Turkey close to severing ties with Israel over flotilla deaths

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010; 6:11 PM

Turkey is on the brink of severing relations with Israel in the wake of killings of Turkish activists on board a Gaza-bound flotilla, the Turkish ambassador to the United States said Friday.

"Israel cannot find any better friend in the region than Turkey," Namik Tan, the ambassador, told a small group of reporters. "And Israel is about to lose that friend."

Asked if he was saying Turkey would cut the ties it has had with Israel since shortly after the founding of the Jewish state, Tan referred to the massive protests in Turkey against the Israeli actions. Because of the emotions, he said, "the government might be forced to take such an action."

To prevent such a break between two close U.S. allies, Tan said that "first and foremost" Israel needed to apologize for the deaths. He said Israel also must agree to an international probe of the incident and end its blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas militant group.

A senior Israeli official rejected the demand for an apology. "Israel is not going to apologize for defending ourselves," he said. "Our soldiers are not going to apologize for defending themselves from a murderous assault." He also rejected the call for the international probe and lifting the blockade.

The official asked not to be identified because he did not want to engage in a tit-for-tat dialogue with Turkey.

Israeli officials say they tried to worked with Turkish officials before the incident to divert the flotilla to an Israeli port for off-loading and inspection of the humanitarian supplies onboard. Tan declined to discuss the conversations, saying it was intended as a distraction by Israel of its own actions. In any case, he said, the Turkish government had "no control" over the nongovernmental group that organized the flotilla.

Tan also indicated that U.S. efforts to mollify Turkey have failed, saying that Ankara continues to be "disappointed" that the Obama administration has not condemned Israel's actions.

He said Turkey appreciated U.S. efforts to secure the quick release of hundreds of activists and the bodies of the dead, but that was not enough, especially after Turkey's prime minister on Tuesday directly asked President Obama to condemn the deaths.

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