Israel-Turkey tit-for-tat escalates over deadly Gaza violence

Israel-Turkey tit-for-tat escalates over deadly Gaza violence

JERUSALEM -- Israel and Turkey exchanged diplomatic barbs Wednesday as the spat between the former allies escalated following deadly violence along Israel's border with Gaza. A day after it expelled the Israeli ambassador, Turkey asked Israel's consul general in Istanbul to leave as well. Israel, in turn, summoned a top Turkish diplomat to be reprimanded for the humiliation of Israel's ambassador as he was kicked out of the country.


The exchanges came less than two years after the countries reconciled and exchanged ambassadors after six years of animosity.


Once close allies in an Arab-dominated region, Israel and Turkey's ties began to decline after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey's Islamist movement, first came to power as prime minister in 2003. Relations imploded in 2010 after a confrontation between Israeli commandos and a Turkish flotilla trying to breach the blockade of Gaza left 10 Turkish activists dead.


Erdogan has often lashed out at Israel over its clashes with Hamas militants in Gaza -- and he led the international criticism of Israel after nearly 60 Palestinians were killed Monday in the bloodiest day of cross-border violence since a devastating 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. He also ratcheted up his rhetoric against the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retorted that a "man whose hands are drenched in the blood of countless Kurdish civilians in Turkey and Syria is the last one who can preach to us about military ethics."


Netanyahu's son, Yair, who has drawn criticism in the past for making crude social media posts, chimed in on Facebook.


"Turkey, you're responsible to unbelievable atrocities and suffer to Cyprus, the Greek people, the Kurds and a genocide of the Armenians. Also I would like to remind the Turks that they're a people coming from Central Asia, illegally occupying little Asia and Constantinople that was Christian before their invasion. So shut up!" he wrote.


Israel's Foreign Ministry summoned a top Turkish diplomat Tuesday to reprimand him for Turkey's treatment of Israeli ambassador Eitan Naeh. The ministry accused Turkey of subjecting Naeh to a particularly severe security screening at the airport in Istanbul and inviting local Turkish media to capture the humiliation of him being frisked and forced to remove his shoes and jacket.


In a video filmed by Dogan news agency's reporter at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport, Naeh is seen being searched at a final checkpoint routinely used for flights to the United States, United Kingdom and Israel before boarding. The final passenger security control is carried out by Gozen Air Services on behalf of Turkish Airlines. 


TURKEY-US-ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-CONFLICT-DEMO

Protestors hold banners reading "Palestinian will win" as they march on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul, on May 15, 2018 during a protest against killings the day before.



Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images


In the video, an airport security official pats the ambassador down. Naeh appears to be lifting his feet as the official squats. A man in plainclothes shadows the ambassador and three other officials look on as Naeh is searched. Meanwhile, another passenger who is holding his shoes is also patted down. Naeh smiles and waves at the cameras as he heads to the boarding area.


The meeting in Jerusalem with the Turkish deputy ambassador, Umut Deniz, lasted about 20 minutes. He was asked to present his documents upon entering and made no comment to a crowd of reporters as he left the building. He then walked to a waiting van, slammed the door shut and it drove away.


Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel expressed "our concern and our dismay at a gross violation of the diplomatic ethics."


"The images of our ambassador being subjected to an unnecessary security check are spread all over Turkey," he said. "This is something that is totally contrary to diplomatic relations between countries and a public humiliation of an ambassador is something that Israel will not accept under any circumstances."


Broader diplomatic fallout


The growing fissure between Israel and Turkey is part of wider diplomatic fallout after Israeli troops fired from across a border fence and killed dozens of Palestinians.


While Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador, Ireland and Belgium summoned Israeli envoys. Leading European countries and the U.N. human rights office called for an investigation of the bloodshed, and the U.N. Security Council held a moment of silence Tuesday for the Palestinians killed Monday as it opened discussions on the Gaza situation.


Israel says it has the right to defend its border against a possible mass breach and accuses Gaza's Hamas rulers of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests. In an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor, the prime minister said Palestinians put children in the line of fire.


"I don't know of any army that would do anything differently if you had to protect your border against people who say, 'We're going to destroy you, and we're going to flood into your country,'" Netanyahu told Glor. "You try other means. You try all sorts of means. You try non-lethal means, and they don't work, so you're left with bad choices."


The high casualty toll, however, revived international criticism of Israel's open-fire policies. Rights groups have said the use of potentially lethal force against protesters who pose no immediate threat to soldiers' lives is unlawful. The military has said presumably less lethal rubber-coated steel pellets are not effective in keeping demonstrators from the fence. 

In Brussels, Prime Minister Charles Michel called the Israeli actions "unacceptable violence" and said there was a "clear lack of proportionality." German spokesman Steffen Seibert said the violence "concerns us greatly," but also accused Hamas of cynically escalating the unrest.


Ireland's Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to express "shock and dismay." China called on Israel to exercise restraint. On Monday, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel until further notice.


The U.N. human rights office said Israel has repeatedly violated international norms by using deadly live fire to repel protesters from its border with Gaza, suggesting its forces should instead arrest those who reach the fence. 


U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, meanwhile, told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that no member "would act with more restraint than Israel has" in its confrontation with Palestinians at the Gaza border. 


For Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, Monday's border protest was the culmination of a weekslong campaign to try to break the blockade. The group has led weekly protests near the border with Israel since late March -- marches seen as Hamas' last hope of ending the blockade, which has made it increasingly difficult for the group to govern. Other tactics, including three wars with Israel and attempts at reconciliation with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, have failed.