JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has likened Turkey to Iran on the eve of its 1979 Islamic revolution, saying Ankara’s policies were to blame for the breakdown of ties with the Jewish state.
Writing in Thursday’s edition of the Jerusalem Post under the headline “We will not be Turkey’s punching bag,” Lieberman offered to meet his Turkish counterpart as part of a “frank and honest dialogue” on how their alliance might be restored.
But in the latest rhetorical broadside to follow Israel’s deadly interception of a Turkish-sponsored aid flotilla that tried to breach its Gaza blockade in May, far-rightist Lieberman put the onus on the Islamist-rooted government in Ankara.
“The completely unilateral change in the relations is not reflective of our actions; rather it is the result of Turkey’s internal politics,” he said.
“Unfortunately, recent events in Turkey are reminiscent of Iran before the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Like Turkey, Iran was among Israel’s closest allies and the two nations held good relations between both governments and people.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran is Israel’s arch-foe and routinely calls for its destruction. That has stoked Israeli and Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.
To Israel’s dismay, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan urged engagement with the Iranians, chafing at U.S.-led sanctions on Tehran as well a plan by NATO — to which Ankara belongs — for a regional missile shield that might help Israel.
Lieberman further deplored what he described as the failure of the Erdogan government to stem “hatred and incitement” in Turkey against Israel, which surged after Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists in brawls aboard aid ships that tried to reach the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip on May 31.
Turkey casts itself as an even-handed Middle East broker and has accused Israel of fomenting instability with its policies towards the Palestinians and undeclared nuclear capability.
The former allies held brief rapprochement talks last month. Turkey wants Israel to apologise and offer compensation for the flotilla raid, a demand Lieberman publicly scorned as “chutzpa.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a right-winger who sits in an uneasy coalition with Lieberman’s more hawkish party, has been more clement about the overtures to Ankara.
Such disagreements within the Israeli government have been cited by Ankara as another reason for the diplomatic deadlock.
Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Crispian Balmer and Michael Roddy