Turkeys strained relations with Israel a cause for concern

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Israel has always resided in a tough neighborhood. The many wars, intifadas and never-ending security challenges prove that. So when one of Israel’s few local allies — namely, Turkey — starts giving the cold shoulder, it is cause for concern.

Our story on page 12A details the diplomatic dust-up over Turkey’s postponement of regional military exercises because of Israel’s participation. Apparently, Turkey remains mightily displeased over Israel’s Gaza incursion last winter, and is taking no pains to disguise it.

While public statements from the Israeli government downplay the snub, there is more to the story than the canceled military maneuvers.

For years, Turkey had been a reliable ally. To have this Muslim country of 70 million embrace the Jewish state enhanced Israel’s world standing and provided an enormous strategic bulwark. Cultural and economic exchanges between the two nations had become commonplace.

With the ascent of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has strived to Islamicize the country’s staunchly secular society, Israel has had to deal with a new Turkey, one that fosters closer ties with Israel’s enemies.

Considering Turkey shares a border with Iraq and Syria, closer ties would make some sense. But how close is too close? While spurning military exercises with Israel and the West, Turkey did just conclude similar exercises with the Syrian army. That cannot give Israel any comfort.

Just as disturbing, Erdogan has relentlessly criticized Israel in public, this week charging the Israeli Defense Forces with deliberately dropping phosphorus shells on innocent children during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Of course this is a lie. Just as disingenuous is Turkey’s holier-than-thou attitude when it comes to Israel’s self-defense. Surely the Kurds in Turkey and northern Iraq who have suffered atrocities at the hands of the Turks would scoff at Erdogan’s crocodile tears over casualties in Gaza.

No doubt Turkey has a narrow line it must walk. Straddling Europe and Asia, it has sought good relations with the West while simultaneously developing its leadership role in the Muslim world.

In light of recent and surprising Turkish reconciliation efforts with Armenia and Greece, it is clear the Ankara government wants to expand its role as a regional player. If that is the case, Turkey should stop spouting Hamas-style lies and return to the family of responsible nations.

That means mending fences with Israel.