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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 04:00 | SYDNEY

Turkey: Cool heads prevail in Israel

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14 January 2010 09:39

Sam's post yesterday on Israel's humiliation of the Turkish Ambassador reminded me how important diplomacy is in the Middle East. 

I knew Turkish Ambassador to Israel O?uz Çelikkol well when I served at the Australian Embassy in Ankara a few years ago. He was then Turkey's Special Representative on Iraq and I frequently accompanied senior Australian Government visitors in discussions with him on the war in Iraq. He was one of the most intelligent and talented diplomats I ever met. He was also a very nice person. 

His knowledge of the Middle East region was exceptional, and like most senior Turkish diplomats, Çelikkol was a strong proponent of the Western alliance system and very well disposed to Israel.

Relations between Turkey and Israel have been souring for the last four years as Turkey's AKP Government has improved its relations with Arab countries, met with Hamas leaders and openly criticised Israeli actions in Gaza. Experienced diplomats, senior journalists and businesspeople in both countries, however, have worked hard to keep the relationship intact. 

That a diplomat as experienced as Çelikkol was appointed Ambassador to Israel shows how important the relationship is to Ankara. Israel badly needs friends in its neighbourhood, even if those friends retain the right to criticise Israel's actions. It also needs Turkey to act as a mediator in the region. Ambassador Çelikkol himself is a vital ally for Israel.

Risking an important strategic relationship with a diplomatic snub over something as petty as a Turkish television program was a stunt Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon could have avoided — with a private (rather than televised) expression of serious concern that would have been relayed faithfully to Ankara, probably with Çelikkol's recommendations for how Turkey could assuage Israel's concerns. 

Ayalon's apology shows calmer heads have prevailed just ahead of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's visit to Turkey. I wonder, though, how many more misadventures this important relationship will endure before its advocates on both sides lose the will to protect it.

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