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Terrorism & Security

Turkey-Israel ties fall to new low in response to UN flotilla report

Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador today in protest over a UN report that justified Israel's blockade of Gaza, though not the fatal raid on a mainly Turkish flotilla that sought to run it.

By Staff writer / September 2, 2011

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, Sept. 2. Turkey said Friday it was expelling the Israeli ambassador and cutting military ties with Israel over the last year's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, further souring the key Mideast relationship between Turkey and Israel.

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Turkey-Israel relations dipped to a new low today over a long-awaited United Nations report on the Gaza flotilla debacle, freezing a key regional alliance despite more than a year of attempts to resuscitate ties.

Turkey announced today that it is expelling Israel's ambassador and suspending all joint military agreements after failing to secure a formal apology from Israel for the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on May 31, 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the flotilla.

The convoy of ships had been seeking to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, which Israel said was necessary to prevent the Islamist militant group Hamas from obtaining weapons but which many in the international community had objected to on humanitarian grounds.

The UN report, due to be formally released today but leaked yesterday by The New York Times, surprised many by declaring Israel's blockade of Gaza as legal. While it criticized Israeli commandos for using "excessive and unreasonable" force in halting the mainly Turkish flotilla, it requested merely that Israel "express regret" for the deaths and pay unspecified reparations to the families, the Times reported.

“Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza,” the report says in its opening paragraphs. “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”

Turkey is particularly upset by the conclusion that Israel’s naval blockade is in keeping with international law and that its forces have the right to stop Gaza-bound ships in international waters, which is what happened in the 2010 episode. That conclusion oversteps the mandate of the four-member panel appointed by the United Nations secretary general and is at odds with other United Nations decisions, Turkey argued.

Turkey and Israel had developed strong ties over the past two decades, with trade worth $3 billion a year and significant military cooperation. But the 2009 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas drew condemnation from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sparking a deterioration of relations on numerous fronts.

Immediately after Israel's fatal flotilla raid, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel. Prior to yesterday's report in the Times, Mr. Davutoglu said that if Israel did not apologize for its attack on the ship, which left nine dead (eight of them Turkish citizens), Turkey would downgrade its diplomatic ties with Israel, stand against it in international forums, and possibly sever economic ties, the Jerusalem Post reports.

A commentary piece in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz questioned the timing of the announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week that it would not apologize, arguing that it would have been better to rely on the public findings of the report.

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