The Education, Sports and Culture Committee of the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset, held a hearing yesterday to debate whether Israel should formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, which took place at the hand of Turkish army officers in the dying days of the first World War.
The debate was scheduled for months, but it remains unclear why the hearing was conducted at this time, and in open defiance of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which strove to postpone or even cancel the hearings due to “Turkish sensitivities.”
The small but vocal Armenian minority in Israel has been calling for such hearings and for recognition for decades.
Director of the Europe Department in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Irit Lillian, told Israel Army radio the timing was “very worrisome in view of the extreme delicacy of relations with Turkey at this particular time.”
Israel-Turkey relations, which date back to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, have been severely strained in the past two years by a number of diplomatic incidents, most acutely by the Gaza flotilla incident of May 2010, in which Israeli soldiers killed seven Turkish citizens on a flotilla that was attempting to break through the closure of the Gaza strip.
In addition, the government of Israel this week cancelled a $141 million contract to provide Turkey with advanced aerial intelligence systems. Off the record, Israeli officials expressed fears that proprietary military information could have fallen into unwanted hands, and possibly even wind its way to Iran.
The contract was between a private Israeli company that develops weapons systems and the Turkish military, but was cancelled by the Ministry of Defense, which has final approval rights over all military exports.