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ISRAEL: A partial embargo on Turkey by defense, tourists -- and a model

April 25, 2010 | 10:32 am

The previously tight friendship between Israel and Turkey has soured since Israel's assault on Gaza,  and occasional flareups of rhetoric on the part of Turkey and diplomatic blunders on Israel's part are making it hard for both sides to salvage the strategic and economic core of the alliance. Recently, it was reported that Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, would be replaced after less than a year. When Celikkol was appointed, it was seen an attempt to improve the strained relations, but those efforts didn't survive a diplomatic hazing, for which Israel apologized.

The latest episode in the ongoing drama of Israeli-Turkish relations could be a partial arms embargo, according to Turkish media, quoting Jane's Defence Weekly. Now, say reports, SIBAT --  the body that handles foreign defense assistance and export procurement and contracts for Israel's defense ministry -- will review Turkish requests for buying defense systems case by case; Turkey has expressed interest in a number of systems, including guided anti-tank weapons and heavy infantry fighting vehicles, as well as electronic-warfare systems. 

This further weakens the practical part of the alliance's strategic component, which already took a number of blows when Turkey dis-invited Israel from the joint military exercise Anatolian Eagle last year and also refused to allow the Israeli air force to deploy fighter jets in Turkey or use its airspace. Now, the press reports, Israel is looking for new long-range training options.

But they're still working to save the other aspects of bilateral relations. In the eighth Israel-Turkey Bilateral Economic Dialogue on Thursday, both sides expressed their strong support to further enhance bilateral trade and economic relations and called the business communities to "engage in active cooperation."

Meanwhile, many Israelis don't quite know what to make of the up-one-day, down-the-next ties with Turkey. Outraged over repeatedly harsh words for Israel from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, many decided to boycott Turkey -- a tough principle to stick to, as Turkish clubs and resorts are a favorite for a close, affordable indulgence. Last month, Turkey launched a $2-million campaign to bring Israeli tourists back. Many did. But some workplaces didn't want to buy packages for Passover vacations. How would it look if we sold our patriotism for $99, they asked.

And Anastassia Tal has her own embargo. The 16-year-old model from Israel turned down a job offer from a Turkish jewelry company, saying (in Hebrew) that under no circumstances would she "be the 'face' of a Turkish company so long as their prime minister lashes out at Israel and its leaders in such a unilateral, humiliating manner." Tal said she was a proud Israeli and that money wasn't everything.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.
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