By DAVID BEDEIN, Middle East Correspondent
Friday, June 18, 2010
JERUSALEM – The relationship between Israel and its long-standing friend in the region, which has deteriorated consistently over the past several months, has now reached a new low.
The Turkish ambassador to Israel, who was recalled to Ankara after the May 31 flotilla takeover, in which Israeli troops killed nine Turkish terrorists, has not been returned to Israel. According to current reports, he is not expected to return to Israel any time soon. The Turks are planning on lowering the level of relations so that they only have a “representative” in Israel.
According to reports in Turkey, the $180 million dollar unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) deal that was signed with Israel has been cancelled. In keeping with the contract, Israeli teams had been in Turkey to train local teams to use the UAVs. Following the flotilla affair, the Israeli teams were called back to Israel, and the Turks claimed that by so doing Israel had violated the contract, rendering it null and void.
Other reports indicate that the Turks are considering prohibiting Israeli ships from docking in Turkish ports, impeding Israeli businesspeople, and discouraging Israeli tourism. Turkish officials are also contemplating filing suits against Israel with the International Court of Justice at The Hague and voting against Israel in various international forums.
“It is clear today that Erdogan only wants to worsen relations with Israel,” top Foreign Ministry officials said yesterday. “Stage by stage he is going to deteriorate them–all the way to severing relations.”
Israeli officials are afraid that Mr. Erdogan will search for an excuse to prompt a further deterioration in relations. They said that the Turkish prime minister has been coming under mounting domestic criticism for his actions. In the meantime, that criticism has been quite soft, but Israeli officials have been encouraged by the fact that many Turkish officials have said that they do not understand why Mr. Erdogan has downgraded relations, and that criticism might just stem the tide. Opposition figures in Turkey have charged that Mr. Erdogan has responded disproportionately and is joining forces with Iran. Other reports indicated that the Americans have sent the Turks very stern messages about their closer relations with the Iranians.
Italian Boycott Of Israel
Meanwhile, the boycott against Israel has expanded further and has begun to affect countries that are considered to be its friends. Italian government officials capitulated to Arab pressure and decided not to invite Israel to the conference of Mediterranean countries that is to be held in Milan in July, despite the fact that Israel is a member country of the forum. This decision has deeply angered the Israelis, who are pressuring the Italians to reverse the decision.
Israel”s banishment from the conference, which is to be attended by representatives of 26 countries, including Arab countries, was sponsored by Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Stefania Gabriella Anastasia Craxi. The Arabs said that they would make their participation contingent upon a refusal to invite Israel, and Ms. Craxi succumbed to the pressure. When Israeli officials tried to ask her to explain, she became evasive.
Ben-Eliezer: “I Don”t Believe In Boycotts As A Means Of Political Pressure”
Israeli Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has voiced his reservations about any counter Israeli initiative to boycott Turkish products. “We need to separate completely the issue of trade from political issues. We must not allow for trade to be politicized. I am not prepared to accept the use of boycotts as a means of political pressure,” said Mr. Ben-Eliezer in the course of a tour of northern Israel. Mr. Ben-Eliezer”s comments were made in reference to the statements that were made by Rami Levy, who has decided to remove all Turkish products from his supermarkets” shelves.
Mr. Ben-Eliezer also said, “We must not translate our emotional tempest into steps that are liable to result in a worsening of the existing situation. This kind of deterioration will damage a lot of Israeli companies as well, which despite the crisis are still engaged in fertile commercial relations with Turkey.” Minister Ben-Eliezer said, “these kinds of steps–we know where they begin, but we can”t know how they are going to end.”
The industry, trade and labor minister called on local companies to set politics aside and to retract statements that have been aired in the course of the past day. “International trade is one of the principal bridges between countries and we have to do everything to preserve it. Furthermore, I believe that the way to restore routine relations passes through strengthening the commercial relations and the strong connection that has been built over many years between the members of the business communities in Turkey and Israel.”
Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry Director General Sharon Kedmi formally addressed the directors of the major supermarket chains and asked them not to exacerbate the current situation. “I am turning to you with a request to address this issue responsibly and with deliberation and to distinguish between political processes and economic processes,” Mr. Kedmi wrote to the supermarket chain directors. “Undoubtedly, the recent events have elicited powerful emotions among the citizenry, but it is incumbent upon all of us to look ahead and to anticipate the severe repercussions of those actions, repercussions that are tantamount to a snowball that ultimately will be translated into most egregious economic damage to the citizens of Israel.”
Mr. Kedmi also wrote in his letter, “In the past number of days statements have been heard from various companies about boycotting Turkish products in Israel. Actions of that type have enormous economic repercussions given the fact, among others, that many companies that engage in fertile trade relations with Turkey, even in the shadow of the recent events, are liable to be damaged.”
The director general of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry also wrote that “as part of the processes of globalization, the old world orders have disappeared and the countries of the world are competing fiercely with one another. The State of Israel competes on that field every day, and damage to its trade relations with Turkey is liable to create a vacuum in which other countries will enter.”
David Bedein can be reached at bedein[at]thebulletin.us.