Israel has sent an official apology to Turkey after a diplomatic spat threatened to damage further an already strained relationship. According to Israeli President Shimon Peres, the way that his country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon treated the Turkish ambassador to Israel, “reflected the mistake of one man, not of the state”.
The incident in question occurred earlier this week when Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol was summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry to hear a complaint about a Turkish TV programme. Reportedly acting on instructions from the Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon made the ambassador sit on a low sofa and only had the Israeli flag on view; the Turkish flag was absent, a breach of normal diplomatic protocol. Ayalon explained to local TV stations in Hebrew that the humiliation was intentional.
The Turkish President ordered the recall of the ambassador unless an official and public apology was issued, and Israel duly apologised, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling his officials to find ways to reverse the decline in relations between the two states. In doing so, he said that while Ayalon was justified about the protest against the programme, “he should have used acceptable diplomatic means to express his outrage.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted the apology that his country had asked for. At a news conference, he added, “Israel must put itself in order and it must be more just and more on the side of peace in the region.”
Turkey has been a strong ally of Israel since the late fifties but relations have cooled significantly since Israel’s invasion of Gaza a year ago, during which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, many of them women and children. This week’s diplomatic disagreement had the potential to escalate disastrously as Turkey looks to form stronger ties across the Middle East, including Iran and Syria, while snubbing Europe and Israel. It remains to be seen whether Israel’s apology has the effect of reversing that trend.