JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—The Foreign Ministry on Monday denied reports that the US blocked Israel’s participation in counterterrorism conference in Istanbul last week. Instead, the Israeli business paper Globes quoted a source in Washington as saying as saying that “fierce objections” by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were behind Israel’s exclusion.
Last Thursday, the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s inaugural meeting was held in Istanbul. Launched by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a “multilateral counterterrorism body,” the forum includes 29 countries, including many Arab states. According to the State Department, it aims to “build the international architecture for dealing with 21st century terrorism.”
On Sunday, Globes reported that Israel “tried hard to obtain an invitation to the meeting, and its exclusion, despite the tight US-Israeli intelligence ties, has greatly disappointed officials in Jerusalem.”
However, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman downplayed the significance of Israel’s exclusion. “We did not plan on going to that meeting anyway,” ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “We will take part in working groups on different issues of this forum; that’s confirmed. We’re not estranged from that forum.”
A State Department spokesman said that the idea behind the forum was to “bring together a limited number of traditional donors, front-line states, and emerging powers to develop a more robust, yet representative, counterterrorism capacity-building platform.”
Several “close partners with considerable experience countering and preventing terrorism” are not among the forum’s founding members, the spokesman said. The US discussed “ways to involve Israel” in the forum’s activities “on a number of occasions, and are committed to making this happen,” he said.
On the other hand, Israel’s relations with Turkey have deteriorated steadily since May 2010, when Israel Naval commandos intercepted a flotilla from Turkey trying to breach Israel’s arms blockade of Gaza. When the Israeli commandos were attacked by thugs wielding knives, clubs, and several firearms as they tried to board the Mavi Marmara cruise ship, they were forced to kill nine Turkish attackers in self-defense.
Turkey has refused to accept any responsibility for the blockade-breaching attempt—which a UN inquiry upheld as legal—and has demanded an official apology from Israel and compensation for the “martyrs.” Last week a Turkish court indicted four senior IDF officers, including a former chief of General Staff, for the killings.
Turkey has since gone on to block Israeli participation in international events whenever it can. Last week, the World Economic Forum held a “special meeting” on the Middle East, North Africa, and Eurasia in Istanbul. Erdogan demanded that Israel not be invited. Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu vetoed Israel’s participation in a NATO summit in Chicago. It sounded like sour grapes then, too, when an Israeli diplomat said: “We didn’t plan on attending the summit anyway.”
“The Turks are currently not behaving in very helpful manner,” an Israeli diplomatic official told The Times of Israel this week. “Erdogan is acting with irrational rage, threatening Israel wherever he can. Whenever there is a possibility of Israelis and Turks meeting somewhere he tries to put obstacles in our way.”
Palmor pointed out that what is important for Israel is its own direct channel of communication with Washington, such as the “diplomatic dialogue” that took place last week in Jerusalem. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met with an American delegation headed by US State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Daniel Benjamin. “The dialogue covered regional problems and threats. Cooperation was agreed upon regarding bilateral and multilateral issues,” Palmor said.