Turkey Bans Israel From Drill; US, Italy Pull Out
A multinational military drill has reportedly been cancelled due to Turkey's unwillingness to allow the Israel Air Force to participate in the exercise.
The cancellation came after the United States and other nations allegedly withdrew from the joint drill following Turkey's ban on Israel's participation.
The air force exercise, which has been held five times since June 2001, was to be hosted by Ankara and originally involved Turkey, Italy, the U.S., NATO forces and the IAF.
But Turkish military officials informed the IDF last week that the IAF was not welcome to fly in this week's "Anatolian Eagle" exercise due to the use of its planes during Israel's counterterrorism Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter.
The operation was launched by Israel on December 27, 2008 to end the thousands of rocket attacks fired at civilians living in towns and cities in Israel's southern region. It lasted until Janary 20, 2009.
Anatolian Eagle was slated to begin Monday, October 12, and continue through October 23.
According to a Jerusalem source, the United States and other members of NATO (North American Treaty Organization) expressed to Turkish officials their displeasure at the ban on Israel.
Turkey was forced to postpone the exercise indefinitely after the U.S. and Italy refused to take part without the IAF.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Voice of Israel government radio on Sunday, however, that "Turkey has been, and remains an important strategic anchor in the Middle East, and certainly its relations with Israel are something that serve the entire region."
The Anatolian Eagle exercise, intended to improve international aerial cooperation, was hosted at the Konya air base, 250 kilometers south of Ankara. The aircraft trained over the plains of Anatolia (hence the name), near Turkey's borders with Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Israel and Turkey, which until last year enjoyed strong diplomatic, military and trade relations, have flown together over each other's territory in various joint military drills since the signing of a bilateral defense alliance between the two nations in 1996.
Formerly warm ties between Israel and Turkey have cooled considerably since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's harsh criticism of Israel's role in Operation Cast Lead.
Tensions between Turkey and Israel intensified in the wake of a harsh debate over the matter between Erdogan and President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland last January.