ANKARA, Turkey— Israel and Turkey on Sunday said they had smoothed over differences following a diplomatic spat and were working to develop relations and further military projects.
After daylong talks with Turkish officials, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the countries managed to move beyond a disagreement after Israel apologized for its treatment of the Turkish ambassador.
Barak is the first Israeli official to visit Turkey since a diplomatic feud erupted Monday after Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, summoned the ambassador to complain about a TV show depicting Israeli agents kidnapping children and shooting old men.
The ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, was forced to sit on a low sofa without a handshake, while Ayalon told local TV stations that the humiliation was intentional. Outraged, Turkey threatened to recall the ambassador, forcing Ayalon to apologize.
"I believe it was a mistake, and the right step was taken according to the norms of diplomacy," Barak said. "It is appropriate that all the ups and downs in our relationship over the years should be solved and put behind us."
Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul did not address the diplomatic spat directly, but called Israel a "neighbor" and "strategic ally" with which Turkey had common interests in the region.
"We are living in the same area, although we don't have common borders, we have the same interests," Gonul said.
"We are strategic allies as long as our interests force us to do so," the minister, who is not fluent in English, said. Defense Ministry officials could not be reached for clarification on the minister's comment.
Asked to comment on relations with Israel, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was satisfied with Barak labeling the treatment a mistake and said Turkey would not pursue the issue any further.
"It is clear that the deputy foreign minister overstepped his mark," Erdogan said. "What is valid for us is Ehud Barak's statement here, in which he — representing the government — accepted the mistake. At this point, we are not thinking of taking the matter any further."
A high-ranking Israeli official who was present at the meetings said Israel got no commitment from Turkey to make an effort to stop the anti-Israeli TV shows. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Turkey and Israel were important partners and that Israel had to use more diplomacy.
Gonul said Turkey and Israel had completed seven out of 13 military projects, including the upgrade of F-4 and F-5 jets. Israel is to deliver 10 Heron unmanned aircraft to Turkey in the first half of this year, Gonul added. Turkey hopes to use the drones to monitor Kurdish rebel hideouts.
No new projects were announced Sunday, but Gonul said Turkey and Israel were looking to jointly upgrade M-60 battle tanks in Turkey for other countries.
However, differences remained over their positions on the Iranian nuclear program. Israel is worried that Iran is carrying out a clandestine program to acquire nuclear weapons. Turkey also opposes the development of nuclear weapons in the region but says Tehran has a right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful use.
Erdogan has also publicly opposed the nuclear arsenal of Israel and, separately, chided the country over what he considers Israel's aggressive treatment of Palestinians.
"It's obvious Turkey never likes nuclear bombs for itself or any other neighboring country," Gonul said Sunday.
The quarrel was the latest in a series of disputes between allies who had built strong military and economic ties over the past 15 years.
In a goodwill gesture, Barak asked his personal photographer to take a picture of him with Celikkol during the visit, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. Celikkol had traveled to Ankara for Barak's visit.
Barak and his fellow Labor Party member, Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, have significantly warmer relations with Turkey than Ayalon and Lieberman's ultra-nationalist party.
Hours before Barak's departure, Ayalon said the Turkish ambassador could be expelled if Turkish TV dramas continue to depict Israeli security forces as brutal.
In Israel on Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized the way Ayalon handled the protest, but defended its substance.
"We don't seek conflicts, but we will stand our ground," Lieberman said at a Jerusalem news conference. (AP)