Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Turkish premier RecepTayyip Erdogan got so emotional over each other's remarks at a panel on Gaza that the huge plenary hall was practically vibrating with their anger.
Erdogan was furious, among other reasons, because he felt betrayed by Israel over the Gaza invasion. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Ankara on Dec. 23 to discuss peace talks with Syria that Turkey was mediating. The talks were going so well that Erdogan believed they could soon be upgraded to direct Israel-Syria talks. He also suggested to Olmert that Turkey try to mediate the release of a kidnapped Israeli solider with Hamas and Olmert promised him an answer on the next day.
"We never got an answer," Erdogan shouted on the stage, "and four days later Israel went into Gaza." The Turkish leader was also furious about civilian suffering in Gaza.
Peres was angry that the world didn't understand how unsupportable it was for hundreds of thousands of Israelis to have to rush to shelters when Hamas was shooting missiles at Israel. "What would you do?" he shouted at the audience. "What we did was due to lack of choice."
Erdogan got strong applause, but when the audience also applauded Peres passionate defense of Israel, Erdogan lost control. "I find it sad that people applaud what you said," he shouted, "when so many people were killed." Erdogan stalked off the stage after moderator and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius told him there was no time for a reply to Peres. Erdogan declared "I will never return to Davos because I wasn't allowed to talk."
This astonishing exchange underscored how the Gaza tragedy has set the region on edge. If Turkey, a Muslim country which has strong relations with Israel and is doing important mediation, is so bitter, it shows how crucial it is that the lingering Gaza crisis be defused soon, and peace talks resumed.