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Back to diplomacy school for Israel?

OK, the Turkish TV show was offensive, but was Israel's humiliating response helpful?

Ayalon issued an equivocal apology after a day. But the Turks insisted on a fuller apology, which came after the Turkish president said Ankara might recall its ambassador.

“I wish to express my personal respect for you and the Turkish people,” Ayalon wrote to the Turkish ambassador, “and assure that although we have our differences of opinion on several issues, they should be discussed and solved only through open, reciprocal and respectful diplomatic channels.”

On the same day Ayalon told the parliament that because of his protest “Israel is respected more.” Presumably he means that the Turks will be satisfied with the apology but will tread more carefully in the future lest their representative find himself sinking into a low chair without a nice Turkish flag to cling onto.

Why do relations with Turkey matter so much to Israel, and why did things get so bad this week?

Turkey is a major client of Israel’s defense industries. Despite the diplo-spat, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in Turkey for an official visit during which he’ll discuss some important new military contracts. Last month Turkey said it’d push ahead with a $190-million deal to buy drones from Israel Aerospace Industries.

Some Israeli commentators think Lieberman and Ayalon, whose party Israel Our Home sits uncomfortably in the cabinet alongside Barak’s fractious Labor Party, engineered the tension to embarrass the defense minister.

More likely Lieberman had had enough with Turkish vilification of Israel. That began a year ago, when Turkey was one of the most outraged opponents of the war Israel waged on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The reaction back then included a surprisingly undiplomatic outburst at the economic conference in Davos, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan berated Israeli President Shimon Peres and stormed off the stage because the host told him it was time to end the panel and go to dinner.

Since then, Israeli diplomats maintain, Erdogan has missed no opportunity to lambast Israel. In Lebanon last week, Erdogan argued that Israel’s nuclear capability ought to be treated the same way as Iran’s nuclear program, and also said Israel threatens “world peace.”

The Israeli diplomats say that the controversial Turkish TV show was the last straw for Lieberman and provided a veiled way of punishing Erdogan for his aggressive statements.

In which case, it was actually quite diplomatic.