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Turkey and Israel: frenemies?

Relations thaw with the Jewish state. 196 people are indicted in alleged “Sledgehammer” coup plot. Over 100 die in recent Kurdish violence. Turkey gives debt-ridden Europe a run for its money. And a serious foodie’s guide to Istanbul.


Top News: Almost two months after the flotilla incident brought Turkey and Israel to their current impasse, things are beginning to look up for the former allies. Trade between Israel and Turkey surged in the first half of this year, Israel just lifted a warning on travelto Turkey, an Israeli volleyball team trained in the Turkish capital on Friday ahead of a regional tournament (albeit not without protest) and Israel has released three ships from the flotilla. While neither side has yet backed down from the fight, signs suggest that the both sides may be looking for ways to preserve their alliance without losing face.

A Turkish court indicted 196 people, including retired and serving generals, on charges of plotting to bring down the Islamic-oriented AK Party government. The 968-page indictment approved by an Istanbul court last week accuses the suspects of being involved in the so-called Sledgehammer plot – an alleged 2003 conspiracy to foment enough chaos to warrant a military takeover. Accusations so far have included planning operations to assassinate religious minority figures, bomb mosques and down a Greek aircraft in an effort to discredit the government.

Sledgehammer is not the only conspiracy Turkey is contending with these days. Violence between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish military is rising. At least 100 fighters, including 30 Turkish soldiers, have been killed over the past few weeks. The blame game is becoming increasingly popular. But while most of the rumors flying around lately have involved some outside partner (usually the U.S. or Israel), on Tuesday the government charged that “opponents of democratic change had triggered ethnic riots at both ends of the country.” The previous day four policeman were killed in southeastern Turkey by suspected PKK insurgents. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country, nearly 40 people were detained after a knife fight involving several ethnic Kurds escalated into riots.

British Prime Minister David Cameron made waves on his visit to Turkey this week, sharply criticizing opponents (read: France and Germany) of Turkey’s membership in the European Union, echoing concerns the U.S. has already voiced that the E.U. needs to give Turkey a seat at the table if they want to keep Ankara firmly anchored within the West. Cameron also strongly condemned Israel for its assault on the Gaza flotilla and called for them to relax the restrictions on Gaza.

Money: Turkey’s economy has long been cited by those holding the reins in Europe as a reason why they are not ready to join the club. For a while they had a point. Within just two decades the country has experienced four major financial crisis, with the 2001 debacle bringing the country to an all-time economic low.

These days, however, E.U. should rethink playing the economy card – especially in the face of its own trifecta of debt, demographic decline and lower growth. A recent article in the NYTimes describes Turkey as “a fast-rising economic power, with a core of internationally competitive companies turning the youthful nation into an entrepreneurial hub, tapping cash-rich export markets in Russia and the Middle East while attracting billions of investment dollars in return.”

That’s not to say that Turkey’s economic problems are all over. The country is still plagued by high unemployment (officially at 12 percent), a weak education system and widespread corruption. But with a remarkable 11.4 percent expansion reported for the first quarter this year, Turkey is already closer to meeting the criteria for adopting the euro than most countries already in the club – in a large part due to a revived interest in exploring new markets closer to home. Take that Europe.

Elsewhere: A new food book called "Istanbul Eats: Exploring the Culinary Backstreets" hit the stores this month, breaking open the gastronomic mysteries of Turkey's largest city and biggest tourist destination. Co-written and shot by expats Yigal Schleifer and Ansel Mullins, the book is the first spin-off of the pair’s successful blog So for all you foodies longing for insider tips, look no further. From the most delectable street carts to the neighborhood’s choice meyhane joints, this is “a serious eater’s guide to the city.”

A new law now requires cigarette packs in Turkey to carry graphic warning about health risks, bringing the expected images of diseased lungs and hospital scenes into the handbags of many a smoker. One ad has caused particular controversy, leaving the Turkish Health Ministry protesting the apparent desecration of Turkish family values. The image shows a young couple sitting up in bed looking pointedly in opposite directions, the warning underneath the photo translating to 'smoking slows down blood flow and causes impotence.' From a recent article in Turkish daily Hurriyet: “When asked her opinion on the debate, smoker Asli Didem Demirci, a translator, said, ‘The ministry may have thought impotency did not suit the Turkish man.’”