Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Turkey to cancel defense agreements with Israel after flotilla attack

June 7, 2010

A senior government official has said that Turkey is set to cancel military agreements with Israel following the killings of nine Turks on May 31 in an Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara, part of a six-vessel convoy that set out to challenge the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Ömer Çelik, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), said military agreements would be cancelled with Israel for the short term. "Regarding Turkey-Israel relations, everything will be cancelled in the short term, from military agreements to other ties," Çelik said. On May 26-27 teams of commandos from the navy’s elite and secretive Flotilla 13 unit began rehearsing for the operation off Israel’s coast, according to Israeli defense officials. Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the final approval, and on Friday, three Israeli boats left port with the commandos on board.

Around 600 of the flotilla’s 700 passengers were aboard the Mavi Marmara. Most were from Turkey and Arab countries, but the group also included dozens of Americans and Europeans, including lawmakers and an Arab member of Israel’s own parliament. The Israelis ordered the flotilla to halt, but the ships pressed ahead. The resulting Israeli raid left nine people dead, including eight Turkish citizens and one US citizen of Turkish descent. Around 30 people were wounded in the attack.

Turkish government sources said it was Barak’s order for a raid that made the AK Party decide to sever military ties with Israel. Barak, who has a moderate approach in the Israeli government, had come to Turkey on Jan. 17 following the diplomatic row between the Turkish and Israeli governments over a farcical drama over the Turkish ambassador’s seat, and his visit was effective in softening ties between the two countries. However, after details emerging following the operation showed that Barak gave the order for the raid, the Turkish government changed its stance even though the defense ministers from both countries had announced following the flotilla crisis that the 16 military agreements between them would not be cancelled.

Turkey’s Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said Monday that the military agreements were under the responsibility of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, in response to a question on whether or not Turkey would cancel military agreements signed with Israel. "If the issue of Turkish-Israeli military agreements comes to the Turkish government, we would have a debate on them. We have not yet received any request from the Foreign Ministry on this issue," Gönül said.

Following harsh condemnation of the attack, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, Oğuz Çelikkol, while three planned military exercises with the nation were cancelled. The government announced it was considering reducing its relations with Israel to a minimum.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Monday that the future of agreements with Israel depended on Israel’s attitude. "If Israel gives the green light to the formation of an international commission and is ready to answer the commission’s questions, Turkish-Israeli relations will continue along a different course. Otherwise, Turkish-Israeli relations cannot be normalized," Davutoğlu said at a press conference in İstanbul.

Davutoğlu said the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla is a problem for Israel, the international community and international law, not a problem between Turkey and Israel.

He also said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had proposed to set up an international commission to deal with the issue and that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had accepted that proposal.

"If Israel thinks it has protected its national interests and rights, it should declare that it accepts the formation of an international committee; otherwise, it means that they are hiding some facts," Davutoğlu said. The Turkish foreign minister also said Turkey would never let any country hurt Turkish citizens on purpose and that everyone involved would have to face the consequences.
Defense ties between Turkey-Israel

There are 16 agreements currently in effect between Turkey and Israel regarding military issues, including the mutual training of troops and cooperation. The rapprochement between the two nations gained momentum after the 1980 military coup d’état. Turkey and Israel had always sought to increase mutual relations, including in the military field, ever since the emergence of friendly ties between the two after Turkey, which was ruled at the time by coup leader Kenan Evren, abstained from a UN resolution condemning Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.

However, one could argue that the most concrete cooperation started in 1992, when the two nations signed a deal envisaging a partnership to boost tourism. A historic turning point in relations occurred when Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller offered the exchange of intelligence and a joint initiative against terrorism in 1994. The outcome was the signing of the Secret Security Agreement. Israel and Turkey signed over 12 other military deals during Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s term in office.

If any of those agreements are to be cancelled soon, sources said that the first one would be the Military Education and Cooperation agreement, signed on Feb. 22, 1996, and the second one would be the Defense Industry Cooperation agreement, signed on Aug. 28, 1996.

The same sources said that Turkey has long depended on Israel for defense industry support and that this latest incident could provide the catalyst to draw back from this situation.

The total estimated value of current military contracts that Turkey has awarded to Israeli companies amounts to $1.8 billion. This figure comprises a significant amount of the two nations’ total annual trade volume of $2.6 billion.

The most recent agreement with Israel was signed during Barak’s visit to Turkey in January.


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