A Haaretz article entitled “Ashkenazi visits Ankara as ties with Turkey warm up,” concerning yesterday’s attendance by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi at the NATO-sponsored International Symposium on Global Terrorism and International Cooperation, explains the present need for warming as follows:
Relations were damaged six months ago after Turkey’s decision to cancel Israel’s participation in international exercises in which Israeli planes were due to take part.”
The extent of the damage is called into question by an Al Jazeera English article from two months ago entitled “Barak in Turkey to repair ties,” which additionally reports that “Turkish officials are currently in Israel to test unmanned drone aircraft that Israeli companies have manufactured for Turkey’s army.” The article acknowledges that “[t]he project has been long delayed over technical problems and political tensions” and goes on to explain that the January 17 visit to Ankara of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was “the highest-level bilateral visit since a diplomatic feud erupted over Israel’s recent treatment of the Turkish ambassador,” Oğuz Çelikkol.
Israeli treatment had occurred at a Jerusalem meeting 6 days prior to Barak’s journey, when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon forced Çelikkol to sit on furniture that was lower to the ground than that sat upon by his Israeli interlocutors. According to Al Jazeera, a Turkish flag was additionally removed from the table in honor of the meeting, which had been arranged in order to register Israeli complaints about the occasional unfavorable portrayal of Mossad in the popular Turkish television series Kurtlar Vadisi—“Valley of the Wolves.” The series inspired the 2006 film “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq”; it has not been established whether the November 2010 release of “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine” will require Çelikkol to sit on the floor during all subsequent meetings with the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Palestinian political analyst Azzam Tamimi is quoted in the Al Jazeera article as saying that despite Israel’s apology for Çelikkol’s treatment there were still rumors that Barak’s visit to Turkey would be canceled and that, had the ruling Turkish Justice and Development (AK) Party been able to act without the Turkish armed forces and Ministry of Defense, such an “unconventional direction” might indeed have been pursued. As for other unconventional directions, the recent visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and concern for Israeli endangerment of American lives has raised the number of Israeli apologies this year to approximately two.
Not meriting an Israeli apology, of course, was the 2008-09 onslaught on Gaza, which despite prompting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to publicly inform Israeli President Shimon Peres that “you are killing people” did not affect IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi’s attendance at the counterterrorism conference in Ankara yesterday. Turkish attendees meanwhile included retired General Hurşit Tolon, previously jailed for suspected ties to the ultranationalist Ergenekon organization—which is accused of trying to prompt a military takeover of the country via the selective planting of explosives and encouragement of ethnic tensions—and İlker Başbuğ, Chief of the Turkish General Staff, who proclaimed that the decades-long fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had underlined the importance of international cooperation in combating terrorism.
I was mildly surprised when the inclusion of Israeli drones in the definition of international cooperation was opposed by a Turkish real estate agent from Istanbul who had recently sworn to me that the Kurdish population of Turkey did not desire a sovereign piece of real estate. As it turned out, his opposition was due merely to isolated sympathy for the Palestinian cause rather than a sudden receptiveness to possibilities of partitioning the homeland, and he reminded me that Kurds had fought alongside Turks in the Turkish War of Independence but failed to recall that European powers had also been fought by the Palestine Regiment in World War II, comprised of Jews and Arabs.