ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)—Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey’s ties with Israel remain alive despite tension over Israeli policies in Gaza, but defended his government’s fierce criticism, saying Ankara cannot remain indifferent to the human tragedy taking place in the isolated Palestinian territory.
“We do not view Israel as an enemy,” Erdoğan said in an interview with Al Jazeera television, excerpts from which were published on Monday, emphasizing that Turkey and Israel have many cooperation agreements still in force. “There is nothing like a formal termination of ties with Israel. We have business under way with Israel, and severing this is out of the question.”
But the prime minister defended a recent decision to exclude Israel from an international military exercise in Turkey, saying the Turkish public was frustrated with what happened in Gaza, where an Israeli offensive last winter left nearly 1,400 people dead.
“I am representing the public conscience in Turkey. I am supposed to hear what the people are saying,” Erdogan said. The decision to bar Israel from the Anatolian Eagle exercise angered Israeli officials. Tensions later escalated when the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) began airing a television series on the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Israel formally protested that the series, called “Ayrilik,” was state-sponsored incitement.
Asked whether the government was planning to take any steps to improve ties with Israel, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey “will react in the same way” if similar things happen in Gaza. In separate remarks to Al Jazeera, Davutoglu said: “We will not let civilians to die in the region. We’ll do whatever we can to this end. … We, as a leading country in the region, cannot remain silent if things go wrong.”
Erdogan insisted that Turkey’s criticism of Israel was based on humanitarian concerns. Underlining that Israel used phosphorous bombs in its deadly offensive in Gaza, the prime minister said: “Phosphorous bombs are a weapon of mass destruction. We could not have approved of it.”
He went on to criticize Israel for the ongoing embargo on the Gaza Strip, worsening the conditions for its 1.5 million residents months after the winter offensive. “This operation saddened us, but it’s been nine months since the operation took place. Why does the entire infrastructure in Gaza still remain collapsed? There are promises made for Gaza’s reconstruction. But construction materials are still not allowed into Gaza. Why?” Erdogan asked.
When reminded that Israel hinted that Erdogan’s criticism of Israel risks harming Turkey’s relations with the United States, the Turkish Prime Minister merely dismissed the suggestion. In remarks published in The Guardian on Monday, Erdigan said: “I don’t think there is any possibility of that. America’s policy in this region is not dictated by Israel.” Erdogan also chided Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who he said had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Gaza, according to The Guardian.