Wednesday, January 13, 2010

'My seat is higher than yours' diplomacy...oi vey'


Diplomatic demarche


Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just won the King Faisal International Prize for service to Islam. Indeed, under Erdogan, Ankara's foreign policy is driven by Islamic solidarity. A country that was once directed by Western-oriented secularists is now under the sway of his democratically-elected AKP, a Muslim religious party. Vigorous support for Hamas, Iran and Hizbullah is the order of the day.

On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, a Knesset member from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party, summoned Turkish ambassador to Israel Ahmet Celikkol to protest Turkey's continuing scapegoating of the Jewish state. In the latest instance of anti-Zionist agitprop on Turkish television, an episode of The Valley of the Wolves portrayed Israeli agents and diplomats as blood-thirsty baby-snatchers who abduct Muslim children in order to convert them to Judaism. Wolves and Separation before it - IDF soldiers as sociopathic child-killers - are products of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation which is overseen by Bulent Arınc, a prominent AKP figure.

National honor, Lieberman postulated at a recent meeting of Israel's diplomatic corps, needs to be defended. When nations behave badly toward us this country will no longer pretend no affront was taken and that relations can go on as if nothing happened. Ayalon has taken this admirable no- groveling policy and ruined it on his first try.

That's too bad because Erdogan's policies beg for denunciation. He'll use any pretext to castigate Israeli policies. Monday's visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Ankara gave Erdogan an opening to censure Israel's "attitude," its "disproportionate power" and its menacing of "global peace."

Next Erdogan took aim at Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity: "Those who are warning Iran over nuclear weapons are not making the same warnings to Israel," urging the UN to stop picking on Iran while coddling Israel.

Finally, Erdogan lashed out at Israel for liquidating a squad of Islamic Jihad gunmen just as they were about to launch rockets at Israeli territory on Sunday. "What is your excuse this time?" he asked.

SO, CLEARLY, Turkey has been begging for a diplomatic demarche. But the way Ayalon handled his encounter with Celikkol was so amateurish that it detracted from Israel's agenda. After making the ambassador wait in the hallway outside his Knesset door in front of cameras Ayalon had summoned, Celikkol was ushered in and positioned on a low couch in front of a small table holding an Israeli flag. "The important thing is that people see that he's low and we're high and that there is one flag here," Ayalon said in Hebrew to the cameras.

Yes, it is essential the Islamic government in Turkey know that there are consequences to its unbridled derision of Israel, but the public humiliation of a diplomat shifts the onus from Turkey's bad behavior to Ayalon's boorish performance. This inept response to Turkish hostility demonstrates the need to find a better balance between national honor, national interest and diplomatic decorum. Our deputy minister has long proven effective, sometimes too effective, in courting publicity; he must realize that Turkish-Israel relations are not about him.

Decisions that impact on relations with a country as important to Israel as Turkey need to be coordinated between the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry so that all key players are on the same page and that enunciated policies reflect the government's considered position.

Not surprisingly, on Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Israel's ambassador Gabriel Levy to seek an explanation for Ayalon's behavior and demand an apology; Celikkol will be returning to Ankara for consultations.

TURKEY has been incrementally shifting its political, economic and military orientation from West to East. Jerusalem is the "canary in the coalmine" - a key indicator that tells Washington and Europe where Ankara's sensibilities lie.

Still, Turkey remains a democracy so the possibility that a more progressive government will one day replace the AKP cannot be discounted.

Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer visited Ankara in November to keep channels open, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak was scheduled to go next week.

Erdogan seems intent on torpedoing Israel-Turkish ties. The least Jerusalem can do is make it harder for him to achieve this goal.

As for our national honor - let's try to maintain it with greater aplomb.

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