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Turkey-Israel crisis complicates EU ties

Sept. 2, 2011 at 12:50 PM   |   Comments

ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Turkey's diplomatic rupture with Israel complicates EU efforts to balance ties with two major allies, especially after Ankara played a key role in mediating peace and helping evacuation of thousands of EU and other foreign nationals fleeing upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Turkey remains a candidate for EU membership but the mood in the country is shifting away from the financially troubled and politically divided Europe. Turks say they are frustrated that opposition to their membership remains strong while EU eagerness to make use of Turkey remains steadfast.

Turkish media commentaries increasingly make little distinction between the EU and the West at large.

Latent anger flared up after officials realized a U.N. report on violence aboard a Gaza-bound protest flotilla last year would not press for an Israeli apology, as Ankara demanded.

Ahead of the leaked report's official publication Friday Turkey responded by expelling Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy and cutting all military ties with Israel, downgrading the embassy to second secretary levels.

Ties could only improve after an Israeli apology, Turkish Foreign Ahmet Davutoglu said. He said the ambassador and other high-level Israeli diplomats would leave the capital by Wednesday.

"The time has come for Israel to pay for its stance that sees it above international laws and disregards human conscience," Davutoglu said. "The first and foremost result is that Israel is going to be devoid of Turkey's friendship."

As Middle Eastern diplomacy goes, it is a sharp reversal in traditionally friendly ties between Turkey, a Muslim state, and Israel. Turkey recognized Israel against the trend in Islamic countries, taking a stance that referenced its secular constitution, European ambitions and to some extent uneasy ties at the time with Arab countries that used to form part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey's measure was also the opposite of the U.N. report's recommendation that Turkey and Israel "should resume full diplomatic relations, repairing their relationship in the interests of stability in the Middle East and international peace and security," a copy leaked by The New York Times on its Web site read.

Turkey announced the expulsions and suspension of military cooperation hours before the report was to be published by the United Nations Friday.

Nine activists -- eight Turks and one Turkish-American -- were killed by Israeli naval commandos aboard the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, apparently after the passengers resisted the Israelis' takeover of the vessel. The flotilla was en route to Gaza in an attempt to bring international attention to Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.

After an international outcry over the killings, Israel eased restrictions on goods moving into Gaza over land but left the naval blockade in place. Campaigners say the blockade constitutes collective punishment for Gazans and is illegal. Israel says it needs to continue the blockade to prevent weapons from reaching Palestinian militants.

The diplomatic rupture presents EU negotiators with a tough challenge at a time of uncertainties over the final outcome of the Libyan project, on which EU and NATO politicians have staked their reputations. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi remains at large and there are persistent questions over the credentials of the emerging new leadership and its stance toward the West as a whole, and NATO and Europe in particular.

Of all regional powers, Turkey is still seen as a major influential player in North Africa, one that is a potentially useful ally for both the EU and Israel.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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