June 1, 2010 / 10:28 AM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX - Israeli-Turkey relations plummet after flotilla deaths

REUTERS - Israel detained or deported on Tuesday hundreds of activists who were aboard Turkish-backed aid ships it seized en route to Gaza and faced a U.N. call for an impartial investigation into the deaths of nine people in the takeover.

Turkish police stand guard in front of the residence of Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Gabby Levy during a pro-Palestinian protest in Ankara June 1, 2010. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files

A senior Israeli officer said most of the dead were Turks. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called the raid “state terrorism”.

The Israeli commando raid has plunged already crumbling ties between Israel and its Muslim ally Turkey to an historic low, with the ruling AK Party saying ties will never be the same.

Here are some details on how relations between the two countries have deteriorated over the past two years.

* BACKGROUND:

— Turkey, secular Muslim nation, has been an important regional ally of Israel for more than a decade, but relations have cooled since Erdogan’s outspoken criticism of Israel’s three-week offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.

* DAVOS:

— Erdogan was given a hero’s welcome on his return home in January 2009 after a heated debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland.

— Peres had launched a fiery defence of his country’s offensive in Gaza, and with a raised voice and pointed finger, questioned what Erdogan would do if rockets were fired at Istanbul every night.

— “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill,” Erdogan, visibly angry, responded as he sat next to Peres at the debate. He then walked out of the room.

* NORTHERN CYPRUS:

— Turkish-Israeli ties soured further in February 2009 after Ankara summoned Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy to protest comments by Israel’s land forces commander who criticised Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and its conflict with Kurdish separatists. The Turkish military said his criticism could threaten cooperation between the Middle East allies.

* NATO:

— Turkey barred Israel from participating in a NATO war exercise in October 2009 because of its public’s concerns over the Gaza offensive, Erdogan said.

— Erdogan has since held meetings with the president of Syria and hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a conference in Istanbul. Both countries are foes of Israel.

* TELEVISION:

— Israel summoned a Turkish diplomat in October 2009 to protest at “state-sponsored incitement” by state-owned TRT television’s “Separation” series, in which actors playing Israeli soldiers are shown firing at Palestinian civilians.

— One scene, broadcast on Israel’s Channel Two television, showed a Palestinian father holding a baby above his head and an Israeli soldier deliberately shooting the infant.

— During a meeting with the Turkish embassy charge d’affaires, a Foreign Ministry official said Israel “cannot stand by when such blatant incitement is being broadcast against Israel and (Israeli) soldiers”, a ministry statement said.

* DIPLOMATIC SPATS:

— Turkey demanded an apology from Israel in January 2010 over what it called the discourteous treatment of its envoy.

— Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon had attempted to slight Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol during a meeting to protest a Turkish television drama that portrayed Israeli diplomats as masterminds of a child abduction ring.

— Ayalon invited media crews to the beginning of the meeting in Jerusalem and pointed out there was no Turkish flag on the table. He also said he was deliberately avoiding a handshake with the ambassador.

— In television images broadcast in Turkey, Celikkol was seen seated on a low couch, accentuating the sense of a dressing-down. Ayalon was unapologetic: “In terms of the diplomatic tactics available, this was the minimum that was warranted given the repeated provocations by political and other players in Turkey.”

— The next day however Israel apologised to Turkey for publicly dressing down Ankara’s ambassador. It also sent a formal letter the day after.

— Despite the row, a Turkish delegation visited Israel to wrap up the purchase of 10 Heron drones in a deal worth $180 million and Turkey’s defence minister said the diplomatic spat would not affect the sale.

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