- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday denied reports that Turkey had listed Israel as a threat in a key policy paper and that he, himself, had questioned the Jewish state’s long-term viability.

“That news does not have any verification and does not have any validity - it is just speculation,” Mr. Davutoglu told reporters, referring to a Turkish media report from late October claiming that Turkey’s National Security Council had listed Israel as a “major threat” in its “red book” while removing the designation from Iran and Syria.

The report was widely publicized in Israel, prompting the Israeli tourism minister to call for his countrymen not to visit Turkey.

Mr. Davutoglu also denied a second report, published recently by the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, which quoted him saying that “Israel will not be able to remain an independent country” and calling for a joint Israeli-Palestinian state.

“I don’t know why the Israeli press is doing this always,” he said. “I am a young person … my memory is quite good. I didn’t make such a speech anywhere.”

The Turkish foreign minister met Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton amid the furor over WikiLeaks’ release of over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.

Some of the documents contain dire assessments of Turkey’s foreign policy course, which - under Mr. Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” doctrine - has included warming ties with Syria and Iran.

In the cables, Ankara-based diplomats call Mr. Davutoglu “extremely dangerous” and say evidence supports the “thesis that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan simply hates Israel.”

Mr. Davutoglu said in response that “when Israel was working for peace, we had good relations with Israel,” citing Turkey’s mediation of indirect Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

He recalled a meeting, held before Israel’s 2008 war against Hamas in Gaza, in which then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Mr. Erdogan’s house for a round of indirect talks with Syria. “And … there was a telephone link with President Bashar Assad in Syria and indirectly Ehud Olmert was speaking to Bashar Assad through Prime Minister Erdogan and myself,” he said.

Nuh Yilmaz, Washington director for the SETA Foundation, a think tank that leans toward Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, said Turkish leaders had “invested a lot in the Israeli-Syrian talks” and felt betrayed when, in their telling, Mr. Olmert went to war days after telling them a deal was near.

Turkish-Israeli relations, long characterized by close cooperation on defense and intelligence, began deteriorating in late December 2008, when Israel launched an offensive against Hamas in Gaza - a campaign that Turkish leaders, and Mr. Erdogan in particular, loudly opposed.

Ties spiraled down further after the flotilla incident - dubbed “Turkey’s 9/11” by Mr. Davutoglu - when nine Turks were killed in a confrontation with Israeli forces aboard a Gaza-bound ship seeking to run Israel’s naval blockade. Jerusalem has refused Ankara’s demands for an apology, saying the commandos acted in self-defense.