Monday, 18 January 2010

Turkey and Abu Dhabi – Straws in the Wind?

Last Saturday saw Turkish Defence Minister, Vecdi Gonul, host a visit by his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, in Ankara.

A few years ago this would scarcely have been worthy of comment, for Turkey and Israel had long forged a close military, trade and cultural relationship. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel back in 1949 (even before the Shah's Iran in 1950), and Israel became a major exporter of arms to the country. Israeli holidaymakers and businessmen flocked to the country, and a major deal saw Turkey exporting vast container-loads of water to Israel as a preliminary to the plan to build a massive pipeline from Turkey to supply Israel with water, electricity, gas and oil.

Then the atmosphere soured. From the time Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister in 2003, Turkey's old secularist, pro-Western stance began to change, and support for Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran began to dominate Turkey's approach to foreign affairs.

Which explains Erdogan's unqualified condemnation of Israel's incursion into Gaza in December 2008, and the extraordinary scene at the Davos conference in January 2009, when he stormed out of a panel discussion after castigating Israeli President Shimon Peres for Israel's actions.

Nor was this the last débacle. Bahadir Ozdener is the scriptwriter of "Valley of the Wolves", a wildly popular television series about the adventures of a Turkish secret agent. A couple of weeks ago he announced that he is working on a film about Palestinian suffering in Gaza that will, as he put it, "depict Israel as it is - with bloody hands, merciless... flouting all human values." A diplomatic storm burst. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, summoned Turkey's ambassador, Oguz Celikkol, to protest.

At the meeting, attended by press and photographers, Ayalon exhibited the most undiplomatic, not to say petulant, childish, and indeed arrogant, behaviour. He pointed out to the assembled media and the busily snapping cameramen, that he had seated the Turkish ambassador on a low couch, while the Israeli party were placed well above him. Moreover, the Turkish flag had been removed from the table.

No sooner had Celikkol left the meeting than a furious Ankara was demanding an apology. A rather mealy-mouthed response by Ayalon was deemed unacceptable, and the Turkish President threatened to remove his ambassador from Israel if a formal expression of regret was not forthcoming. A second letter was despatched, and tempers cooled – to the extent that not only was Israeli Defence Minister Barak received warmly in Ankara, but the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Oguz Celikkol, was actually among the welcoming party. Explain that! But there's more. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Barak during his visit that Turkey wants to resume its role as mediator over Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

The very next day, last Sunday, an equally unexpected event was taking place in the United Arab Emirates. For the very first time – and despite the fact that there are no formal diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel – an Israeli cabinet minister attended an international conference in Abu Dhabi. Uzi Landau, Israel's national infrastructure minister, participated in the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) conference, being hosted for the first time in the capital of the UAE.

Straws in the wind?

No comments:

Post a comment