Turkish-Israeli soccer match takes on political significance

(Source: Dunya Gundemi)

By James M. Dorsey

Next week’s European League match between Israeli soccer club Maccabi Tel Aviv and Turkey’s Besiktas in Istanbul takes on special significance against the backdrop of rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Turkey last week expelled Israel’s ambassador in response to Israel’s refusal to apologize for its attack last year on a Gaza-bound in which eight Turks and a Turkish-American national were killed. Turkey also suspended military ties to Israel. Adding insult to injury, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considering making a detour to Gaza during a visit to Egypt next week.

The match is likely to be a barometer of Turkish public sentiment which is critical of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and its policies towards the Palestinians and angry about the attack on the aid ship.

Turkish Sports Minister Suat Kilic, in a bid to ensure that the game would nonetheless be played in Istanbul, assured Maccabi that its safety would be ensured, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet. The paper quoted the minister as saying that the bteam would enjoy the "highest level of (Turkish) hospitality" and that Israeli players will return home "safely".

Earlier, Beşiktaş Vice Chairman Metin Keçeli denied reports that Maccabi had expressed concern to European soccer body UEFA about its security in Istanbul and put out feelers for the match to be moved to a neutral venue. “The game will be played at the Fiyapı İnönü Stadium on the announced date,” Mr. Keceli told the semi-official Anatolia news agency.

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