Among the many recent changes reshaping the Middle East's political topography, one of the most striking has come not from masses of protesters chanting in the streets or from armed rebels fighting for change, but from suit-and-tie diplomats and politicians flexing their muscles in an effort to prove to various audiences just how strong they and their country are. That is how the decades-old alliance between Israel and Turkey, one of the defining features of what now seems a bygone era in the Middle East, is collapsing: in a muddle of acrimony and recrimination.
The growing friction has been exacerbated by a shared trait: Both governments are eager to be viewed by their own populations and by the rest of the region as bastions of strength. That has made solving their differences more difficult. But while there is plenty of evidence of obstinacy on the part of the current Israeli government, there is reason to believe Ankara has found its diplomatic confrontation with Israel so useful that it would rather keep the crisis alive than find a solution.
The immediate cause of the most recent fallout is Israel's refusal to apologize for last year's naval raid in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens aiming to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. In the course of negotiations to resolve the impasse, a number of compromise formulas looked set to end the dispute. Instead, Turkey increased its demands, and the talks led nowhere.