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Turkey-Israel controversy a case of playing to each nation’s grandstands

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM–The holiday season is over. The world has gone back to work.

Turkey and Israel have spent a few days insulting one another. The President of Turkey accused Israel of attacking Lebanon and overreacting against the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered a retaliation. His deputy summoned the Turkish Ambassador, invited the television cameras, and put the ambassador on a low couch while Israelis sat on higher seats. Heights are important to Muslims. The next day Turkish officials complained loudly about being insulted. Numerous Israelis, including ministers in the government, asked why it was necessary to do what had been done.

Turkey and Israel were about to sign yet another agreement for technical assistance in the military field. However, Turkey has recalled its insulted ambassador.

Sane heads may prevail. Turkey’s Foreign Minister has said that the governments should work to restore good relations. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been characteristically silent about a controversy. He let the Foreign Minister express the intense nationalism that they share, or maybe he was reluctant to rein in the leader of a party important to his coalition. The issue is symbolic, and need not get in the way of the interests that Israel and Turkey share.

There is considerable commerce between the countries. Turkish Airlines has four flights a day between Tel Aviv and Istanbul. This week there are also 19 flights to Turkey’s coastal resorts, filled with middle- and lower-income Israelis on packaged vacations. Turkey buys military equipment from Israel, and the Israeli air force has used the country’s large airspace for training.

All this can continue while politicians of both countries express themselves on issues that concern their constituencies.

The mixed messages recall an episode in our recent visit to Istanbul. We spoke with a man who, with considerable politeness, said that Israel was a murdering country. Then a by-stander entered the conversation to help with translation. He was a cadet in the Turkish air force, admired Israelis, and was training in Israel.

Someone assassinated an Iranian professor of physics. We have heard that he was deeply involved in that country’s nuclear program, and was just a professor, not involved in nuclear activity. Also that that he was a supporter of the government, and a supporter of the opposition. Iranians were quick to accuse the United States and Israel. Israeli officials say they know nothing about it. An American official called the charges absurd.

We have heard more about the Jordanian who worked for the Americans and–unknown to the Americans–also for al Quaida or the Taliban. He blew himself up, along with eight CIA personnel when he arrived at a meeting called by the Americans to receive intelligence about their enemies. He was a relative of the Jordanian royal family, and was given a honorable funeral with the king in attendance. Jordanians say that Americans should expect to suffer when they invade Muslim countries, and try to induce Muslims to work for them against the true faith.

There are reports that Bibi is caving into the Americans. He may be willing to allocate an Arab section of Jerusalem for the capital of Palestine. So far he is neither affirming nor denying. During the election campaign, he said time and again that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli control. Others think that some neighborhoods Jews do not visit are best controlled by someone else, and can be traded away for a good deal. Party colleagues and others who supported Netanyahu are calling him a traitor. It is not clear that the reports are true. And even if they are, it may be a long while before any progress is made toward President Obama’s desire for peace. First the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza will have to make peace with one another, and there is no indication that such an event is close.

Deutsche Bank bought a sizable bloc of stock in Israel’s third largest bank.

May your year be a happy one, and no more exciting than you desire.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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