JERUSALEM — Israel offered contrition Wednesday for its behavior toward Turkey in a growing diplomatic spat that is testing ties between the two countries, whose strategic alliance appears to be deteriorating.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a statement acknowledging that his treatment of Ankara’s ambassador to Tel Aviv, Oguz Celikkol, had been inappropriate. Mr. Celikkol had been called in to meet with Mr. Ayalon to voice Israel’s concerns over an anti-Israel television program in Turkey. During the meeting, Ayalon noted to Israeli reporters that the Turkish envoy was intentionally seated in a couch that was lower than Ayalon’s, that there was no Turkish flag on the table, and no smiles.
“My protest against the attacks on Israel in Turkey remains valid,” Ayalon said. “Nevertheless, it is not my way to disrespect ambassadors’ honor, and in the future, I will clarify my position in a diplomatically acceptable manner.”
Ayalon did not actually use the words “sorry” or “apologize” in his statement, leading to complaints in Ankara that this was an insufficient gesture of remorse. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said that unless Israel apologizes to Ankara by Wednesday evening, the Turkish government would withdraw its ambassador altogether, theAl-Jazeera satellite channel reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Ayalon’s statement as an “apology.” In a separate statement released by his office, Mr. Netanyahu said: “The prime minister feels that the protest issued to the Turkish ambassador was fundamentally correct but it should have been conveyed in the conventional diplomatic mode.”
The television program in question depicts Israeli intelligence agents as baby-snatchers, and follows other recent TV dramas in Turkey which Israel deems as incitement, aimed at stirring up sentiment against the Jewish state. Relations between Jerusalem and Ankara have been slightly rocky since the election of Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist AK Party in 2002, but reached a fresh nadir a year ago when Israel was embroiled in a war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s military campaign drew harsh criticism from Erdogan.
In late January 2009, shortly after the two sides declared unilateral cease-fires, Erdogan walked out of a panel with Israeli President Shimon Peres, saying, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill,” before leaving the stage. Also last year, Turkey canceled joint military exercises.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was to hold talks in Turkey Sunday at the invitation of President Abdullah Gul. Those talks are now in question.