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Opinion: It's getting chilly between Turkey and Israel

As Turkey gets friendlier with Syria and Iraq, relations with Israel take a back seat.

In Turkish eyes, when there were bad relations between Turkey and many of its neighbors —  Iraq, Iran and Syria — it looked like a good bet to have Israel watching Turkey’s back.

Today, Turkey has better relations with Syria and Iraq than in the past and, according to some, Turkey doesn’t need Israel as much as in the past.

Undoubtedly, the relationship with Israel came at a political cost after the Gaza war, which was very unpopular with the Turkish public.

The outrage in the Muslim world, not just among Arabs, over the damage done in Gaza during the brief, winter war of 2008-2009 is little appreciated in the United States. Almost as irksome is the continuing Israeli blockade of Gaza, which the United States still supports even though Barack Obama promised a new outreach to the Muslim world.

This was not helped by the U.N. report, written by the respected South African judge, Richard Goldstone, charging both Hamas and Israel of war crimes in the Gaza conflict — a report that the United States does not support.

Some think the cooling of Turkey towards the relationship has to do with the moderately Islamic cast of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party. Other’s think it has a highly personal element, beginning when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January in a tiff with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

I happened to be in the room during that startling bit of political theatre. Peres, usually so calm and collected, worked himself up into a rage over criticism of Israel’s Gaza war, and began wagging his finger in Erdogan’s face. It was an “et tu Brute” moment, in my view, expressing Peres’ disappointment that Erdogan, a close ally, would join in the criticism being leveled at Israel. Erdogan, who had just been explaining how he had helped Israel and Syria get closer together, was also disappointed that Peres would show such disrespect.

The breech is probably worse for Israel than it is for Turkey, for Israel is becoming more isolated and Turkey less. The timing is especially bad for those in Israel who would like to lessen Israel’s dependency on the United States. And since Benjamin Netanyahu came to power, Turkey’s efforts on behalf of Israel with Syria are on the back burner with the heat turned down.