By Barak Ravid, Haaretz - October 11, 2009
Turkey announced on Sunday the cancellation of an international air force drill at one of the country's air force bases, which was to include Israeli jets.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been under pressure recently to exclude Israel from the drill, on the grounds that Israel should not be allowed to participate while its planes are bombing the Gaza Strip
Turkey, a secular country ruled by an Islamic-oriented party, had long been Israel's best friend in the Muslim world. But ties have cooled sharply over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's sharp criticism of Israel's winter war in the Gaza Strip, especially in light of a televised fracas between President Shimon Peres and Erdogan at the Davos Conference this past January.
Foreign Ministry sources said that Turkish military officials had approached the Israel Defense Forces recently with a surprising demand that Israel refrain from participating in the drill, due to the IDF's activity in Gaza. Israeli inquiries on the matter with the Turkish foreign ministry were met with evasive responses.
In light of the Turkish demands, Israel approached U.S. officials stressing that this is an unusual move, which violates the understandings regarding Israel's participation in NATO drills, like the drill in question. Consequently, the U.S. and Italy withdrew their participation from the drill in protest, which led to the cancellation of the entire drill.
Turkey adopted a critical stance on Israel and Erdogan maintained that Israel was carrying out genocide in the Gaza Strip. Since then, the two states have maintained diplomatic and military contacts but have not had any meetings between high-level officials.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's cancelled his visits to Israel recently after Israel denied his request to visit the Gaza Strip from Israeli territory.
Davutoglu had been invited to take part in the Presidents' Conference, which is scheduled to take place in a few weeks in Jerusalem.
Israeli officials' feared in regard to the visit is that if Davutoglu goes to Gaza, it will become a festive event for Hamas and it will become a media circus with the Turkish FM staying amidst the rubble of buildings destroyed by the IDF during Cast Lead. Officials suspected Davutoglu would also be encouraged to make anti-Israel statements.
Davutoglu was appointed foreign minister only recently, and has sought a role in future peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A top Israel official said "Turkish leadership during Operation Cast Lead did not encourage us to agree to this request."