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Tensions Between Turkey And Israel Escalate

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Tensions Between Turkey And Israel Escalate

Middle East

Tensions Between Turkey And Israel Escalate

Tensions Between Turkey And Israel Escalate

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There are increasing tensions between Israel and Turkey. On Thursday, Israel summoned a Turkish diplomat to protest a series on Turkish state television that dramatizes Israeli soldiers murdering unarmed palestinian children. Earlier this week, Turkey refused to participate with Israel in a NATO war exercise.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Relations between Israel and Turkey are strained at the moment, partly because of a television show. Turkish State Television carries a series that dramatizes Israeli soldiers murdering unharmed Palestinian children. Israel officially protested that yesterday. And earlier this week, Turkey refused to participate with Israel in a NATO war exercise.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Jerusalem.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the show, an actor playing an Israeli soldier walks up to a young smiling Palestinian girl and shoots her in cold blood.

(Soundbite of movie, "Separation: Palestine in Love and War")

(Soundbite of gunshot and scream)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Other scenes are equally brutal, including one of a baby being murdered at an Israeli checkpoint. The series is called "Separation: Palestine in Love and War," and it has caused outrage in Israel.

Yigal Palmor is Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Mr. YIGAL PALMOR (Spokesman, Foreign Ministry, Israel): This really dramatizes the story of Israeli soldiers just murdering, in a bestial manner, infants and children on Palestinian streets. Now, this is horrible enough as it is, but when it's aired on state television, it's taken by the public as, you know, a confirmation by the state, that all these stories are true.

Even if it's not a news show, you know, it has a very negative impact on public opinion. This is what we said, today, to the Turkish representative.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Traditionally, relations between Turkey and Israel have been close. Turkey was the first Muslim nation to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state in 1949, and the two Mediterranean countries have cooperated closely on military matters.

But the Gaza war, here, cooled those ties. In January, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion on Gaza with Israeli President Shimon Peres, at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. More worryingly for Israeli officials: earlier this week, Ankara refused to participate with the Israeli Air Force in a joint NATO exercise.

In comments to the semi-official Anatolian press agency, Erdogan said that he had bowed to Turkish public opinion when he decided to call off the military drill, and said Turkey would not take orders from anyone in regards to its internal affairs.

Yigal Palmor says it's important that the relationship between Turkey and Israel remain strong.

Mr. PALMOR: We really need to calm down the situation. Now, there are so many common interests at stake here that we really need to work together for the best interest of both countries.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Analysts here say that's unlikely to happen any time soon.

Alon Liel is a former Israeli diplomat to Turkey, and a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Liel says that the fact Erdogan belongs to an Islamist party is an example of how Turkey's priorities are shifting.

Professor ALON LIEL (International Relations, Hebrew University): The recent wave is part of an ongoing deterioration. This Islamic party indexed the bilateral relations between Israel and Turkey to the Arab-Israel conflict. And now we have a bad year on the peace talks and a bad year in the relations between Turkey and Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Gaza War only exacerbated that, he says. Liel says the alliance between Turkey and Israel was extremely important in the 1990s, when Turkey was seemingly surrounded by enemies. But now...

Professor LIEL: Turkey has around it, only friendly countries today. It was not like this in the past. It was almost in a war situation with Syria and problems in Cyprus, Armenia, Kurdish - but now they settled most of them. And the self-confidence of Turkey is growing and that's the reason they can also do to Israel what they're doing these days.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are now calls in Israel to boycott vacations to Turkey. The largest labor unions have announced it will stop organized tours there for thousands of their workers, saying they will send them to Greece and Bulgaria instead.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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