Erdoğan in Israel to repair damaged relations - Part 1

Saturday, April 30, 2005


The close relationship between Turkey and Israel in the security and
defense sectors has survived many vicissitudes over the decades


In 1996, strategic dialogue between Israel and Turkey took their
relations almost to the level of allies with Ankara signing numerous
defense deals with Israeli arms industry players and the two countries
carrying out joint military exercises. But the illegal U.S. invasion
of Iraq in 2003 changed the regional strategic balance, with Israel
even interfering last year in Iraqi Kurdistan, adjoining Turkey's own
turbulent Kurdish region.

Ankara withdrew its ambassador, barred El Al flights to Istanbul and
asked for an explanation. It publicly denounced Israel's policy of
`state terrorism' in Gaza, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan. Bilateral relations plummeted. Satisfied, Ankara then
took steps to smoothen its relationship with Tel Aviv. After official
visits to iron-out differences over the last six months,
Erdoğan himself would now visit Israel for two days starting on
May 1. He publicly refused an Israeli invite last year. The visit
would provide an opportunity to repair the damaged bilateral
relationship. Erdoğan would also visit Palestine to maintain
the balance and Turkey's new role as a peacemaker in the region.

Fearful of uncertain consequences from Iraq, which could go hay wire,
its own problems for entry into the Europe Union, the open ended
position of northern Cyprus, which it occupies and the international
outcry about the alleged Armenian genocide at the end of the Ottoman
Empire 90 years ago, Turkey also needs to normalize relations with
Israel. Ankara being its only friend in the region, Tel Aviv had kept
its cool last year. A close relationship between the two countries in
the security and defense sectors has survived many vicissitudes over
the decades.

Erdoğan will be accompanied by Defense Minister Vecdi
Gönül and Trade and Industry Minister Ali Coşkun
on a trip to Israel. Gönül will hold talks with Israeli
military officials on the development of joint defense projects, such
as the co-production of Arrow II and Popeye II missiles. Officials
from both sides are scheduled to work out new counter-terrorism
intelligence systems. Additionally, nearly a hundred businessmen will
accompany Erdoğan to Israel.

Turkey's relations with Israel involve billions of dollars in joint
projects and strategic cooperation. Israel is currently upgrading 170
Turkish M-60 tanks, 54 F-4 fighter planes and 48 F-5s under a
multi-billion dollar agreement, which also includes the exchange of
visits by defense personnel and joint military exercises.

Abdullah Gül, Turkeys suave and soft-spoken foreign
minister, visited Israel at the beginning of January to prepare for
Erdoğan's visit. After his stance against Israel, which duly
warned Israel, Erdoğan sent a delegation of three close
advisers to Tel Aviv in September as a goodwill gesture.

But, at the same time, Turkey's relations with its NATO ally the
United States, Israel's umbilically linked strategic partner, remain
wobbly. Despite the United States' public disapproval, Turkish
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer recently visited Damascus. It was after
Turkish insistence on the Damascus visit that Erdoğan's visit
was broken in the Israeli media in the first week of April, to soothe
Israel, which had also not been happy with the president's visit to

The official announcement was made in Ankara on April 18 after
Erdoğan telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to
exchange ideas about the visit. Sharon reportedly told Erdoğan:
''I see many areas to strengthen our relations and cooperation. We
believe you and Turkey will play an important role in the region, and
will have important contributions to peace and stability in the Middle
East. Thus, we attach importance to Turkey's taking part in
developments in the Middle East.'' In return, Prime Minister
Erdoğan said, ''I will be pleased if my country contributes to
the peace process.''

In addition to Prime Minister Sharon, Erdoğan is expected to
meet with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and President Moshe Katsav.

Turkey signed an agreement with Israel on April 19 to buy spy planes
(drones) costing $183 million. It will include three unmanned aerial
vehicle systems, 10 aircraft, surveillance equipment and ground
control stations, with Turkish companies providing sub-systems and
services worth 30 percent of the cost

Annual trade between the two countries now amounts to over $1.4
billion, excluding the defense sector. More than 300,000 Israeli
tourists (8 percent of the population) visit Turkey annually for
vacations to escape tensions at home as they find Turkey quite
safe. There are other important economic deals in the energy
sector. Last year, the two sides signed an agreement for Turkey to
sell to Israel more than 50 million cubic meters of water annually for
the next 20 years.

A few days before the visit, the Turkish Union of Chambers and
Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) will host Israeli and Palestinian
businessmen delegations in Ankara. The Israeli delegation will be
headed by Israeli Union of Manufacturers chief Shraga Brosh, while
Ahmet Azzghayar, the head of the Federation of Agriculture, Commerce
and Industry Chambers will lead the Palestinian delegation. `As
political efforts continue to seek a solution to the region's
problems, business circles must also get closer to each other,' said
TOBB Chairman Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu.

Deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations:

When asked by Israel's Haaretz newspaper in a May 2004 interview,
shortly after Israel's assassination of Hamas' spiritual leader Ahmed
Yassin, if he would define Israel's actions against the Palestinians
as state terrorism. "How else can you interpret it?" Erdoğan

In his May 25 meeting with Israeli Infrastructure Minister Yousef
Paritzky, Erdoğan asked the Israeli minister: "What is the
difference between terrorists who kill Israeli civilians and Israel
which also kills civilians?" Erdoğan had refused to meet with
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was in Ankara in
mid-July to mend Israel's deteriorating relations with Turkey. This
was the first high-level contact after Erdoğan repeatedly
characterized Israel's policy in Gaza as "state terrorism.'

But it was an article in New Yorker magazine by veteran
U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh about Israel providing training to
peshmerga militias in northern Iraq and running covert operations in
neighboring countries that revealed the brewing differences between
Turkey and Israel. Soon Kurds in Syria created problems for
Damascus. The media reports of interference were denied by both Israel
and the Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq, but Turkey was far from
convinced. Israel's case was not helped by other reports that it was
infiltrating agents into Iran's clandestine nuclear-weapons program
for information for possible preemptive strikes by the Israeli air
force, believing that Tehran was about a year away from a breakthrough
in that program.

Beirut's Daily Star wrote on July 17, "It appears that Foreign
Minister Abdullah Gül, one of Erdoğan's closest
confidants, was behind the leak of Israeli interference in Kurdistan,
to demonstrate Ankara's deepening anxiety that Kurdish aspirations of
independence will be fueled by Israeli interference. Indeed, the
U.S. debacle in Iraq is driving neighbors Turkey, Syria and Iran into
each other's arms.' Israel would like to have a weak Iraq and even an
independent north Iraq.

It added: "Erdoğan's government has embarked on a high-profile
diplomatic effort to bolster relations with the Arab and Muslim world,
which were blighted by Israel's 1996 military agreements with
Turkey. Ankara has settled its disputes with Syria and is seeking to
normalize its often fraught relations with Iran."

Strained relations between Turkey and Israel caused serious concern in
the United States, which was conveyed by President George W. Bush to
Erdoğan in Ankara prior to the June NATO summit in
Istanbul. But then, U.S. relations with Ankara have been on a roller
coaster with public airings of differences. The differences came about
after the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq, a Muslim country generally
friendly to Turkey, which was opposed by a massive majority of the
Turkish population. When Erdoğan publicly criticized Sharon's
policies, members of his Justice and Development party (AKP), which
has Islamic roots, were even harsher, lambasting U.S. policies in Iraq
as well. The AKP must cater to its own constituency at home.

The Turkish-Israeli relationship reached a low point when
Erdoğan publicly turned down an invitation to visit
Israel. Ankara temporarily withdrew its ambassador and consul general
from Israel. Relations took a turn for the worse when the Israeli
airline El Al had to suspend, for two weeks, six weekly flights to
Turkey from June 24 in a row over security at Istanbul airport.

Turkey's Kurdish problems:

Turkey has serious problems with its own Kurds. The
separatist-terrorist campaign since 1984 against the Turkish state,
led by Abdullah -calan of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) -- in
America's and Europe's list of terrorist organizations -- has cost
more than 37,000 lives, including 5,000 soldiers. The economy of the
mostly Kurdish-populated region in the southeast was shattered. The
cost of countering the separatist terrorism at its height amounted to
between $6 billion and $8 billion a year. Whenever there has been
chaos and instability in northern Iraq, as during the Iraq-Iran war in
the 1980s or after the 1991 Gulf War, PKK activity has perked up in

The separatist terrorist campaign died down after the arrest and trial
of -calan in 1999, when a ceasefire was declared by the PKK and a
Turkish court commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence handed
to -calan. The Turkish Parliament also granted rights for the use
of the Kurdish language and took other steps, thus removing some of
the root causes of the problem. But the PKK shifted most of its 4,000
cadres to northern Iraq where they stay put. The United States has not
disarmed them despite promises to Turkey. The United States wants to
reward Iraqi Kurds, who have remained loyal and peaceful. Iraqi Kurds
have been ambivalent toward the PKK, often helping them. They remain a
card to be used in the region.

(K. Gajendra Singh served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and
Azerbaijan in 1992 -96. He served as ambassador to Jordan during
the1990-91 Gulf war, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of
the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. The views expressed here are
his own. Email-Gajendrak

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress