Troubles brew between Turkey and Israel

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MARCO WERMAN: There was another more tangible sign of the strong US-Israeli friendship. Today the two allies began a major joint air defense exercise in Israel. For the next two weeks the American and Israeli militaries will simulate defense against a massive coordinated missile attack. But another Israeli ally � Turkey � recently cancelled its joint military exercise with Israel. And as The World's Aaron Schachter reports it was just another example of strained Turkish-Israeli relations.

AARON SCHACHTER: The mostly Muslim Turkey and mostly Jewish Israel may not seem like natural allies but they've been regional partners since 1949 � just after Israel was created. It hasn't been an entirely loving relationship but the two have always seemed to work out their differences like relatives. But some now wonder whether Turkey's current government, headed by the AKP party � or A-K-P � is finally turning its back on family. Soner Chagaptay directs the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

SONER CHAGAPTAY: I think we have two AKPs. I call them AKP 1.0, AKP 2.0.

SCHACHTER: Chagaptay says AKP 1.0 was the kinder, gentler Islamist party that got itself elected to parliament twice � the second time in a landslide. It pursued a pro-American, pragmatic foreign policy and a reformed-minded domestic one.

CHAGAPTAY: That's the party of the past. This fallout with Israel, the withering away of Turkey's rightful European Union reforms, all of this tells us that we're now dealing with AKP 2.0.

SCHACHTER: Chagaptay says the AKP is trying to invigorate its voter base in advance of the 2011 elections by reverting to its old anti-secular, anti-western, and anti-Semitic attitudes. Hence last week's snub of the Israeli military and a series that's now on state-owned Turkish television lambasting Israel for its behavior in Gaza. But political science professor Ilter Turan of Istanbul Bilgi University says hang on. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for a shift in the AKP strategy. Turkey is pursuing what it calls a friends-to-everyone foreign policy. But in reality it can't maintain close ties with all countries at once.

ILTER TURAN: When you're trying to develop good relations with all your neighbors and your relations with one non-contiguous neighbor causes lots of problems with others and becomes some part of an impediment to your relations then you make adjustments.

SCHACHTER: Turan says those adjustments are just practicalities. Israeli Edward Rettig can see that. Rettig who heads the Jerusalem branch of the American Jewish Committee agrees that after the Gaza conflict last January Turks might want to downplay their relationship with Israel.

EDWARD RETTIG: Their interest, if you look around Turkey, is to have decent relations for example with the Armenians and with the Azeris; with the Iranians and with the Europeans and the Americans. So in terms of Israel their goal would probably be to have reasonable relations with Israel and with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

SCHACHTER: The world reasonable is key. Israelis are upset not so much over Turkey's decision to cancel joint military maneuvers. They see that as an obvious protest of the war in Gaza just like the Turkish prime minister's outburst at Israel's president in Davos last winter. What galls Israelis is that TV series running now on state-run Turkish television, TRT. The first episode depicted Israeli soldiers as cold-blooded baby killers. Edward Rettig says the TV series went too far.
RETTIG: When you have demonizing portrayals that are baseless. I mean there's actually no accusation that an Israeli soldier actually shot a baby in cold blood. So you have a mythology that's bigoted being projected on a state-owned television that could not broadcast this stuff if it didn't have a wink from the government at the very least.

SCHACHTER: The Turkish government claims the show was not produced on its say-so but TRT did cut some scenes of conflict between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians from the second episode of the series which aired last night. And this week a new Turkish ambassador touched down in Tel Aviv suggesting, as one Israeli analyst put it, Turkey doesn't want to push the envelope too far. For The World I'm Aaron Schahcter, Istanbul.