would benefit region


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the normalization of ties between his country and Israel would benefit the entire Middle East.

“This normalization process would be good for us, Israel, Palestine and the entire region,” Erdogan told reporters Sunday, the Turkish Daily Sabah reported. “The region definitely needs this. I don’t believe the Israeli public is pleased with the current state of relations. We need to consider the interests of the people of the region and introduce peace.”

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down after the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed in an Israeli commando raid of a Turkish boat in a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip

Erdogan reiterated his three conditions for restoring ties with Israel: an apology for the raid and the deaths, compensation to the victims’ families and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan in March 2013, after which representatives of the countries met for reconciliation talks that fell apart during the Gaza War the following year.

Ergogan disregards Kerry request to postpone Gaza visit


Turkey's prime minister will go ahead with a planned visit next month to Gaza, despite a request from US Secretary of State John Kerry to postpone.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly refused Kerry's request Sunday to postpone the visit, during a meeting between the two leaders in Istanbul. Erdogan had previously postponed his visit from this month until next, to take place after a scheduled meeting in Washington in mid-May.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also asked Erdogan to delay the visit during a meeting between the two men in Istanbul, saying it could harm relations between the West Bank and Gaza.

Erdogan reportedly plans to visit Gaza on or around May 31, the three-year anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli naval commandoes raided the ship attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israeli negotiators on Monday met in Ankara with Turkish officials to discuss paying compensation to the families of the victims of the 2010 raid.

The negotiations are part of the process of restoring diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey which were severed following the raid and which began the process of being repaired following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology last month to Erdogan.

Obama brokers Israel-Turkey rapprochement


Israel apologized to Turkey on Friday for killing nine Turkish citizens in a 2010 naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla and both feuding U.S. allies agreed to normalize relations in a surprise breakthrough announced by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The rapprochement could help regional coordination to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war and ease Israel's diplomatic isolation in the Middle East as it faces challenges posed by Iran's nuclear program.

In a statement released by the White House only minutes before Obama ended a visit to Israel, the president said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erodgan had spoken by telephone.

“The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” Obama said.

The first conversation between the two leaders since 2011, when Netanyahu phoned to offer help after an earthquake struck Turkey, gave Obama a diplomatic triumph in a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in which he offered no new plan to revive peace talks frozen for nearly three years.

The 30-minute call was made in a runway trailer at Tel Aviv airport, where Obama and Netanyahu huddled before the president boarded Air Force One for a flight to Jordan, U.S. officials said.

Israel bowed to a long-standing demand by Ankara, once a close strategic partner, to apologize formally for the deaths aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, which was boarded by Israeli marines who intercepted a flotilla challenging Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed an apology to the Turkish people for any error that may have led to the loss of life, and agreed to complete the agreement for compensation,” an official Israeli statement said.

Netanyahu and Erdogan “agreed to restore normalization between the two countries, including returning their ambassadors (to their posts),” the statement added.

A U.S. official said “Erdogan accepted the apology on behalf of Turkey.”

FRAYED TIES

Ankara expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military cooperation after a U.N. report into the Mavi Marmara incident, released in September 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state.

Israel had previously balked at apologizing to the Turks, saying this would be tantamount to admitting moral culpability and would invite lawsuits against its troops.

Voicing until now only “regret” over the Mavi Marmara incident, Israel has offered to pay into what it called a “humanitarian fund” through which casualties and their relatives could be compensated.

A source in Netanyahu's office said opening a new chapter with Turkey “can be very, very important for the future, regarding what happens with Syria but not just what happens with Syria”.

Before the diplomatic break, Israeli pilots trained in Turkish skies, exercises widely seen as improving their capability to carry out long-range missions such as possible strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Crispian Balmer and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Israel, Turkey to normalize ties after Israeli apology for 2010 flotilla raid


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to normalize relations after Netanyahu apologized and agreed to compensation for the 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged ship that left nine Turks dead.

The two men talked on Friday by phone, according to statements by Netanyahu's office and the White House.

“The two men agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF soldiers,” said the Israeli statement.

The White House was first to report the conversation, with a statement by President Obama on the subject just after the completion of his three-day tour of Israel.

“I welcome the call today between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan,” Obama said in the statement. “The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security. I am hopeful that today's exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities.”

Netanyahu apologized for “operational errors” during the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

“The Prime Minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” said the statement from Netanyahu's office. “In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”

Among the dead was a dual Turkish-American citizen. A senior Obama administration official described the call as a first step toward Israeli-Turkish reconciliation.

Israel Radio reported that Obama initiated the phone call in Netanyahu's presence, spoke with Erdogan, and then handed the receiver to Netanyahu.

Reuters, reporting from Ankara, said Erdogan expressed the “strong importance” of Jewish-Turkish ties.

The Obama administration has been endeavoring to repair ties between the one-time allies since May 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded the ship, which was attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Passengers on the boat attacked the commandos during the raid, and nine people were killed in the ensuing melee. The raid sent already damaged Turkish-Israeli ties into a tailspin.

Netanyahu until now had resisted calls, including from some of his closest advisers, to apologize for the incident. Other factions in his last government strongly opposed an apology. Recent reports, however, had said that Netanyahu would reconsider once he had a new government in place — something he accomplished last weekend.

This week, Erdogan attempted to backtrack from his most recent anti-Israel outburst, telling a Danish newspaper that his equation last month of Zionism with anti-Semitism and crimes against humanity referred only to certain Israeli acts and not the Zionist movement per se. Netanyahu, in his statement, said he “expressed appreciation” to Erdogan for the clarification.

Relations between Israel and Turkey had turned sout after the 2009 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. In the statement Friday, Netanyahu said he told Erdogan “that Israel has already lifted several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and added that this will continue as long as the quiet is maintained.”

The statement concluded by saying that “The two leaders agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.”

Kerry: Turkish PM’s Zionism comments ‘objectionable’


Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday the United States found a comment by Turkey's prime minister, likening Zionism to crimes against humanity, “objectionable”, overshadowing their talks on the crisis in neighboring Syria.

Kerry, on his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office, is meeting Turkish leaders for talks meant to focus on Syria's civil war and bilateral interests from energy security to counter-terrorism.

But the comment by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a U.N. meeting in Vienna this week, condemned by his Israeli counterpart, the White House and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has clouded his trip.

“We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable,” Kerry told a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, saying he raised the issue directly with Davutoglu and would do so with Erdogan.

“That said, Turkey and Israel are both vital allies of the United States and we want to see them work together in order to be able to go beyond the rhetoric and begin to take concrete steps to change this relationship,” Kerry added.

Washington needs all the allies it can get as it navigates the political currents of the Middle East, and sees Turkey as the key player in supporting Syria's opposition and planning for the era after President Bashar al-Assad.

But the collapse of Ankara's ties with Israel have undermined U.S. hopes that Turkey could play a role as a broker in the broader region.

Erdogan told the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna on Wednesday: “Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

Erdogan's caustic rhetoric on Israel has in the past won applause from conservative supporters at home but raised increasing concern among Western allies.

Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when Israeli marines killed nine Turks in fighting aboard a Palestinian aid ship that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey it needs to reconsider its attitude both towards us and towards the West Bank,” Davutoglu told the news conference.

Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Michael Roddy

Seven Jewish lawmakers press Obama on Turkey


Seven Jewish House members urged President Obama to conduct an intensive review of the country’s relationship with Turkey.

“It appears that our long-standing ally in Ankara is drifting toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies,” said the letter sent Wednesday by the lawmakers, all Democrats.

The signers are U.S. Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee; Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee; Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

“In response, the United States needs to undertake an urgent review of our relations with Turkey and our overall strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the letter said.

The letter referred to Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador after a United Nations investigation partially vindicated Israel in its May 2010 raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship headed to the Gaza Strip—the raid resulted in a melee that killed nine Turks—as well as what it said were aggressive Turkish postures toward Cyprus and the European Union.

Separately, Engel and Berkley called for a suspension of sales of military equipment to Turkey.

“We urge our Congressional colleagues to join us in rejecting any attempt to supply weapons to a country that is threatening some of America’s closest allies and supporting terrorist groups like Hamas,” they said in a statement.

The Turkish charity that organized the May 2010 flotilla is believed to have ties with Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Turkey’s FM: Tension with Israel won’t change over aid


Diplomatic tension between Turkey and Israel will continue despite Israeli earthquake aid to the stricken country, Turkey’s foreign minister said.

Ahmet Davutoglu told the Turkish news service Today’s Zaman that “political conditions remain,” and Ankara will not change its position on Israel despite the assistance.

Relations between the former allies are nearly nonexistent now following an Israeli naval commando raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla ship Mavi Marmara last year that left nine Turkish nationals dead, including one dual Turkish-American citizen.

Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families. Israel has offered its “regret” for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been deteriorating since the 2008-09 Gaza war.

Israel on Wednesday at Turkey’s request sent portable housing units, as well as inflatable mattresses and blankets. There are plans to send more housing units.

More than 450 deaths have been confirmed in Sunday’s 7.3 temblor.

Netanyahu offers quake aid to Turkey


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to offer condolences for those killed in a devastating earthquake and said the Jewish state was ready to help, officials of both countries said.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been frayed since Israeli commandos killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

Sources at Erdogan’s office said Netanyahu reminded Erdogan that Turkey sent fire-fighting planes in December last year to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people and said Israel was now ready to help Turkey.

At least 279 people were killed and more than 1,300 wounded when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey on Sunday.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the call between the two men took place.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the victims of the terrible earthquake and offered Israel’s help in dealing with the tragedy. The Turkish prime minister thanked him for his words and for his offer to help,” the official said.

It was too early to know if the exchange would lead to a rapprochement. Turkey has demanded Israel apologise and pay compensation for the killings and lift the blockade on Gaza as a condition to normalise ties with its former strategic ally.

Tensions between the two U.S. allies rose last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologise and said its marines acted in self-defence in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists on one of the vessels.

Israel has sent rescue teams to quake-prone Turkey in the past after earthquakes struck.

Turkey has received offers of assistance from countries as far as China and Pakistan but so far has accepted aid only from Iran and Azerbaijan.

Earlier on Monday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc denied Turkey had declined an offer of aid from Israel.

“Our ties with Israel may not be at desired levels, but it’s out of the question to refuse humanitarian offers,” Arinc told a news conference.

“Turkey is thankful and respects all countries who offered help,” he said, but cautioned that “if aid from all countries arrived in Van it would be chaos”.

Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Michael Roddy and Roger Atwood

Turkey IDs Israeli soldiers, commanders in ship’s raid


A list of 174 Israeli soldiers and commanders involved in the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship as it attempted to break the Gaza blockade, was given to Turkish prosecutors.

The list includes the soldiers in the Shayetet 13 commando unit, as well as their commanders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The list was published Monday in the Turkish daily newspaper, Sabah.

It is unclear who drew up the list, which the newspaper said was culled from numerous sources, including Facebook, Sabah reported that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization drew up the list at the request of the state prosecutors office. But the Turkish news service Zaman reported that the state prosecutor denied asking for the list from national intelligence, saying that it received the names from the Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as the IHH, which sponsored the ship and has been identified by Israel as a terrorist organization.

Sabah reported that the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office had requested from Israeli authorities the full names and addresses of the military and government officials involved in the raid on the flotilla, but received no answer.

Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed on May 31, 2010 during an Israeli naval commando raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victi

Turkish PM throws weight behind Arab cause


Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threw Turkey’s weight behind a Palestinian bid for statehood and criticized Israel in an address to Arab states meeting in Cairo geared to buttress his image as a leader of a region in turmoil.

Erdogan is touring Arab states to capitalize on Arab regard for Turkey’s blend of Islam and democracy as a model for movements that have toppled several Arab autocrats, and on popular Arab support for his sparring with Israel.

His destinations on the tour—Egypt, Tunisia and Libya—have all witnessed the fall of entrenched leaders to grassroots revolts this year, challenging the old order across the region.

“Erdogan, Erdogan!” cheered a group of demonstrators as the Turkish prime minister left the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo where he spoke. They were calling for change in Syria, whose military is trying to stamp out popular unrest.

Displaying a populist touch, Erdogan stopped and shook the demonstrators’ hands.

He told the Arab ministers that international recognition of a Palestinian state was “not an option but an obligation.”

“It’s time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. Let’s raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East. Let’s contribute to securing well deserved peace and stability in the Middle East,” he said.

Palestinians will bid for full membership of the United Nations later this month, a move opposed by the United States which has a veto. Arab states endorsed it at the Cairo meeting.

“While Israel is trying to secure its legitimacy in our region on one hand, it is taking irresponsible steps which unsettle its legitimacy on the other,” said Erdogan, who is locked in a feud with the Jewish state, an erstwhile ally.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby introduced the Turkish prime minister saying: “All the Arab peoples appreciate what you are doing. We consider that there is a strong friendly state who is always standing on the side of justice.”

Outside the League, Syrian protester Samer Zaher, 30, said: “Erdogan has turned into an Arab hero … We have not found a leader as powerful as him addressing (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) and asking him to quit.”

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador last week in a row over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bound for Gaza, a Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas and under blockade by Israel.

Erdogan told leading pan-Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera this month that the incident was a “cause for war” but said Turkey acted with “patience,” according to a transcript.

While winning over ordinary Arabs, particularly because of non-Arab Turkey’s tough line toward Israel, Erdogan’s growing popularity and clout could be a headache for more cautious Arab leaders who could see their own influence overshadowed.

“Turkey wants to play a regional role, especially when Egypt is busy with the revolution. Turkey thinks it’s best placed to play this leadership role,” said Adel Soliman, head of Cairo’s International Center for Future and Strategic Studies.

Egypt has traditionally seen itself as the leading diplomatic player in the Arab region. But its position has been eroded by wealthy Gulf countries, such as Qatar, and lately overshadowed by Turkey, with its fast expanding economy.

Erdogan met Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads Egypt’s military council which took over after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by mass street demonstrations in February.

Egypt has also been embroiled in a dispute with Israel after Israel shot dead five Egyptian border guards in repelling cross-border raiders it said were Palestinian militants.

But Egypt’s generals have faced popular criticism for not taking a firmer line. Cairo said it would expel Israel’s ambassador but did not follow through with threat.

Protesters attacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo last week, prompting the ambassador to fly home and an embarrassed Egyptian government to affirm to Washington, its major aid donor, that it remained committed to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Egypt has received billions of dollars in U.S. military and other aid since making peace with the Jewish state, so the military council faces a difficult balancing act when responding to public calls for a more assertive policy toward Israel.

Erdogan was cheered by a crowd when he arrived in Cairo and met by Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. Many appeared to be Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who hail him for his success in bringing Islamists into mainstream Turkish politics.

“Erdogan, Erdogan—a big welcome from the Brothers!” one banner said. “Hero Erdogan” was written on a photo of him.

“We need to preserve our relations with Turkey and all the countries that want to help the Arab world and take advantage of them to create a stronger political front to enhance the Arab states’ position against Israel,” said Mohammed Adel of the April 6 movement which helped lead the revolt to oust Mubarak.

Erdogan will also deliver a speech in Cairo outlining his Middle East vision. President Barack Obama also chose Cairo to address the Muslim world in 2009.

Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia in Istanbul, Jon Burch in Ankara, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Dan Williams in Tel Aviv; Writing by Andrew Hammond and Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Turkish PM saw Gaza raid as “grounds for war”


Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan saw “grounds for war” with Israel last year after a deadly raid on a Turkish ship headed for Gaza, according to a transcript of a recent interview.

State news agency Anatolia released late on Sunday what it said was an original Turkish-language transcript of an interview Erdogan gave to Al Jazeera television last week. It included elements not broadcast as well as original wording for sensitive comments that had been transmitted only in Arabic translation.

Among previously unpublished elements, Erdogan said Israel’s deadly raid last year on a Turkish ship headed for Gaza would have justified going to war: “The attack that took place in international waters did not comply with any international law. In fact, it was grounds for war. However, befitting Turkey’s greatness, we decided to act with patience,” he said.

The transcript in Turkish from Anatolian, apparently provided by Erdogan’s office, also gave the following account of the prime minister’s response to a question on what Turkey would do to ensure free passage for its ships in the Mediterranean.

“Right now, without a doubt, the primary duty of Turkish navy ships is to protect its own ships,” Erdogan said.

“This is the first step. And we have humanitarian aid that we want to carry there. This humanitarian aid will not be attacked any more, as it was the case with Mavi Marmara.”

Turkey has downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and halted defense-related trade after the Jewish state’s confirmation last week that it would not apologize for the raid on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 in which nine Turks were killed.

Turkey and Israel had tried to mend fences before the publication of a U.N. report two weeks ago, which deemed the blockade of the Gaza Strip a legal means to stem the flow of arms to Palestinians.

Israel has said it will continue the blockade and that it wants to ease tensions with its former ally .

The prospect of a showdown at sea with Turkey, a NATO power and fellow ally of the United States, rattled Israelis already on edge over political upheaval in the Arab world and Iran’s nuclear program. Washington has appealed for restraint.

Erdogan , seeking to expand Turkey’s regional influence, will travel to Cairo on Monday as part of a tour of three Arab countries likely to be scrutinised by Israel, whose once warm ties with both Muslim states have been shaken.

Reporting by Jon Burch; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Erdogan: Turkish warships will escort aid vessels to Gaza


Turkey said on Thursday it would escort aid ships to Gaza and would not allow a repetition of last year’s Israeli raid that killed nine Turks, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.

Raising the stakes in Turkey’s row with Israel over its refusal to apologize for the killings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean.

“Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.

“From now on, we will not let these ships to be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla,” Erdogan said.

Referring to Erdogan’s comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “This is a statement well-worth not commenting on.”

Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close U.S. allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.

Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Israel says it acted legally against ships that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.

Israel has said it will enforce the blockade, which it says is needed to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier on Thursday that Israel and Turkey will eventually mend fences rather than become foes, describing their unprecedented dispute over Gaza as “spilled milk.”

Noting that an inquiry commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had vindicated the blockade, Barak predicted that wider Middle East upheaval would help bring Israel back together with its Muslim ex-ally.

“Ultimately this wave will pass. We recognize reality. They recognize reality,” Barak told Israel Radio. “We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region … I am certain that we can overcome these (disagreements).”

But Erdogan appeared to raise the heat, saying NATO member Turkey has taken steps to patrol the Mediterranean, and vowed to stop the Jewish state from exploiting natural resources in the area.

“You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said, apparently in reference to Israeli plans to exploit offshore gas reserves found in areas that are also claimed by Lebanon.

“You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean,” he said.

Turkey says oil deals granted by the Greek Cypriot government, which represents the island in the European Union, are illegal as the borders of Cyprus remain undetermined while Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots pursue reunification talks.

Turkey’s plan to flex its naval muscles may fuel Western unease about Turkey’s reliability as a NATO partner and its penchant for actions designed to court popularity in the Muslim world.

Asked whether Israel might yet say sorry for the seizure of the Turkish vessel, Barak said: “Look, it’s spilled milk. It’s not important right now.”

In addition to an apology, NATO-member Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

“A normalization or improvement in Turkey-Israel relationships shouldn’t be expected unless they apologize, pay a compensation and lift an embargo on Gaza,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

Reporting by Omar Fahmy; Aditional reporting Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Karolina Tagaris

Turkey suspends defense, trade ties with Israel


Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country has suspended defense industry ties with Israel and halted trade pending a decision on permanently suspending all trade.

“Trade ties, military ties, regarding defense industry ties, we are completely suspending them. This process will be followed by different measures,” Erdogan said Tuesday, according to news agencies.

Erdogan also said that Turkish Navy ships will have a heightened presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Israeli diplomats who have not yet left Turkey have until Wednesday to do so, the prime minister said. Israel’s ambassador to Turkey had finished his term and had planned to return to Israel. No replacement had been named.

Erdogan also said that he may visit the Gaza Strip through Egypt after a visit to Cairo later this month, according to Reuters. 

Many of the sanctions already had been announced by Turkey’s foreign minister on Sept. 2, the day that the United Nations released the Palmer report, an investigation into Israel’s May 2010 boarding of the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara in which nine Turkish nationals were killed. The report found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal but that Israeli commandos used excessive force in confronting the passengers.

Israel has refused to apologize for the raid but has expressed “regret” for the deaths.

“Trade ties, military ties, regarding defense industry ties, we are completely suspending them. This process will be followed by different measures,” Erdogan said Tuesday, according to news agencies.

Erdogan also said that Turkish Navy ships will have a heightened presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Israeli diplomats who have not yet left Turkey have until Wednesday to do so, the prime minister said. Israel’s ambassador to Turkey had finished his term and had planned to return to Israel. No replacement had been named.

Erdogan also said that he may visit the Gaza Strip through Egypt after a visit to Cairo later this month, according to Reuters. 

Many of the sanctions already had been announced by Turkey’s foreign minister on Sept. 2, the day that the United Nations released the Palmer report, an investigation into Israel’s May 2010 boarding of the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara in which nine Turkish nationals were killed. The report found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal but that Israeli commandos used excessive force in confronting the passengers.

Israel has refused to apologize for the raid but has expressed “regret” for the deaths.

Obama urges Turkey’s Erdogan to improve Israel relations


President Obama urged Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to improve relations with Israel in the face of regional turmoil.

“The President expressed his hope to Prime Minister Erdogan that Turkey and Israel will find opportunities to improve their relations in the interest of regional stability,” said an April 25 White House statement describing Obama’s call with Erdogan.

Obama and Erdogan discussed current unrest in Libya and Syria.

Israel and Turkey have had parlous relations since Israeli forces killed nine Turks, including one Turkish-American dual citizen, during a raid last year on a flotilla aiming to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Turkey are the two closest U.S. allies in the region.