Turkey ups the ante on Israel over Gaza flotilla incident

Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu says that Turkey will break diplomatic ties with Israel unless it apologizes or accepts an international probe for its deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza flotilla.

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Turkey has told Israel that it will break diplomatic ties unless Israel either apologizes for or accepts an international probe into the May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed eight Turks and one dual nationality Turkish-American.

The statement ratchets up the pressure in a diplomatic stand-off that shows no signs of ending soon.

Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu delivered the ultimatum to an Israeli official in talks last week in Europe, then told the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview published Monday.

“We showed them an exit road. If they apologize as a result of their own investigation’s conclusion, that would be fine for us. But of course we first have to see it,” he said.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that Israel would neither apologize to Turkey nor compensate the victims of the Mavi Marmara. “Then the ties will never be repaired,” Davutoğlu said in response to Netanyahu’s remarks.

"We will not wait to eternity for an Israeli answer," the foreign minister said, according to Agence France-Presse. A senior Israeli government official said on Monday after hearing Davutoglu's remarks that Israel "would never say sorry for defending itself," AFP reported.

Israel has refused to allow an international probe into the May 31 incident and has instead launched its own inquiry.

A US State Department official said last week that the US anticipates that Mr. Netanyahu will give President Obama "a report on the early stages of the Israeli investigation into the flotilla tragedy," when the two meet at the White House tomorrow, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Turkey has also pulled out of joint naval exercises with Israel and the US planned for next month and has banned Israeli military aircraft in Turkish airspace, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Haaretz reported that Turkish Airlines has cut in half its weekly flights to and from Israel, from five or six per day to only two or three per day, as a result of an Israeli tourism boycott.

Ankara has also recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv.

The Jerusalem Post estimated that the Israeli tourism boycott will cost Turkey $400 million in revenue. On June 17, a group of Muslim leaders issued a statement calling on Muslims to help Turkey recoup those lost tourism dollars by vacationing there as a show of solidarity.

The statement called on “families and groups planning to travel to Europe, the US or elsewhere, to choose Turkey – where mosques and historic monuments of ancient and natural beauty exist – as a vacation destination instead.”

100,000 Israelis out of 150,000 with reservations have canceled their summer vacation bookings to Turkish resorts this summer, the Post said, citing a report last week in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet.

In a recent commentary in Haaretz, the International Crisis Group's Hugh Pope cited "misconceptions" and "myth-making" on both sides of the Turkey-Israel dispute, but said the main driver of deteriorating ties was Turkish public opinion that Israel is treating the Palestinians unjustly.

"Crises with Israel have always followed any Turkish perception that injustice is being done to the Palestinians: whether during the Six-Day War in 1967, the formal declaration of a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 1980 or the occupation of West Bank towns in 2002," Pope wrote.

"The golden era in Turkish-Israeli relations in the 1990s was exceptional and coincided exactly with the years of the Oslo peace process. When Israel is again perceived as seeking peace, it will most likely find Turkey rapidly ready to do business once more."

Ties between Turkey and Israel were already strained, before the May 31 bloodshed in which Israeli special forces raided a flotilla carrying aid for Palestinians and attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.


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