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Turkey, Israel Take a Quiet Step Back

Turkey has toned down its flaming statements, and Israel is conciliatory to bring the relationship back from the edge.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 9/11/2011, 9:57 AM

Turkey is toning down its overt hostility to the Jewish State, and Israel is maintaining a conciliatory stance in an effort to preserve its relationship with a once-strong Muslim ally in the region.

The office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims his statement last week on the pan-Arab Al Jazeera network that Turkish warships would accompany the next flotilla attempt to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza were mistranslated.

Erdogan said in a statement later quoted in the Turkish Daily Zaman, "Turkish warships, first of all are authorized to protect our own ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza," he said. "Our ships carrying such aid will no longer risk being attacked as happened with the Mavi Marmara."

But official sources in the Turkish prime minister's office said Sunday that journalists merged the two sentences, thus artificially changing Erdogan's meaning. Instead, the sources issued a new statement to further clarify:

"As long as Israel avoids interfering in the freedom of movement in the region, we will not send warships to escort aid vessels," said the official.

The source added that Erdogan had not intended to ignite a clash on the high seas.

"The misquoted remark appeared as if we were offering to have warships escort every aid vessel. This is not true. But Turkey will defend the rights of its citizens when Israel chooses to intervene and prevent free movement in international waters."

Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu likewise attempted to maintain a conciliatory stance, but noted, "We didn't choose this. We will work to lower the flames, and if possible to rebuild the ties," he told reporters in a statement. "To the extent that the matter depends upon us, we shall act to lower tensions and do everything possible to restore relations."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was equally cautious in his words. "I think that regarding Turkey, both sides have an interest in strengthening ties and returning to normalization," he said. "We don't want a conflict with the Turks, but we will also not raise the white flag."

Turkey has expelled Israel's ambassador to Ankara, and all diplomats above the second secretary level -- the lowest level in foreign service. It has also suspended all military trade ties and increased its Navy activity in the eastern Mediterranean over a May 2010 clash between armed Turkish terror activists and IDF navy commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara vessel, sponsored by the Turkish IHH organization, a terrorist-linked group. The vessel was one of six in a "humanitarian aid flotilla" which ignored IDF orders to change course and head for Ashdod port to take its supplies to Gaza through an overland route. The Mavi Marmara was later found to be carrying no humanitarian aid supplies whatsoever.

Turkey has insisted that Israel apologize for the deaths of nine of the terror activists who attacked the IDF navy commandos, and has demanded that Israel also dismantle its blockade of Gaza, used to prevent the smuggling of weapons used to attack its southern communities. Israel has expressed regret for the deaths and offered compensation, but it has declined to apologize and refused to end the blockade, which it pointed out has saved the lives of its citizens.