Turkey denied an Israeli military request to fly over its territory after a raid on a Gaza aid flotilla left nine Turks dead, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
The refusal involved a single Israeli request concerning a flight bound for Poland, and took place soon after the May 31 raid, Erdogan said in televised comments from Ankara airport today. Israel’s Yediot Ahronoth newspaper said yesterday that the application was for a plane carrying Israeli officers on a tour of Holocaust memorial sites in Auschwitz, Poland.
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich declined to comment on the report. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, asked about Erdogan’s comment today, said that “unilateral actions are not the way to mend relations and to settle differences.”
Turkey has for decades been Israel’s strongest ally in the Middle East, with the two countries sharing military technology and cooperating in army training. Relations began to deteriorate after Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion at Davos last year following a dispute with Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel’s 2008 military operation in the Gaza Strip. In October, Turkey postponed a multinational air force exercise that would have included Israel’s military.
The flight restriction marked “another step in what is truly a tectonic shift in Turkey’s approach to Israel and the West,” said Yoel Guzansky, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “The implications for Israel of such an important ally in the Muslim world slipping away are huge.”