Turkey Repudiates Israel, Rules Out Sending Troops to Georgia

Balkanalysis.com, United States
March 22 2004

Turkey: Turkey Repudiates Israel, Rules Out Sending Troops to Georgia

by C Deliso

In a statement having somewhat ambivalent implications, Turkey has
repudiated long-standing ally Israel for its assassination of Hamas
spiritual leader Sheik Yassin.

A dawn helicopter assault on Monday morning targeted the paraplegic,
wheelchair-bound Yassin as he was leaving a Gaza mosque. Six others
were killed and 17 wounded.

While the rest of the world harshly criticized Israel, both for its
policy of targeted assassinations and for the inflammatory impact the
killing will have, the US was merely `troubled’ by the event and
reminded that Hamas was after all a terrorist organization.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the attack as contrary to
international law and harmful for the Middle East peace process.
Ominously for Israel, Hamas warned that Israeli leader Ariel Sharon
through the assassination had `…opened the gates of hell and nothing
will stop us from cutting off his head.’ Yet they didn’t stop with
threatening Israel. Now the oversized client state whose foreign
policy is increasingly inseparable from the Israeli one, America, has
also been served notice:

“…the Zionists didn’t carry out their operation without getting the
consent of the terrorist American administration and it (the United
States) must take responsibility for this crime,’ Hamas said in a
statement. `All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in
on the retaliation for this crime.”

In typically flamboyant style, Sharon personally congratulated the
assassins. In a grandiose comment that could have just as well been
made by George Bush, Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz, Sharon said,
`…the war against terror has not ended and will continue day after
day, everywhere.’

Most countries don’t find such black-and-white stances prudent.
Turkey, for example, is a Muslim country which shares borders with
Iran, Iraq and Syria. Yet it is also a secular state, with a
developed Western consumer society, and is actively seeking
membership in the EU. The sometimes uneasy balancing act between the
country’s twin orientations has been exacerbated by the war with Iraq
and now, by the increasingly belligerent actions of traditional ally

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, Monday’s
assassination will increase the risk of retributive terrorism:

`…we consider the attack which Israel has launched this morning very
dangerous… I am very concerned about this issue. Many innocent
civilians and children are also killed in such incidents. We also
condemn the suicide attacks. We continue to condemn such attacks.’

Gül’s lament was made especially bitter by the revelation that Turkey
had warned `on a number of occasions’ that Yassin would be targeted,
`adding that Ankara had always viewed such an action as a threat to

`…because of this, we have said everybody should be more cautious and
should avoid actions that will aggravate incidents… but, I sadly see
that the attack which is launched today has become a very dangerous

It’s not often that Turkey criticizes Israel so harshly. They are in
some ways natural allies. They have common enemies, common buffer
states, formidable militaries and vast importance for the US. Not
coincidentally, neocons like Richard Perle played a large part in
bringing the leaders and foreign lobbies of the two countries
together in the 1980’s and 90’s. The victory was confirmed in 1996
when the two countries signed an agreement for `…reciprocal naval
visits, military academy exchanges and the use of each other’s air
space. Later that year a defense industry collaboration deal was
established which provided for the transfer of technologies and
technical collaboration.’

Turkey, which has already suffered coordinated terrorist attacks last
fall, is keen to avoid provocations that could cause repeats. The
relationship with Israel has had its rocky moments in the past, and
the Yassin assassination may presage another one.

Nevertheless, the two states have stepped up similar cooperation in
recent months. One complex deal looks especially likely to increase
Turkey’s strategic regional importance. The deal would see Turkey
send its outdated military hardware to its ethnic ally to the east,
replacing it with new Israeli equipment. This is sure to cause
concerns for another neighbor, Armenia, which has a feud of long
standing with Azerbaijan concerning the contested province of Nagorno

A recent report claimed that in the deal `…Israel would supply
components and technology for the assembly of weapons platforms in
Turkey. Turkey would then deliver the weapons to Azerbaijan.’

If successful, the cooperation could be expanded to other Central
Asian and Caucasus countries. Azerbaijan already employs Israeli
contractors for airport and border security systems. Now Azerbaijan
is seeking military help from Israel and Turkey `…amid a
deterioration in Baku’s relations with Iran that stems from a dispute
over the energy-rich Caspian Sea.’

Sunday night, only hours before the fateful assassination of Yassin,
the Israeli Foreign Ministry warned its citizens not to travel to
Turkey for Passover, for the first time putting the country on its
terrorism danger list. At the same press conference where he
criticized Israel’s action against Hamas, Gül hit back over the
travel warning. When asked for his reaction, the Foreign Minister

`…that is their business. Istanbul is one of the safest places in the
world. They should leave Israel. Terrorism is much more common in
Israel than in Istanbul.’

This response was quite appropriate. Despite the twin terrorist
attacks in Turkey’s European capital last fall, Istanbul is generally
speaking one of the safest cities in the world, especially after
dark. The Israeli government’s remarks were unhelpful, especially at
a time when the Jewish state should try to avoid isolating itself
further on the world stage. More immediately, Turkey has a truly
vital relevance for it- as a future supplier of water. On March 4,
Israel signed a `guns for water’ agreement to import water from
Turkey. Under the agreement,

`…Israel will import 50 million cubic meters of water per year from
Turkey for a 20-year period. The amount would constitute 3 percent of
Israel’s drinking-water consumption. Finding sources of water in the
parched Middle East has long been a source of concern, with some
experts predicting water disputes could prompt the next great Middle
East war.’

There had been fierce speculation that the deal would not be signed,
`…to avoid possible angry reactions from Muslim countries.’ Israeli
objectors have also recently demanded concentrating on desalinization
plants instead, which they argue is cheaper in the long-term.

As part of the deal, Turkey will buy Israeli tanks and aerial
technology. Now, bidders from 5 countries are making offers for the
actual importing, pledging `…to lower the cost of transportation by
15%, which will make the deal much more economically feasible.’

In one of the chief areas where the two countries are closely
associated, i.e., their allegiances to the US, a distancing is also
taking place. One year ago Turkey refused American orders to open the
country up as an attack route against Iraq- a rare display of
democratic defiance and a move that indicated Ankara’s ability to
respect limits and adhere to its principles. Now, with its prime
focus being EU membership, Turkey is more eager to make its own
foreign policy harmonize with that of the EU, which is also
distancing itself more and more from an increasingly isolated

Turkey is also enjoying its increasingly important role in regional
foreign policy. Ankara played the recent Georgian showdown carefully,
refusing to be drawn into the fray on behalf of Adjara’s
separatist-minded leader, Aslan Abashidze. He recently told Interfax
that Turkey was duty-bound to protect his `autonomous republic’ from
the Georgian central authorities under the 1921 Treaty of Kars.
Georgia repudiated this as an absurd anachronistic reference, and
Turkey confirmed that the Ottoman-era agreements were best left to
the past:

`…asked if Turkey could send soldiers to Adzharia within the
framework of its right as the guarantor power stemming from the Kars
agreement, (Turkish EU Adjustment Commission Chairman Yasar) Yakis
said, `Turkey has never had such an intention. None of 70 million
Turks will think of sending soldiers to Adzharia.”

Instead, while meeting Saturday with Georgian Parliament Speaker Nino
Burjanadze, the envoys also said that Turkey attaches `…great
importance to Georgia’s territorial integrity.’ Referring to the two
nations’ historic friendship, Yakis added, `…there are always steps
we can take together with Georgian authorities to further improve our
friendship.’ This weekend Yakis and former Turkish State Minister
Refaeddin Sahin also held meetings in both Batumi and Tbilisi to
`…exchange views about measures to be taken between two sides to
prevent [the] reoccurrence of such a tension in the future.’

While the near violent showdown between Abashidze and Georgian
President Mikheil Saakashvili seems to have been averted, the latter
threatened to reintroduce sanctions Monday against Adjara, if
Abashidze doesn’t allow Georgian government representatives to run
the region’s customs operations. Adjara has a key geographic
position, on the cusp of the Black Sea and the border with Turkey.
Customs revenues, which Abashidze has refused to turn over to the
central government in the past, provide the majority of Adjara’s
revenue and go towards propping up Abashidze’s personal suzerainty
over the area. Unrest there, such as last week’s showdown, has a
direct effect on Turkish transportation, shipping and local economy.
Hence it remains in the country’s interests to facilitate a peaceful
resolution of Georgian disputes.