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As Turkey gets friendlier with Syria and Iraq, relations with Israel take a back seat.
BOSTON — A strategic fault line is opening up in the Middle East with balance of power ramifications for the region. It is the growing coolness between two previously close allies: Turkey and Israel.
Last week “Anatolian Eagle,” a planned NATO exercise on Turkish soil was canceled when Turkey withdrew an invitation to Israel to participate. The United States and Italy promptly withdrew their participation, making the exercise pointless. Turkey said the reason was its opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza.
Israel and Turkey have a long history of military cooperation, and a joint naval exercise did take place as recently as last summer. Israeli airplanes routinely train over Turkey’s vast Anatolian airspace — Israel’s own space being so limited.
On the cultural front, Israel has made the strongest possible protests over a Turkish TV drama called “Separation.” The show depicts what Israelis claim are Israeli soldiers gunning down Palestinian children. Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that the TV series “would not be appropriate in an enemy country and certainly not in a state which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.” The Turks responded by saying that theirs was not a country based on censorship.
Israel has long had a strategic policy of trying to woo a non-Arab ally in the region in order to outflank the Arab powers still hostile towards Israel. Until 1979 that ally was Iran under the Shah. The Israelis had an embassy in Tehran, masquerading as a trade mission, and it was possible to fly directly between Tehran and Tel Aviv on El Al, the Israeli national airline. The Khomeini revolution paid lip service to that, and today Iranians mouth anti-Israeli sentiments that would make an Arab blush.
Turkey became the new Iran in Israeli strategic thinking.