Turkey Expels Israeli Ambassador Over Flotilla Raid

Ankara, Turkey — Turkey said on Friday that it was downgrading its diplomatic and military ties with Israel and expelling its ambassador in a display of anger at Israel’s refusal to apologize for a commando raid last year on a Turkish protest flotilla bound for Gaza in which nine people died.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would reduce its diplomatic representation in Israel to the level of second secretary — one of the lowest diplomatic ranks — and had ordered Israel’s ambassador, Gabby Levy, to leave Turkey by Wednesday. Reuters said Mr. Levy was currently in Israel and had canceled plans to return to Turkey.

“All military agreements have been suspended,” Mr. Davutoglu said but added that relations could return to normal if Israel apologized.

“Our aim here is not to hurt our friendship but to return this friendship to its right track,” Mr. Davutoglu said.

Turkey once ranked as Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world. The latest move stopped just short of a complete breach in diplomatic relations but nonetheless seemed likely to deepen the already profound alienation between the two countries.

There was no immediate comment from Jerusalem. Israeli officials said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding consultations but they refused to respond publicly to the announcement from Turkey.

The deterioration in relations with Turkey compounded Israel’s regional woes from the so-called Arab Spring after the loss of a key ally in Egypt, the deposed former president Hosni Mubarak, and a bloody and unpredictable crackdown on dissent in Syria.

Some Israeli officials, speaking privately because of the delicate diplomatic situation, said that while Turkey’s diplomatic move represented a further sharp downturn in relations with Israel, military ties had already been undergoing a serious erosion since 2009. “My feeling is that there is not a lot to suspend in that sense,” one official said.

The move came as a long-awaited United Nations review of the 2010 raid on a Turkish-based flotilla found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is both legal and appropriate. But it said that the way Israeli forces boarded the vessels trying to break that blockade 15 months ago was excessive and unreasonable.

The report, expected to be released Friday, also found that when Israeli commandos boarded the main ship, they faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers” and were therefore required to use force for their own protection. But the report called the force “excessive and unreasonable,” saying that the loss of life was unacceptable and that the Israeli military’s later treatment of passengers was abusive. Eight Turks and an American of Turkish descent died in the Israeli raid.

A copy of the 105-page report was obtained early by The New York Times.

Mr. Davutoglu said Turkey did not accept the findings of the report and did not recognize the legality of the Gaza blockade. He also said Turkey would take all necessary precautions to protect its shipping in the eastern Mediterranean, though he did not elaborate.

Turkey plans to start procedures at the United Nations and the International Court of Justice to analyze the legitimacy of the blockade.

In the past, the two countries have sought to negotiate some kind of apology for the raid from Israel and compensation for the victims. But those discussions ended in failure with Israel saying it is willing to express regret and pay compensation but not offer the full apology Turkey is demanding.

For his part, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said an apology and compensation would not be sufficient for Turkey to return its ambassador to Tel Aviv, demanding that Israel end the blockade of Gaza.

Sebnem Arsu reported from Ankara, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

This article, Turkey Expels Israeli Ambassador Over Flotilla Raid, originally appeared at The New York Times.