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After drill cancellation, Barak says Turkey major player in ME 12 octobre 2009

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Jerusalem Post (Israel), Oct 12, 2009

By Herb Keinon, Yaakov Katz and Jpost.com Staff

Following Turkey’s cancellation of a joint military exercise on Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that « despite the ups and downs, Turkey continues to be a major player in our region. »

Speaking in a closed session on Monday, Barak stressed that Turkey’s relations with Israel had « existed for decades » and were « strategic, » adding that there was « no need for harsh words » to be directed against Ankara.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon played down the tensions between Israel and Turkey on Sunday, saying that « Turkey is very important, and our relationship is very strategic. Turkey is very important for the stability and promotion of peace in the Middle East. »

« Here is a Muslim country that is both a democracy and tolerant, living in good relations with Israel because it is in the interest of both countries to do so, » said Ayalon, describing Turkey as « the antithesis to Iran.

However, many in Israel were not so optimistic about the way the Turkish wind was blowing. « This is a country that appears to be distancing itself from the West and there could be repercussions, » said one defense official.

Turkey informed Israel on Thursday that it would not allow the IAF to participate in the annual Anatolian Eagle exercise that was scheduled for this week. Turkey said that it was concerned the aircraft Israel planned to send had participated in bombing runs against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead.

As a result, the United States and Italy also dropped out of the exercise.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated in an interview with CNN on Sunday night that the decision was partly connected to the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead.

« We hope that the situation in Gaza will be improved, that the situation will be back to the diplomatic track. And that will create a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations as well. But in the existing situation, of course, we are criticizing this approach, [the] Israeli approach, » he said.

Davutoglu said Turkey would be conducting « a national military exercise now after consultations with all the parties involved. »

On Monday, however, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a statement denying that the cancellation of the air drill was been political in nature. According to the statement, the exercise had not been canceled, but only postponed.

The Foreign Ministry urged Israel to exert « good sense in its approach and statements. » Barak expressed support of this request in Monday’s statement.

While Israel kept a low official profile concerning Turkey’s Anatolian Eagle exercise, several defense officials said on Sunday that advanced weapons sales to Turkey would now be reviewed, and a leading academic expert on Israeli-Turkish relations suggested ending support for Turkey on the Armenian genocide issue in Washington if the deterioration in ties continues.

According to the officials, several Turkish requests are currently under consideration by the Defense Ministry’s Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT). These will now need to be reviewed due to the change in the diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Ankara.

The officials would not reveal which new military platforms Turkey had requested.

Ephraim Inbar, head of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, who has written widely on the Israeli-Turkish relationship, said that while someone high up in the Turkish decision-making hierarchy has decided to « teach the Israelis a lesson, » Ankara still needed Israeli influence in Washington to prevent the passage in Congress of a resolution declaring the killing of Armenians during World War I a genocide.

Israel should « sit and wait » this year on this issue, Inbar said.

« If they behave, we should help; if not, then while we should not actively work against them, we should let them know that there is a price for their misbehavior, » he said.

But Inbar said that a change was taking place in Turkey, and the incident over the military exercise should be seen within the context of the country slowly distancing itself from the West, and becoming more Muslim in tone and character.

He said Ankara’s hosting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir last year was an indication of this trend, as was Erdogan’s recent comments against anti-Iranian sanctions.

« This is all part of the crisis of identity the country is undergoing, » Inbar said, adding that the agreement signed on Saturday night with Armenia was not a sign of Turkey’s moving closer to the West, but rather an indication that Ankara wanted its borders quiet.

The Washington daily The Hill reported on Sunday that despite the signing of an historic agreement between Armenia and Turkey on Saturday, the perennial lobbying battle over the contentious Armenian Genocide resolution would continue.

According to the report, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) intends to move forward with the resolution, one Turkey works hard every year to deflect. The non-binding congressional measure would recognize the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide, and has proven over the years to be a red flag for Ankara.

The Hill reported that despite Armenia and Turkey’s gradual reconciliation, US lawmakers are still signing onto Schiff’s resolution, and it now has 134 co-sponsors.

Schiff, according to the report, said he was not sure when the measure would come before the House Foreign Affairs Committee for approval and then move onto the floor for a vote.

One senior Israeli diplomatic official, meanwhile, counseled against taking this type of drastic action, and said that while Israeli-Turkish relations were « getting complicated, » Israel should not do anything « abruptly. »

« There is room for quiet diplomacy, and not to take actions that would move things beyond repair. The situation can still be mended, nobody wants to push Turkey into the hands of Iran, » he said.


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