Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Apology Comes Up Short

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, inventor of the "high chair/low chair" school of (bad) diplomacy (see photo above), has now issued an apology to Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol. From Ha'aretz:
"My protest of the attacks against Israel in Turkey still stands," Ayalon said. "However, it is not my way to insult foreign ambassadors and in the future I will clarify my position by more acceptable diplomatic means."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday expressed satisfaction with Ayalon's apology. Netanyahu added that the deputy foreign minister's protest was justified, but that he should have used acceptable diplomatic means to express his outrage.
You can read the full article here.

The apology is a welcome move, but perhaps a futile one. The downturn in Turkish-Israeli relations was previously driven to a large extent by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's own anger with Israel's attack in Gaza last year and a sense that he was betrayed by then Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, who visited Ankara only a few days before the attack. But now we can add a sense of Turkish national outrage to the list of problems between Turkey and Israel. If Israel's public image in Turkey was suffering before the incident with the Turkish ambassador, one can only imagine where things will go from here. A tepid apology from Danny Ayalon will do little at the moment and will probably not be enough.

In the meantime, it might be time for the Israeli government to reconsider its diplomatic strategy -- or even its choice of Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister. The whole episode with Celikkol represents an almost unbelievable reading of how to deal with Turkey. On the most basic level, doing anything to hurt Turkey's national honor is clearly a losing strategy from the get go. But more significantly, Celikkol is one of Turkey's most senior and respected diplomats, with deep experience in the Middle East, and an important asset for any country where he is stationed (Ha'aretz has some more on him here). His posting to Israel was an indication that, despite the recent ups and downs, Ankara takes the relationship with Israel seriously and wants to make it work. Humiliating Celikkol and alienating him in the process is a major loss for Israel and, in turn, for Turkish-Israeli relations.

(The BBC, meanwhile, has a great article about the art and history of the diplomatic snub. It should become mandatory reading for Israeli diplomats. You can read it here.)

[UPDATE: Ayalon has now issued a second apology.]

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