ISTANBUL – Israel’s relations with Turkey plunged to a new low yesterday after Turkish state television aired a fictional series showing troops murdering Palestinian children during last winter’s Gaza war.
Ties between the two strategic regional allies had already taken a serious blow this week when Turkey demanded that Israel be excluded from military exercises that it was staging with U.S. and Nato allies. The U.S. was forced to cancel the war games.
Turkey, a country with a strong secular tradition, has for more than a decade been Israel’s key ally in the Muslim world. Officials and analysts see the latest disputes as part of a worrying historical shift that could lead to the decline of their military partnership.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, admitted yesterday that the move to exclude Israel from Operation Anatolian Eagle was motivated by the Jewish state’s offensive against Gaza ten months ago, in which more than 1,000 Palestinians died. He said that Turkish public opinion had turned so much against Israel that he was unable to ignore it.
"Anyone who exercises political power has to take account of public opinion . . . I can’t just put the calls from the public to one side, it’s a question of sincerity,” he said.
Turkish television has now started broadcasting a vehemently anti-Israeli series entitled "Farewell," which depicts actors dressed as Israeli troops shooting Palestinian children dead at point blank range, killing a newborn baby after its mother goes into labor at a checkpoint and lining up captured men in front of a firing squad.
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s nationalist Foreign Minister, summoned the acting Turkish Ambassador to protest. “A series like this, which has not the slightest connection with reality, which presents Israeli soldiers as the murderers of innocent children, would not be appropriate for broadcast even in an enemy country and certainly not in a state which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel,” Lieberman said.
There were also reports that Turkey planned to impose a stiff fine on Israel for the delay in delivery of unmanned drones, and has threatened to take the case to an international tribunal.
Anat Lapidot Firilla, an expert on Israeli-Turkish relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that the row went far beyond disputes over the Gaza war or a television show, and reflected Turkey’s “neo-Ottoman” desire to become a regional superpower in competition, rather co-operation, with Israel.
Ankara was looking to build closer strategic ties with other Muslim states in the area and in oil-rich Central Asia at the expense of ties with Israel, she said.
One Israeli official admitted that Israel had fallen foul of the growing domestic dispute between Erdogan’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party and the powerful military, which has been a mainstay of secularism since modern Turkey was founded after World War I and which has enjoyed close, independent ties with Israel since 1996.