JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel apologized to Turkey on Wednesday for what it called a breach of diplomatic manners that had further chilled what was once an unusually warm relationship between the Jewish state and a Muslim regional power.
After Ankara demanded an apology for his televised dressing down of Turkey’s ambassador Monday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a statement conceding that his behavior toward the envoy had been inappropriate:
“My protest against the attacks on Israel in Turkey remains valid,” Ayalon said, referring to Turkish leaders’ criticisms of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and to a Turkish television drama which portrayed Israeli diplomats as criminals.
“Nevertheless,” the statement continued, “It is not my way to disrespect ambassadors’ honor and in the future I will clarify my position in a diplomatically acceptable manner.”
While Ayalon stopped short of using the word, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as an “apology” and said he was glad that it had been made.
The statement from Netanyahu’s office continued: “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.”
Ayalon had made clear in televised remarks that he would not shake hands with the ambassador, Oguz Celikkol, ensured no Turkish flag was displayed on the table and made the envoy sit on a low couch, confronted by three Israeli officials in higher chairs, in order to ram home his displeasure with Ankara.
As a predominantly Muslim nation, albeit with a secular constitution, as well as a NATO military power, Turkey is a key ally for Israel in the Middle East. As well as offering security cooperation, Ankara has offered Israeli diplomatic aid in the past, notably mediating with Syria last year.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, among whose priorities are countering a perceived nuclear threat from Turkey’s neighbor Iran, was due to hold previously announced talks in Turkey Sunday at the invitation of President Abdullah Gul.
Israeli-Turkish relations have become especially frosty since Israel’s war in the Palestinian Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip a year ago, which drew condemnation from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose party’s roots lie in political Islam.