Israel and Syria were about to announce that they would speak directly a week before the fighting in Gaza broke out, a Turkish official said. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had spoken with Syrian President Bashar Assad (pictured) during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Ankara, and had mediated in crafting a joint statement.
But a few days later, while still awaiting Olmert's approval for the statement, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and Erdogan felt betrayed.
Now it could well be that Turkey is playing up the story to cover Erdogan's very public denunciation of Israeli actions. And it may be the case that, after making political calculations, Damascus will decide that the benefits of coming back to the negotiating table with Israel outweigh or even balance its backing of Hamas. As my colleague Ali Yenidunya has argued, there may be no long-term cost to the Israeli-Turkish alliance.
For the moment, however, let's note that the Israeli Government was so driven to take action in Gaza that it was willing to risk a peace process to ease tensions on its northern border and a strategic relationship with Ankara. It will be some time before we know what motives lay behind this gamble --- regime change? a strike at Hamas as a strike against Tehran? a grand scheme in collusion with the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and, possibly, Saudi Arabia? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's attempt to wipe away the stain of Lebanon 2006?
It is almost definite, however, that given the stakes involved, Operation Cast Lead was never just a response to rocket fire.B