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ISRAEL: Diplomatic dispute with Turkey lands at Istanbul airport

TurkishAir_SA_PEK 
Israel's airport security is widely admired but its stringent passenger screening has been criticized by other countries -- and by the Israeli supreme court. On Monday, some Israelis got a glimpse of what it's like on the receiving end of a harsh security inspection when they were forced to undress by personnel at an airport in Turkey.

The incident came days after relations between Israel and Turkey reached an all-time low when Turkey announced a further downgrade of diplomatic ties, including expelling the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Turkey and suspending military and economic dealings. The Turkish moves followed Israel's rejection of a Turkish ultimatum for Israel to apologize for last year's deadly flotilla raid.

After the airport incident, Israeli officials accused Turkey of trying to lead Israel into an open confrontation.

Some saw the episode as retaliation for similar treatment of Turkish citizens by Israeli authorities the evening before. But an Israeli foreign ministry official admitted that Turkish citizens were routinely humiliated at Israel's Ben-Gurion airport.

Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor told Israel Radio on Monday that he hoped Turkey and Israel could find a way to fix the damage to their relationship but said that would not be easy. Once a strong strategic ally of Israel, Turkey now seeks closer ties with Egypt, another regional asset threatening to slip away from Israel.

Speaking at the International Conference on Economic Regional Cooperation in Tel Aviv, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer warned that a disruption of trade with Turkey could prove "expensive" for Israel.  Israeli exporters are already expressing concern; Turkey is Israel's sixth-largest export destination.

Some defense analysts speculated that the rift could hinder Turkey's fight against Kurdish militants. Turkey has recently acquired substantial military gear from Israel, including armored vehicles, upgraded tanks and unmanned aerial vehicles. That equipment already has been delivered but the usual post-sale agreements for maintenance and parts are now iffy.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: A Turkish Airlines jet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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