- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2010

Israel stands to lose its main Muslim ally in the Middle East — Turkey — over a recent raid on a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed by Israeli forces, according to two senior Turkish officials.

Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Omer Celik, vice chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), were in Washington last week to demand an independent, U.N.-backed inquiry into the flotilla incident and explain Turkey’s June 9 vote at the U.N. Security Council against U.S.-backed sanctions on Iran.

In remarks at a Middle East Institute conference on Friday, Mr. Celik accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to derail relations with Turkey.

Describing the Turkish-Israeli relationship as two Formula 1 cars racing toward each other at high speed, Mr. Celik warned “they are going to crash.”

He said people in the U.S. have been asking whether Turkey is aware of the consequences of losing Israel’s friendship, “and we ask, is Israel not [thinking] what will be the end result of losing Turkey?”

Mr. Celik said Israel should apologize to Turkey for the flotilla incident.

Israeli commandos clashed with a group of activists on board a ship that was attempting to break an Israeli blockade of Gaza last month. Eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish-American citizen were killed in the raid.

Mr. Kalin said the incident had created a “deep wound” in Turkish society. He and Mr. Celik said the Israeli inquiry into the incident lacked credibility and the U.S. must support an international inquiry commission under the auspices of the United Nations.

If Israel does not meet Turkey’s demands, then the relationship will deteriorate further, Mr. Celik said.

Mr. Kalin said he hoped there would be some “common sense coming from the Israeli side to repair this relationship.”

Israel last week eased its blockade on Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas that opposes Israel’s right to exist.

In a conversation with reporters, Mr. Kalin called the blockade illegal and unsustainable, saying it doesn’t address Israel’s security concerns. He said the blockade must be lifted and an international mechanism put in place to control what goes in and out of Gaza.

Turkey’s relationship with the Jewish American community has come under strain in the aftermath of the flotilla incident. Many of the Jewish groups invited to a meeting with Mr. Celik and Mr. Kalin boycotted the event.

Mr. Celik said those who stayed away had made a mistake.

“We want a close relationship with the Jewish community. However, if the Jewish community … starts from the very beginning suggesting Israel is right on every issue, then they will hurt their friends,” he said.

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