16th Oct 2019

Italy voices concern about Israel-Turkey dispute

  • Turkey has found it hard to reach agreement with the right-wing Israeli government (Photo: zz77)

Italy has said the massive falling out between Turkey and Israel could spell trouble in terms of Middle East stability. But some EU countries are more sanguine about the dispute.

"We have always said that normal relations between Turkey and Israel are a very important factor in terms of regional stability," Italian foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari told EUobserver on Friday (2 September).

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"Any escalation of tensions between the two countries does not help not only in bilateral relations but in the general situation because both countries are crucial players in the region. Italy has very close ties with both of them and we have always hoped for and encouraged dialogue."

Massari spoke after Turkey earlier in the day expelled Israel's ambassador to Ankara and froze all future imports of Israeli arms in the climax of a year-long dispute over Gaza.

Turkey says Israel should formally apologise for what it sees as the illegal killing by Israeli commandos of nine Turkish citizens during peacetime in international waters last year.

Israel launched the attack in order to stop the Mavi Marmara and other boats in the so-called Gaza Flotilla from breaking its naval blockade on the Palestinian enclave. A UN panel in a report out this week said Israel's blockade of Gaza is "legitimate", that Gaza flotilla members acted "recklessly" and put up "violent resistance." It added that Israel's use of force was "excessive and unreasonable", however.

In one potential flashpoint, Turkey also plans to launch new surveillance operations in the eastern Mediterranean to make sure there is no repeat of the events.

"There is a shared history and centuries-old ties of friendship and co-operation between the Jewish and Turkish peoples. We hope that the [UN] panel's work will assist Israel and Turkey in finding a path back to co-operation," an Israeli official said.

A diplomat from another large EU country was less concerned than Italy about the developments.

Noting that Turkey also on Friday announced it will host a US radar designed to help stop ballistic missiles from Iran, the contact said: "It's not as though Turkey is turning away from the West toward Iran ... It shouldn't complicate the international situation too much."

He added "I am sure the good fairies will try to smooth things out", referring to US diplomacy.

For her part, Maja Kocjancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, said: "Turkey and Israel are crucial partners of the EU - their dialogue and good relations are thus equally crucial to us, including to address the difficult problems of the region, such as the MEPP [Middle East peace process]."

She noted that "the EU is ready to assist if needed" in rebuilding bridges.

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