Diplomatic dis?

Foreign Ministry denies US barred Israel from counterterror meet in Turkey

Jerusalem was not invited to the inaugural session of Hillary Clinton’s Global Forum on Counterterrorism. Was it another attempt by Erdogan to isolate Israel?

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan  with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this year (photo credit: AP/Yasin Bulbul)
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this year (photo credit: AP/Yasin Bulbul)

The Foreign Ministry on Monday denied reports that the US blocked Israel’s participation in an American-sponsored counterterrorism conference in Istanbul due to pressure from Turkish government.

“We did not plan on going to that meeting anyway,” the ministry’s spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said. “We will take part in working groups on different issues of this forum; that’s confirmed. We’re not estranged from that forum.”

Last Thursday, the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s inaugural meeting was held in Turkey. Launched last year by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a “multilateral counterterrorism body,” it includes 29 countries, many of them from the Arab world. It aims to “build the international architecture for dealing with 21st century terrorism,” according to US authorities.

On Sunday, the Israeli business paper Globes reported that Israel “tried hard to obtain an invitation to the meeting, and its exclusion, despite the tight US-Israeli intelligence ties, has greatly disappointed officials in Jerusalem.” The paper quoted an anonymous “pro-Israeli source in Washington” as saying that “fierce objections” by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were behind Israel’s exclusion.

Asked by a reporter whether Israel requested membership in the Global Counterterrorism Forum and if the US tried to get Jerusalem involved, a State Department spokesman responded that the idea behind the forum was to “bring together a limited number of traditional donors, front-line states, and emerging powers to develop a more robust, yet representative, counterterrorism capacity-building platform.”

Several “close partners with considerable experience countering and preventing terrorism” are not among the forum’s founding members, the spokesman said. The US discussed “ways to involve Israel” in the forum’s activities “on a number of occasions, and are committed to making this happen,” the spokesperson said.

Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have been deteriorating since May 2010, when Israeli naval commandos intercepted a flotilla launched from Turkey seeking to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza. After the Israeli commandos were attacked trying to board on one of the vessels, they killed nine Turkish activists.

‘The Turks are currently not behaving in very helpful manner. Erdogan is acting with irrational rage, threatening Israel where ever he can’

Turkey has since then blocked Israeli participation in several international events. Last week, the World Economic Forum held a “special meeting” on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia in Istanbul. No Israeli officials were present, possibly because Erdogan, who partially funded the conference, demanded that they not be invited. Last month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu vetoed Israel’s participation in a NATO summit of heads of state and government in Chicago. Then, too, an Israeli diplomatic official said: “We didn’t plan on attending the summit anyway.”

“The Turks are currently not behaving in very helpful manner,” an Israeli diplomatic official told The Times of Israel this week. “Erdogan is acting with irrational rage, threatening Israel wherever he can. Whenever there there is a possibility of Israelis and Turks meeting somewhere he tries to put obstacles in our way.”

But regarding the US counterterrorism initiative, Palmor, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that what is important for Israel is its own direct channel of communication with Washington.

A “diplomatic dialogue” took place last Tuesday in Jerusalem between Israel and the US, during which Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met with an American delegation headed by US State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Daniel Benjamin. “The dialogue covered regional problems and threats. Cooperation was agreed upon regarding bilateral and multilateral issues,” Palmor said.

While the Israelis spoke of the terrorist threats they face, such as Iran’s involvement in terrorism, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Americans presented their counterterrorism strategy with an emphasis on global terrorism and the continuing threat of al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

“The US delegation emphasized the importance of international cooperation in addressing terror and assisting in building capacity for countering terror in developing countries,” Palmor said.

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