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A Turkish Storm at Davos

As most at Davos continue the debate over the merits of capitalism, how to interpret Adam Smith and the all important question of who’s to blame for the current state of the economy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose to fight a different battle.

After an argument with Israeli President Shimon Peres at a panel discussion on Gaza at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, Erdogan stormed off the stage pledging never to return again.

After verbally sparring with the Israeli leader over the fighting in Gaza, Erdogan told Peres: “You know very well how to kill people.”

Peres said Erdogan would have done the same had rockets hit Istanbul.

"I do not think I will be coming back to Davos after this because you do not let me speak," Erdogan shouted before marching off the stage in front of Peres, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and an elite audience of ministers and international officials.

Peres had told the audience that Israel was forced onto the offensive against Hamas by thousands of rockets and mortars fired into Israel.

"The tragedy of Gaza is not Israel, it is Hamas," the Israeli leader said. "They created a dictatorship. A very dangerous one."

It seems to me that each side seemed to be echoing two very distinct narrations of the recent conflict, important in a war that is as much about language as it is military might. For many who believe Israel is the victim, the recent conflict was a necessary action taken to protect innocent people from Hamas’ rockets and terrorist activities, and a battle fought with admirable restraint and humanity despite trying circumstances.

For those who oppose Israel’s actions, the fighting was as brutal and dehumanizing as they would expect, and the blood of the 1,300 Palestinians killed in the conflict is on the hands of the Israelis.

What is unique about this round of such familiar tit-for-tat dialogue is that Ankara has rarely taken part in it before, with this level of vitriol.

Turkey is one of the few Muslim countries to have dealings with Israel, but relations have been under strain since the Islamist-rooted AK Party was elected to power in 2002. The recent crisis in Gaza has strained relations even further and brings into question what the future of Turkish-Israeli relations hold.

"I did not target at all in any way the Israeli people, President Peres or Jewish people. To the contrary during the panels I attended both in lunch and tonight, I specificaly stressed that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity," Erdogan added in the press conference following the fiasco.

Upon leaving the disastrous debate, current Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Amr Moussa seemed keen to end on a note everyone could agree with. Erdogan should have been given more time, he argued, as "people are very emotional" when discussing the Middle East.