Turkey dramatically downgraded its relations with on Friday, expelling the country's ambassador and cutting military ties with its former ally over Israel's refusal to apologise for an armed assault on a Gaza-borne aid flotilla that killed nine people.
The move, which takes Turkish-Israeli relations to a new low, came on the day a UN report into the incident was published. It found that Israeli had used "excessive and unreasonable" force to stop the flotilla approaching Gaza, but that it was justified in maintaining a naval blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
Announcing the measures, Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that the Israeli ambassador, Gabby Levy, and other senior Israeli diplomats would have to leave their posts by Wednesday and that Turkey's representation in Israel would be downgraded to the junior level of second secretary.
Levy was reported to be in Israel and would not be returning to Ankara.
"The time has come for Israel to pay for its stance that sees it above international laws and disregards human conscience," Davutoglu said. "The first and foremost result is that Israel is going to be devoid of Turkey's friendship … as long as the Israeli government does not take the necessary steps, there will be no turning back."
Davutoglu also said would take measures in the future to protect its shipping, without going into detail.
The UN investigation chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, focused on the events of 31 May last year on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged vessel which was the largest ship in an flotilla aimed at breaking the blockade. It was boarded by Israeli commandoes who were resisted by some of those on board. Nine pro-Palestinian activists – eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish American – were killed in the raid.
The breakdown in diplomatic relations followed several months of delicate negotiations between Turkish and Israeli diplomats over the wording of an Israeli apology for the incident and compensation for bereaved families, which Ankara had made a condition of improving relations. However, a compromise over a text broke down when it was rejected by right-wingers in the Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu.
"There is a deep sense of frustration within the Turkish foreign policy establishment that despite the efforts to mend the relationship and despite coming very close to agreeing to a text, the situation became untenable," said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who is now an analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace thinktank.
"The publication of the UN report really established a deadline. Its publication had already been postponed twice, and the Israelis then asked for another six months delay, which Turkey would not accept.
"There is a feeling that neither Israel nor Turkey has anything to win by this, and there must be a degree of frustration in Washington too, as it invested a lot of time and effort in the efforts to mend this. Turkey seems to have lost the ability to play a role in the Middle East peace process because of the breakdown in the relationship with Israel. It was one of the few countries that could talk to both sides. That ability is gone and is unclear if we will be able to regain it. By being unable to settle the relationship with Turkey, meanwhile, Israeli has lost a friend and ally. This is a lose-lose situation."
Israel issued no official response to the Turkish decision, but Israeli officials have suggested to journalists that Ankara was distancing Israel to improve its standing in the Arab world. They have also pointed to the judgment in the Palmer report that the blockade of Gaza is justified under international law. Turkey has rejected that finding and called for the blockade to be reassessed by the UN and by the international court of justice.
However, Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat who once served in Turkey, argued that the current government had made a strategic mistake by failing to agree an apology with Turkey.
"The talks on the apology and on fixing this crisis in the relationship had been continuing for six months. The professional staff, the military and legal experts and diplomats had reached an agreement, on a technical apology, but even this was rejected by [foreign minister and coalition partner Avigdor] Lieberman. The issue of an apology is very unpopular in Israel, and Netanyahu ultimately adopted the Lieberman position," Liel said.
He warned that the Turkish expulsion of the Israeli ambassador would increase public pressure in Jordan and Egypt for their governments to follow suit.
Liel said: "In my 30 years as a diplomat we always put contacts with Middle East countries as a top priority, second only to the United States, but it seems that this government have given up on the region, assuming there will be no peace with Palestinians so nobody will like us anyway."
In the streets of Istanbul, the breach in relations with Israeli was mostly popular. Many Turks are angry that Israel refuses to apologise.
Yalçin Kuzgöl, owner of a barber shop in the gentrifying neighbourhood of Cukurcuma, thinks the UN was unable to issue an independent opinion: "All UN decisions and statements are always made in the favour of Israel, no matter what they have done. This is also the case for the Mavi Marmara report."
In the pre-dominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Tarlabasi, barber Hassan Teke said: "Israel has become like a spoiled child, the spoiled child of the US."
None of his customers have heard of the government announcement yet, but the mention of Israel and the Mavi Marmara still gets a reaction: many Turks are angry that Israel refuses to apologise.
A few metres further down the street, a Kurdish man who wishes to remain anonymous has a very different opinion: "I think that the reaction of the Turkish government is two-faced and wrong. Turkey has no right to complain about the lack of human rights in other countries as long as the Turkish government keeps killing its own citizens in the [Kurdish] southeast."
He added: "So Israel made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. To cut all relations because the other party does not want to apologise is exaggerated."