New Turkish Envoy: Israel Must Understand Ankara's Mideast Role

Turkey's new ambassador to Israel says relations with the Jewish State are important, but Israelis must understand Ankara's role in the Arab world.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 12:06

Iran Pres. Ahmadinejad, Turkish PM Erdogan
Iran Pres. Ahmadinejad, Turkish PM Erdogan
Israel news photo

Turkey's new ambassador to Israel has appealed for Jerusalem's "understanding" in his first statement to the media since taking the position earlier in the week.

Tensions have mounted between the Jewish State and Turkey since January, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan passionately criticized Israel for its counterterrorist military incursion into Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. Erdogan, an observant Muslim, has periodically continued his verbal sniping at the Jewish State since that time.

"I arrived here a few days ago," Ahmet Oguz Celikkol pointed out, adding, "I am new in this position, although the politics of the region and the Turkish-Israeli relations are not new to me."

Celikkol told a conference at Bar-Ilan University on Thursday that although his country's relations with the Jewish State are important, it is equally essential for Israelis to be clear about Turkey's relations with others.

"Everyone knows how important the relationship is between Israel and Turkey. But it is also essential to understand Turkey's role in the world and the region as well," the new ambassador said.

Celikkol's statement came on the heels of a call by his country's leader, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for Western powers to stop pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear development activities.

Turkish PM Cozies Up to Iran
Erdogan arrived in the Islamic Republic Monday night for an official state visit, just about the same time that Celikkol took up his new duties in Israel. The Turkish prime minister told reporters at a news conference Wednesday in Tehran that Ankara's main goal in foreign policy is "attracting friends and having no enemies," which he called "our basic thinking at national and international levels."

According to the Fars news agency, Erdogan also said that Turkey and Iran "share common views" on settlement of regional issues. He added that on economic issues, "we can also perform some works jointly."

On Tuesday, Erdogan had called for closer ties between Iran and Turkey in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. He also insisted that it is the "legitimate right of all world countries, including Iran," to pursue the development of nuclear technology "for peaceful purposes."

Turning Away from the West?
Turkey appears to be strengthening ties with its Muslim neighbors -- Erdogan was recently in Syria for similar talks, which ended with open borders and elimination of visa requirements -- and is slowly moving away from Western influences. The trend may be grounded in more than simple religious politics, however; Turkey's application for admission to the European Union has been dragging on for months.

One opponent is French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who insists that Turkey should not be admitted to the EU because it is not geographically located in Europe. Another European leader who has expressed reservations about the application is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. An additiona; reason for the delay has to do with Turkey's long-standing dispute with Cyprus, which has created numerous difficulties in various negotiations on other issues.

The European Union's unwillingness to admit Turkey into its family of nations, however, is of great concern to the United States, which worries that Russia will fill the void. Turkey is strategically located between the East and West, making it an excellent distribution hub for Russia's vast supply of energy resources. Closer economic ties would bring closer political ties as well.