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Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem, spoke with the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday following a wide ranging policy speech at Tel Aviv University.

He said, “nuclear file is a concern for everyone.”  Turkey is as concerned as Jerusalem about Iran’s regional ambitions and nuclear potential. They only differ in terms of strategy.

He stated that Ankara believes the best way forward is through containment, not isolation. “We have had a common border [with Iran] for hundreds of years which remains unchanged. They see us as a strategic competitor... We saw the need for engaging and containing their ambitions,” he said.

Regarding Iran’s involvement in Syria, he said he sees a “little bit” of progress in that Iran has assumed some of the responsibility.  However, on the topic of Russia in Syria, he told the Israelis, “Good luck, you have a new neighbor.”

The ambassador pointed out that the threat from terrorism and Islamic State can be found in Berlin and Istanbul, and that Turkey is part of the international battle against extremism and ISIS. He said that both Muslims and Jews should be fighting this battle. “Terrorism is a global phenomenon it is always there and it won’t go away without a global fight,” adding that this is one of the reasons Turkey must continue its cooperation with Europe.

Explaining that his country was not shifting away form the Western World, Okem said, “There are some misperceptions about Turkey’s role and policies and this should be corrected.”

On the issue of Gaza, he said Turkey supported its people but not Hamas. “We do not accept the linear analogy that is trying to be established that every one living in Gaza belongs to Hamas and is a terrorist. We do not accept this. We have to distinguish between people who are suffering and people who happen to be members of Hamas as a political party,” he said.

It is important for Turkey to provide financial assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as part of its return to normalized diplomatic ties with Israel following a five-year freeze, he explained. He added that he is thankful to Israel for the help and cooperation it has shown in helping Ankara with this mission, which includes support for an industrial park in Jenin and a hospital in Gaza.

 

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