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U.S.-Turkish-Israeli Relations Subject of Friday Conference at U.Va.

March 30, 2011 - As the Turkish boat Mavi Marmara steamed toward Israel's border in May 2010, simmering tensions between Israel and Turkey were coming to a head. The vessel, filled with activists opposed to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, was the largest of a six-boat flotilla aiming to spotlight the blockade by delivering aid to the Palestinians.

The outcome drew a sharp wedge between Israel and Turkey, her closest Muslim ally.

Because the boat was privately owned by Turkish Charity group Insani Yardim Vakfi, the Turkish government told Israel that it could not intervene to stop the flotilla. The Israeli government then decided to attempt taking command of the vessels.

Israeli commandos rapelled from helicopters onto the upper decks of each of the boats, taking over five of them with relatively little resistance. But on the Mavi Marmara, chaos ensued, and nine Turkish activists were killed.

Israel maintains its troops used force on the activists only after they were attacked. But passengers insist Israeli troops fired on them unprovoked.

Turkey and Israel are the United States' closest allies in the Middle East. The Mavi Marmara affair revealed that many of the old assumptions about the essential congruity of interests among the U.S., Turkey and Israel that had prevailed during most of the Cold War era could no longer be taken for granted.

On Friday, a conference at the University of Virginia, sponsored by the Center for International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, will analyze the state of relations among the U.S., Turkey and Israel. It will seek to shed light on the ever-changing issues in the Middle East region – including Iran, the Arab-Israeli peace process and political Islam – and also address the current upheaval in the Middle East, including Libya.

The conference, "The U.S-Turkish-Israeli Strategic Triangle," takes place in the auditorium of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and is free and open to the public. You can find the schedule here. Registration is required; click here.

The event will bring together esteemed participants from Turkey and Israel, along with American foreign policy analysts from U.Va. and elsewhere.

Event organizer William Quandt, the University's Edward R Stettinius Jr. Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the College of Arts & Sciences, will open the discussions.

"We expect each speaker will address how recent events in the Middle East are seen from the perspective of the country they are discussing – the U.S., Turkey and Israel," he said. "Our speaker from the State Department will address the Obama administration's policies, including toward Libya, democratization and other regional issues."

- By Jane Kelly

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