Turkish Ruling Party at Odds on Military Ties with Israel

ANKARA (AFP)–Conflicting statements issued by ruling-party officials seem to indicate a rift over whether all military and defense agreements with Israel should be cancelled – and perhaps how the country should pursue future ties with Tel Aviv.

The government intends to sever military agreements and other connections with Israel in the wake of its assault on a Turkish aid ship, Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy leader Omer Celik, who is responsible for foreign affairs, said in an interview late Sunday with the private NTV channel.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also indicated that such relations might be at risk.

“The future of any agreements with Israel depends on Israel’s attitude,” Davutoglu told reporters early Monday at a joint press conference with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in Istanbul. If Israel does not give the green light, and its full cooperation, to an international inquiry into the deadly incident at sea, he added, “Turkish-Israeli relations cannot be normalized.”

Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul denied there had been any request to cancel military agreements, saying such measures fall under the mandate of the Foreign Ministry.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv and cancelled three joint military exercises with Israel following the Israeli attack against a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent were killed during the attack.

Indirectly criticizing his fellow party members for speculating on the additional measures Turkey might take against Israel, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinc said Monday afternoon that discussions are ongoing about Turkey’s response.

“It is not appropriate to say, ‘We will do this and that,’ whenever we see a microphone,” he said. “As a state we’ll do whatever is needed in response to this aggressiveness. We shouldn’t do this in daily talks. We should consider it in a serious way.”

The legal framework for bilateral military and defense cooperation between Israel and Turkey were provided in 1996, when the two countries inked cooperation agreements regarding the military and the defense industry. Both caused strong reactions from other Muslim countries, which accused Turkey of aligning itself with Israel and that country’s occupation of Palestinian territory. The military signed both agreements despite opposition from the religious-oriented government at the time, which was later shut down by the Constitutional Court on charges of anti-secular activity.

Hidden military agreements?

The discussion about canceling military deals with Israel has also prompted speculation about the existence of other deals between the two countries that have been kept secret. Sedat Laciner, the head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) said Turkey and Israel have signed some secret documents in the past.

“There are hidden agreements signed between the militaries of Turkey and Israel without the knowledge of previous governments. And now the government has learned about them,” Laciner said in a phone interview with the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday. He did not, however, disclose what these secret agreements might be.

Laciner stressed that Israel’s armament industry is not developed enough to be Turkey’s biggest partner. Commenting on the possibility of canceling military agreements with Israel, Laciner said: “There will be problems over arms sales from the U.S. Then Turkey will have to find new markets or improve its domestic armament industry to handle these problems.”

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