After a brief courtship last spring, relations between Israel and Turkey have fallen to a new low, officials in both countries say, just as the two former allies are bracing for possible U.S. military action in neighboring Syria.
The breakdown in once-close military ties could be critical if the international community, led by the U.S., decides to attack in response to the alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons last week. A U.S. strike could trigger a retaliatory response by Syria against either of its neighbors, both close U.S. allies.
But officials in both countries confirm that political and military contacts are now limited. They say reconciliation talks meant to repair diplomatic ties have collapsed quietly, and military ties, once the centerpiece of the alliance, are minimal at best. The dire state of affairs was reflected last week when Turkey's Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed that Israel was behind the recent military coup in Egypt, prompting condemnations from Israel and the U.S.
"The mood is so negative in the upper echelons of Turkey and Israel toward each other, it doesn't look like cooperation is possible," said Alon Liel, a former foreign ministry director general who served as Israel's top diplomat to Turkey in the 1980s.
Israel and Turkey, located on opposite sides of Syria, long enjoyed vibrant trade, tourism and military cooperation. Just a few years ago, Turkey sponsored indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria. But relations began to decline after Erdogan became prime minister in 2003. The Islamist Turkish leader gradually distanced himself from the Jewish state as he raised his profile in the Muslim world.
Ties took a serious downturn during Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip in late 2008, and turned to outright animosity after an Israeli naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American in 2010. In one infamous incident, Israel's deputy foreign minister intentionally placed the Turkish ambassador on a low-seated couch at a public meeting in order to humiliate his guest.
President Barack Obama, visiting Israel last March, persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call Erdogan and apologize for the flotilla deaths. The apology, a key Turkish demand, was expected to lead the way to reconciliation and compensation to the families of the dead flotilla activists.
Netanyahu, who had previously rejected calls to apologize, cited the Syrian civil war as the reason for his about-face. In particular, Netanyahu pointed to Syria's chemical weapons stockpile as a threat to both countries.
Yet nearly six months later, the talks have ground to a halt, both sides say. One Israeli official familiar with the negotiations said the talks have "evaporated."
The official said the sticking point was not about compensation, but persistent Turkish demands that Israel go beyond its apology and accept greater responsibility for the bloodshed. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with journalists.
Israeli defense officials paint a similar picture. The officials say that while Israel has honored pre-existing arms sales with the Turks, no significant deals have been signed since the flotilla incident. The close cooperation and joint training drills of the past no longer take place.