UPI, February 14, 2007 Wednesday
Joshua Brilliant, Ankara
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will try to expand Israel’s strategic relations with Turkey during a two-day visit to Ankara that started Wednesday evening.
Since its early days Israel sought close ties with states that ringed the Arab world - Turkey, Iran under the shah, and Ethiopia.
Turkey is powerful, pro-Western, not Arab but definitely Muslim, and Israelis had hoped that would break the impression that the Muslim world opposed the Jewish state.
The Turks were initially cold but came round about a decade ago when they reassessed their policies. They felt dangerous neighbors and hotspots of instability were across their borders, and believed Israel’s influence in the United States could help especially in countering Greek and Armenian lobbies in Washington.
Israel and Turkey share basic outlooks. They consider the Middle East “a turbulent area in which the use of force is part and parcel of the rules of the game,” noted director of Bar Ilan University’s BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Efraim Inbar. “Informal alliances are at least as important as formal explicit coalitions,” he said.
Both countries have democratic systems, liberal economic policies and these cultural elements buttressed their strategic outlook, Inbar added. Both are also concerned over Muslim radicalism, terror and Iran’s nuclear program.
Yet Turkey, a member of NATO, does not feel as threatened as Israel, which is small and lacks the alliance’s umbrella.
However, analysts believe Turkey is concerned Iran would try to extend its influence to the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula and to northern Iraq.
Iran is ruled by Muslim-Shiite ayatollahs, while Turkey seeks modernization, wants to join the European Union and its influential army is committed to secularism. Turks have not forgotten that Iran had tried to undermine their regime using the Kurdish PKK and Hezbollah Turk. With a nuclear bomb Iran will be a different state.
The joint concerns and the feeling they could benefit from each other led to close military and intelligence cooperation.
Israeli pilots practice sorties over Turkey because it has large empty spaces and perhaps the terrain is similar to part of Iran. Turkish pilots have been using Israel’s flight simulators and training grounds. The air forces and navies have held joint exercises.
Israel upgraded Turkish Phantoms and M-60 tanks. According to the Institute for National Security Studies, Israel sold Turkey guided anti-radar missiles and intelligence equipment, to name but a few items. The securitymen that surrounded Olmert’s plane at Ankara’s airport were armed with Israeli Uzis.
The Turkish army’s Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Ergin Saygun was in Israel late last year discussing plans, but more is expected during Olmert’s visit.
“There is a very important strategic relationship and we hope to expand defense relations to additional different things,” Olmert’s media adviser Miri Eisin said. These would include joint exercises, military sales, exchanging information and development projects, she added.
A Turkish diplomat who spoke to United Press International on condition of anonymity said he expected Olmert and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss regional issues such as Iran and Syria’s request that Turkey arrange peace talks with Israel - something Olmert rejected. On the way over Olmert talked of Turkey as a possible bridge to Arab countries.
However, the focus will be on economic issues, the Turkish diplomat said. he said.
Ankara wants to rebuild the Erez industrial zone in the northern Gaza Strip, employ 6,000 people at first and subsequently 10,000.
Erez had been an Israeli-Palestinian joint industrial zone, but the facilities were destroyed following Israel’s withdrawal in 2005.
Ankara intends to back businessmen who would invest in Gaza. If Erez succeeds, similar zones would be established elsewhere advancing the peace process, the diplomat said.
However, in order to succeed, it needs Israeli assurances of a smooth flow of raw materials into Erez and uninterrupted movement of the finished products to Israel’s Ashdod port and elsewhere. The Karni Crossing is often closed.
The second major program envisages underwater pipelines from Turkey to Israel carrying natural gas, oil and possibly electric power and water.
The Turks have a gas pipeline from Baku, on the Caspian Sea, to Ceyhan in southeastern Turkey. Another pipeline carries Russian oil under the Black Sea to Turkey. The quantities that can be shipped there surpass Turkey’s needs and the idea is to carry the gas and oil further on for Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians or for emerging markets in Asia, the Turkish diplomat said.
Israel has an oil pipeline linking the Mediterranean Sea (at Ashkelon) with the Red Sea (at Eilat). It was originally built to carry Iranian oil from Eilat to Ashkelon but the facilities allow for an opposite flow too.
Arab and Iranian oil fields are much closer to the emerging Asian markets but the Turkish-Israeli alternative would vary those countries’ sources and reduce their dependence on the Arabs and Iranians, an Israeli official noted.
The Ankara talks will surely touch on some of the problems, too.
Turkey is 99.8 percent Muslim, and Erdogan’s AKP party is conservative-Islamist. He attended a high school that prepares its pupils to become imams. His wife wears a veil and he sent his two daughters to study in Indiana because there they, too, could wear a veil.
Erdogan, like other Turks, is very sensitive to the Palestinians’ plights and it showed when there were severe clashes with Israelis.
The Turks quickly invited an Islamic Hamas delegation right after that party won the January 2006 Palestinian elections. Turkey welcomed the Fatah-Hamas Mecca agreement, unlike the Quartet that is waiting to see how matters develop.
Turkey has not stopped an arms flow from Iran to Syria where weapons are then forwarded to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The planes that landed in Damascus airport must have passed through Turkey’s airspace and the flow must have been massive.
During last summer’s Israeli-Lebanese war, Hezbollah fired 4,000 Katyusha rockets. Israel destroyed Zelzal missiles Iran had provided. Thousands of trucks carry Iran’s exports to Europe via Turkey.
Some apparently detour to Syria with weapons for Iran’s Lebanese Shiite friends.
Israel, Turkey to enhance strategic ties
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert flies to Turkey Wednesday to try and enhance strategic ties between the two powerful regional states.
“There is a very important strategic relationship” and Israel hopes to expand defense relations, Olmert’s media adviser Miri Eisin said. These should include joint maneuvers, exchange of information, arms sales and joint development projects, she said. The two leaders are also expected to discuss economic issues, such as re-establishing an industrial zone in the northern Gaza Strip that should help alleviate Gazan poverty and benefit from proximity and easier access across the border to Israel.
Another idea calls for laying a pipeline that would carry natural gas and oil to Israel, use an existing pipeline across Israel to the port of Eilat, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, where it would be loaded on tankers to emerging markets in Asia.
More than half of Turkey’s Cabinet members have been to Israel since 2002 and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited in 2005. Olmert has been to Turkey but this will be his first visit there as prime minister.
Some 400,000 Israelis visit Turkey every year, partly because the trip there is inexpensive, and an Israeli government official noted that by now - statistically - every Israeli has been there.
The civilian trade volume reaches some $2.5 billion a year, in addition to large mutual investments in both countries amounting to billions more annually, the official said.
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