In his address to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Israeli military intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin linked the change in direction with the one-time allies’ deteriorating relationship.
Without specifically mentioning the recent diplomatic spat involving Turkey’s ambassador to Israel and the Israeli deputy foreign minister, Yadlin said: “Beyond the specific tension, one must understand that the distance between the two countries is more significant and is related to strategic topics and shared interests.”
The intelligence chief’s statements come days after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Turkey to help calm tensions that arose when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon seated Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol on a sofa lower than his own chair. Celikkol’s subsequent public dressing-down sparked a sharp diplomatic row between the two countries.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday he has not seen the statements reported in the Israeli press. “I haven’t seen the report, and I don’t find it likely,” Burak Ozugergin told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “We often see such reports in the Israeli press about statements aimed at spoiling Turkish-Israeli relations. If there is such a development, I see their intelligence is not very strong,” he said.
“In the past, Turkey had ambitions of becoming closer to the West, beyond its acceptance into NATO,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Yadlin as saying. He said Turkey wanted to be part of the European market, and it thought that relations with Israel would help them advance in the American market.
“But then they received a cold shoulder from the Europeans and did not achieve what they wanted. In light of that, they changed their policies and are currently drawing away from secularism and going in a more radical direction. There are still joint strategic interests shared by Turkey and Israel, but it is not the same strategic proximity that they once shared,” he added.
Yadlin also highlighted Ankara’s growing relationship with Damascus as a sign that Turkey and Israel were moving further apart. Turkey recently lifted mutual visa requirements with Syria and signed a series of cooperation agreements.
“In the past Turkey acknowledged joint interests that strengthened the relationship. For example in the 1990s the Turks regarded Syria as an enemy. There was a joint enemy. However, over the years Turkey and Syria resolved their differences and Turkey doesn’t need Israel’s closeness anymore,” he said, according to a report by Yedioth Ahronoth’s Web site.
Yadlin went on to address Iran’s nuclear program as well, saying that Tehran is continuing work on it and the international community is preparing to impose sanctions against Tehran. “As long as Iran is not under heavy pressure, it doesn’t feel the need to renounce this crucial issue,” Yadlin said, reported Haaretz.
He said Palestinians are also trying to persuade the international community to force Israel to return to peace negotiations, but on their terms, which include a compete halt to settlement construction including in East Jerusalem.