ISTANBUL — Turkey's decision to scrap a military exercise involving Israel has sparked concerns in Israel about threats to its close military and economic ties with a key Muslim nation and a NATO member not always willing to follow the Western line.
The weekend move by Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government comes at a time that the country is seeking to expand its influence in the Mideast and Europe. It is also the latest reflection of widespread anger — especially in Muslim countries — over the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in last winter's Gaza conflict.
It could have broad relevance because of Turkey's growing regional clout, and strategic position as a nation of more than 70 million that borders Iraq and Iran and is embroiled in a sputtering effort to join the European Union.
"Turkey is trying to reposition itself in the world," Carina O'Reilly, Europe analyst for London-based Jane's Country Risk, said Monday. "It's trying to establish itself as a power in its own right."
In Turkey, analysts see a complex situation with a government deeply rooted in Islam trying to balance an emerging role as a voice for Muslims with a continuing alliance with the West.
Turkey's approach to Israel reflects a "double-faced policy" that began when Erdogan scolded the Israeli president over Gaza casualties at an international forum in Switzerland, said Huseyin Bagci, professor of international relations at Middle East Technical University.
"The Turkish government, since the Davos incident, (tried) to become the consciousness of the Middle East," Bagci said. Behind the scenes, though, ties with Israel are largely "business as usual," he said.
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