Drills Canceled After Turkey Excludes Israel


air-force-drillA multinational air force exercise that was supposed to take place in Turkey has been postponed indefinitely after the Turks asked Israel not to participate, officials said yesterday, in a sign of the strained relations between the two allies. The 11-day exercise, which takes place every few years, was supposed to start today.A statement on the Turkish military’s Web site said that the exercise would take place on a national level, but that international participation had been canceled after “international negotiations conducted by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.” Military officials declined to elaborate.

A Foreign Ministry official, who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter, said the international exercise was postponed for technical, not political, reasons.

But another government official, who also spoke anonymously, said, “We can say that Turkey has reservations against the participation of Israel.”

The Israeli military said the exercise had been postponed “as a result of Turkey’s decision to change the list of participating countries, thus excluding Israel.”

Israel and Turkey have long been strategic allies with strong military ties. Last year, Turkey mediated indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria, and this summer Turkey and Israel carried out a joint naval exercise.

But diplomatic relations between the two nations have eroded, particularly since Israel’s three-week military offensive in Gaza last winter, in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians died. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused Israel of “savagery” and crimes against humanity. Israel said it was acting in self-defense to halt Palestinian rocket fire.

Separately, Mr. Erdogan said Sunday that Armenia must withdraw from the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after Turkey signed an accord with Armenia to normalize relations after decades of enmity.

{NY Times/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.comĀ  Newscenter}