Diplomatic crisis with Turkey escalates
officials would not comment Tuesday evening on whether Israel
will apologize to Turkey
for Deputy Foreign Minister
Danny Ayalon's undiplomatic treatment
of Turkish ambassador
Oguz Celikkol, amid talk in Ankara that it might recall Celikkol if such an expression of regret is not forthcoming.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
"Apologies are not exactly a big part of Lieberman's repertoire," one senior diplomatic official said.
Turkey's demand for an apology, clarification and "corrective steps" came during a meeting Israel's envoy in Turkey, Gaby Levy, had with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu.
Sinirlioglu, a former ambassador to Israel, summoned Levy over Ayalon's treatment of Celikkol the day before, when he called Celikkol to the Knesset to express outrage over a new Turkish television
show that depicted Mossad agents as baby-snatchers. At that meeting Ayalon instructed the camera crews not to film them shaking hands, to show that the Turkish envoy was sitting in a lower sofa, to show that there was only an Israeli flag on the table, and not to film them smiling.
One Turkish source said that Ayalon "set a trap" for Celikkol, and that the envoy had no idea that he was being humiliated until afterward when Ayalon's words to the cameramen were broadcast.
"He thought he was sitting on the more comfortable chair," the source said of the Turkish envoy, and mentioned that Ayalon did shake his hand, but not in front of the cameras. Celikkol, who was surprised by the presence of the media at the meeting, asked Ayalon what the press was doing there, and Ayalon replied that Turkey was a popular issue in Israel that always attracted the press.
According to Turkish sources, Celikkol felt "set up" by Ayalon, and said the tenor of their 45 minute meeting was much different than the way Ayalon portrayed it to the media. Had Ayalon said to Celikkol in Turkish what he told the media in Hebrew, the source said, the ambassador would have responded.
Furthermore, according to the Turkish sources, the ambassador had no idea what the meeting was about beforehand. He had set up an appointment with Ayalon on Thursday, but on Monday received a phone call from Ayalon's office asking him to move it up, but giving no explanation.
One Turkish source sad that this type of behavior from a career diplomat like Ayalon was "shocking."
Celikkol, according to the source, said that this was the first time in his 35-year diplomatic career that he had witnessed anything of this sort.
"There is no way the ambassador can continue working here and talk to diplomatic officials if there is not an apology," the Turkish source said.
Following the meeting with Levy, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it expected an "explanation and apology" over Ayalon's behavior. The statement called on Israel to "adhere to the rules of diplomatic courtesy and respect."
In addition, the statement said Turkey expected undefined "corrective steps to be taken with respect to the treatment shown to our ambassador to Israel."
Ayalon, before the statement was released, told Army Radio that he would not apologize.
"It's the Turks who should - for what Erdogan said and for the television series," Ayalon said. "We are merely setting boundaries."
Ayalon was unavailable for comment after Ankara demanded an apology.
Celikkol is expected to return to Ankara later this week to prepare for Sunday's scheduled visit by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who - according to his spokesman - is determined to go ahead with the meeting and to smooth over the current crisis.
Erdogan said demonstratively on Tuesday that he would not meet with Barak, even though Turkish officials said the day before that no such meeting was planned, and that Barak would be meeting with the defense and foreign ministers.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also reacted angrily to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry the day before slamming Erdogan for again lambasting Israel during a press conference on Monday, this time with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Turkey, the Israeli statement said in a veiled reference to that country's history and treatment of its Kurdish minority, was the last country that could preach morality to Israel.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it deeply regretted that statement, and that Erdogan's criticism of Israel was "exclusively related to the unacceptable policies and actions of Israel towards Gaza."
"Throughout history, Turks have extended a hand to the Jewish people whenever they were in dire conditions. The long history of coexistence between Turks and Jews is one of mutual respect and tolerance. Therefore, we reject the allegation that Turkey is the last country that will preach morality to Israel, which does not conform, above all, with the collective memory of the Jewish people. This expression, which distorts facts, constitutes an injustice to history," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
One senior Israeli diplomatic official bewailed that Ayalon had diverted attention from Israel's justified complaints over Erdogan's continued public drubbing of Israel and the anti-Semitic fare on Turkish television, to the shabby treatment of the Turkish envoy. "He single-handedly created an unnecessary crisis," the official said.
Erdogan, meanwhile, said before leaving for a visit to Russia on Tuesday that "history is the witness that we have demonstrated the necessary tolerance to Jewish people. But any sort of an approach like [Ayalon's] will always be retaliated by Turkey."
Neither Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor Lieberman have responded publicly to the events of the past two days, though Lieberman will have a chance to do so on Wednesday during photo opportunities during a two-day trip Cyprus.
The trip to Cyprus
, diplomatic officials pointed out, was scheduled some time ago and had nothing to do
with the current friction with Ankara.
Analysis: Let's Talk Turkey
JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned the Turkish ambassador to a meeting on Monday to discuss the latest anti-Israel Turkish propaganda - a television program, depicting Shin Bet agents kidnapping babies.
The program follows another one that aired on Turkey's state-sponsored television a few months ago. It portrayed Israeli soldiers as bloodthirsty killers.
During the photo op preceding Monday's meeting, Ayalon and two Israeli officials sat in chairs, facing Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, who was seated on a sofa. A small Israeli flag stood on the table, the Turkish flag noticeably absent.
According to Israeli media sources, Ayalon, speaking in Hebrew, instructed the photographers to pay attention to the seating, the absence of the Turkish flag and to the expressions on their faces.
The Foreign Ministry intended to portray a visible response to the anti-Israel rhetoric the Turkish government has been dishing out for more than a year.
Celikkol later told Army Radio he had not been informed beforehand of the content of the meeting nor had he experienced such a shameful lack of diplomacy in his 35 years as a diplomat.
While this scenario was taking place in Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrapped up meetings in Ankara with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The two leaders signed a series of agreements, bolstering the ties between their countries, which include military and defense contracts.
Erdogan recently signed similar agreements with Syria and Iran, citing their friendship as critical to maintaining peace in the region.
At a joint press conference, Erdogan and Hariri accused Israel of everything from violating Lebanese airspace and territorial waters to responding disproportionately against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip firing rockets and mortars on southern Israel.
Erdogan also defended Iran's nuclear program, saying it was strictly for energy use, while accusing Israel of possessing a nuclear arsenal.
"We can never remain silent in the face of Israel's attitude," Erdogan told reporters. "It has disproportionate power and it is using that at will, while refusing to abide by U.N. resolutions. We can never accept this picture. These steps threaten global piece," he said.
Israel responded to "the Turkish prime minister's unbridled attack at a joint press conference with the Lebanese prime minister" with a statement issued by Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy.
"The State of Israel has every right to defend its citizens from missile and terror attacks launched by Hezbollah and Hamas. The Turks have absolutely no right to preach morality to the State of Israel and the IDF , which is the most moral army in the world," the Foreign Ministry statement read.
"The prime minister's speech joins the broadcasting of the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic Turkish television show, as well as severe criticisms being continuously and systematically launched at Israel for over a year now since Erdogan attacked President Peres in Davos ," the statement read.
"Israel maintains respect for Turkey and is interested in proper relations between the two states; however, we expect reciprocity and a similar attitude from the Turkish side," the statement concluded.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer are scheduled to leave for Turkey on Sunday in an attempt to mend diplomatic fences.
Last month, Lieberman rejected Turkey's offer to resume its role during the Olmert adminstration as third-party mediator in negotiations with Syria.
"We are not looking to fight with anyone," Lieberman said, "but I regret some of the things that were recently said by the Turkish prime minister. If anyone thinks we will agree to their mediation after all this, they can forget it.
"As long as I am foreign minister, there will be no Turkish mediation in the talks with Syria. But if Damascus wishes to talk, it will only be in a direct meeting, not in secret diplomacy, without mediation and without mediators, definitely not Turkish ones," Israel's foreign minister said.
Netanyahu: Israel will never divide Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday issued a statement declaring that Israel would never surrender the eastern half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, nor would it return to the pre-1967 borders.
Netanyahu was responding to remarks by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in which he told visiting Mediterranean foreign ministers that the Israeli leader had relaxed his positions.
According to Gheit, Netanyahu told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when the two met last week that Israel was ready to let eastern Jerusalem become the capital of "Palestine" and to surrender 100 percent of the so-called West Bank.
Netanyahu's statement was also seen as a line in the sand for US President Barack Obama, who according to reports is preparing letters to send to both Israel and the Palestinians outlining the terms of renewed peace negotiations.
Senators won't let Obama freeze aid to Israel
Visiting senior US senators told their Israelis hosts on Sunday that they disapprove of the Obama Administration's attempt to pressure Israel by threatening to withhold aid, and vowed they would never let that happen.
Senator John McCain told a Jerusalem press conference that he expects President Barack Obama to explicitly announce that his administration is not planning to alter America's policy regarding financial aid to Israel.
Senator Joe Lieberman promised that even if Obama did try to use US financial aid as leverage, Congress would never approve such a measure.
McCain and Lieberman were also joined by senators John Thune and John Barrasso.
The visit by the senior and powerful lawmakers came just days after Obama's special Middle East envoy George Mitchell caused a diplomatic storm by suggesting in an interview with Charlie Rose that the US may withhold financial aid if Israel did not meet more Arab demands.
Israeli mother of 4 flees Gazan husband
Dressed in a hijab and running for her life, Oshrit Ochana - with her four children in tow - reached Gaza
's Erez crossing midday on Tuesday, and was ushered through to the Israeli side.
A Palestinian woman in Gaza.
Ochana, a 29-year-old Jewish Israeli who grew up in Ashdod, married a Muslim man seven years ago and then moved to Gaza with him.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
just hours after her escape while on her way to her family's home in Ashdod to celebrate, she said she had reached the decision months ago to get away from her
husband, Abdallah, who ekes out a living smuggling goods through the elaborate system of tunnels connecting Rafah with Egypt.
"That was no life for me and the children," she said. "The children had dreams that I wanted to make true. And we couldn't as long we remained in Gaza.
"Now I am trying to forget everything."
An opportunity to escape presented itself after Abdallah was arrested in Egypt for attempting to travel illegally to Europe.
Ochana and her four children - Mahmoud, seven; Abdel Rahman, five; Sali, six; and Asma, not yet two - left the apartment
they shared with her husband's family on Tuesday morning. She told her brother-in-law that she was accompanying her sister-in-law to school
and was going to buy a few things for the kids before returning to the small apartment.
But she had other plans.
Ochana's family in Ashdod had already contacted Yad L'Achim, a haredi anti-missionary organization
that also helps Jewish Israeli women extricate themselves from marriages with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.
The Ochana family told the haredi organization about Ochana's predicament and Yad L'Achim went into action.
"We notified Eli Yishai and the Defense Ministry," said Rabbi Shalom Dov Lipshitz, chairman of Yad L'Achim.
"At first, security
officials were suspicious. They were concerned that she might be a spy or a suicide bomber," Lipshitz said.
A decision was made that Ochana would make her way to the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, where Israeli military officials would be notified and she would be let through. Yad L'Achim promised to find a hideout for Ochana and her children and to help them financially.
But making it to Erez, on the extreme northern side of the Gaza Strip, from Rafah, located about 60 kilometers away on the extreme southern side, was not easy. Suspicious that she might try to escape, Ochana's in-laws were carefully watching her.
As she stood in downtown Rafah, her brother-in-law's threat that he would kill her if she tried to run away still rang in her ears. Still, she waved down a taxi. She knew she had to take the chance.
Ochana piled her children inside and ordered the driver to take her to the Erez crossing.
The driver was suspicious of a woman wearing a hijab and speaking Arabic with a Hebrew accent who wanted to cut across the Gaza Strip to reach Erez.
"I told him that my father was very sick and I needed to visit him as quickly as possible."
She managed to pass through the Hamas-controlled side of the Erez crossing. On the Israeli side, the commanding officer had been notified that Ochana would be arriving.
Israeli security officials began questioning Ochana. But when one of her children passed out due to the excitement and dehydration, the interrogation was cut short and the Ochanas were rushed to Barzilai Medical Center
On Tuesday evening, Ochana celebrated her new-found freedom with her family in Ashdod. She plans to change the names of her children to Hebrew names.
Yad L'Achim's Lipshitz, who has helped other women escape from marriages with Arabs, said there were "hundreds" of Israeli women in similar situations.
"Some are in Gaza, others are in Nablus or Tulkarm, and there are some in neighboring Arab countries," he said.
"We are not a racist organization. But we do not want to lose Jewish souls. We lost enough in the Holocaust
," he said.
Ochana warned other women not to make the mistake she made.
"It was stupid," she said. "I had a friend who introduced me to Abdallah. We had fun together. We danced and drank - I got carried away. I was his lapdog."
Ochana said she would not miss Abdallah.
"I am still young enough to start my life over again."
Petraeus: Iran's nuclear infrastructure can be bombed
DEBKAfile Special Report
January 11, 2010, 11:31 PM (GMT+02:00)
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower arrives
The deployment in the Middle East of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group in the first week of January adds muscle to the words of Gen. David Petraeus, CENTCOM commander, on Jan 10 that Iranian nuclear infrastructure, albeit strengthened against attack with enhanced underground tunnels, wasn't fully protected.
"Well, they certainly can be bombed," he said to CNN. "The level of effect would vary with who it is that carries it out, what ordnance they have and what capability they can bring to bear."
This judgment contradicts recent US media estimates that Iran's nuclear facilities buried deep in fortified tunnels are now protected against air or missile strikes.
Declining to comment on the likelihood of an Israeli strike, Gen. Petraeus said there was still time for diplomacy, but pointed out: "It would be almost literally irresponsible if Centcom were not to have been thinking about 'what ifs' and making plans for a whole variety of different contingencies."
DEBKAfile's military sources add: CENTCOM was substantially beefed up by the USS Eisenhower carrier which President Barack Obama deployed in the New Year to the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean in support of the US Fifth and Sixth Fleets. He ordered this six-month deployment, the first since he took office a year ago, in view of the rising tensions around Yemen and Iran.
The Eisenhower carries eight air squadrons on its decks.
Air Wing Seven is made up of four fighter-bomber squadrons, a squadron each of early-warning surveillance, electronic warfare and tactical support aircraft and another of anti-submarine helicopters. Its strike force consists of the USS Hue City guided missile cruiser, and two guided missile destroyers, the USS McFaul, USS Farragut and USS Carney.
Obama said in a recent interview that he had not intention of sending US combat troops to the terrorist havens of Somalia and Yemen because "working with international partners is most effective at this point."
This statement ties in with pumping up America's naval and air strength in the two volatile regions to avoid sending in more boots on the ground which the US cannot afford at this time.
8,000-Year-Old Bldg. Uncovered in Tel Aviv
TEL AVIV, Israel - Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists estimate the remains of a building uncovered in Tel Aviv are between 7,800 and 8,400 years old.
It is the earliest structure found in Tel Aviv to date.
The IAA team came across the ancient building in a pre-construction excavation for a new apartment building in Ramat Aviv.
Israeli law requires an excavation before beginning any construction.
"This discovery is both important and surprising to researchers of the period," said IAA archaeologist Ayelet Dayan, director of the excavation.
"For the first time, we have encountered evidence of a permanent habitation that existed in the Tel Aviv region c. 8,000 years ago," she said.
"The site is located on the northern bank of the Yarkon River, not far from confluence with Nahal Ayalon. We can assume that this fact influenced the ancient settlers in choosing a place to live," Dayan said.
"The fertile alluvium soil along the fringes of the streams was considered a preferred location for a settlement in ancient periods," Dayan said.
Pottery shards at the site date the building - which had at least three rooms - to the Neolithic period when nomadic life began the changeover to permanent settlements and agriculture.
Besides pottery shards, archaeologists found flint tools, such as sickle blades, and stone flakes indicative of ancient tool-making, a base of a basalt bowl, as well as bones from a hippopotamus and teeth that likely came from sheep or goats.