Turkey to freeze bilateral relations with Israel, excludes private sector

The Defense Industry Implementation Committee convened under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Erdoğan to discuss the issue of military agreements and projects with Israel.
The Defense Industry Implementation Committee convened under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Erdoğan to discuss the issue of military agreements and projects with Israel.

By Ercan Yavus

Ankara—Tension that broke out between Turkey and Israel when the latter killed eight Turkish citizens and a US citizen of Turkish origin in a raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla has resulted in Turkey freezing bilateral relations with Israel — but joint projects and contracts signed with Israeli companies will remain as they are.

The Defense Industry Implementation Committee (SSİK) convened under the chairmanship of PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to take up the issue of military agreements and projects with Israel. Turkey — which recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv and cancelled three military exercises in the aftermath of a bloody Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara aid ship — has shelved 16 bilateral agreements due to Israel’s refusal to apologize for the killings or pay compensation. Thus, all Turkish-Israeli agreements at the state level have been cancelled. In a statement made during a trip to South Korea, President Abdullah Gül said Turkey had prepared a roadmap on the issue of sanctions against Israel but noted that this would be announced by the government. The first signs that such a plan was in the works appeared on Monday in a Cabinet decision. The roadmap details a process through which Turkey will completely cut its ties with Israel and comprises several stages.

First, should Israel fail to send a member to a UN investigatory commission being formed to look into the deadly raid, Turkey will not send its ambassador back to Tel Aviv. Furthermore, Turkey will not in any way recognize the Israeli-led investigation into its own troops’ attack on the Mavi Marmara.

All bilateral projects in the field of military training and cooperation will be frozen; a $757 million plane and tank modernization project and a missile project worth over $1.5 billion have already been shelved. The majority of work on these projects was planned to be cooperative Turkish-Israeli efforts.

The Defense Industry Implementation Committee convened under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Erdoğan to discuss the issue of military agreements and projects with Israel.The Land Forces Command had been planning to collaborate with Israel on a $5 billion tank project within the next 10 years. Israel wants to sell 1,000 Merkava Mark III combat tanks to Turkey, worth $5 billion, but this project has been shelved. In addition, Turkish military officers have abandoned a plan to modernize M-60 tanks in Kayseri with the Israelis for $50 million.Other abandoned projects would have modernized, through an Israeli-Singaporean consortium, 54 F-4 Phantom planes for $632.5 million and 48 F-5 jets for $75 million.

In addition to shelving 16 major agreements, Turkey has also decided not to cooperate on joint projects, particularly in the field of military training and cooperation. Turkish F-16 pilots will not be sent to Israel for training as planned, while joint military exercises with the Middle Eastern country will also not be held. No international military exercises will be held with Israeli participation and Turkish airspace will be closed to Israeli military aircraft.

An agreement on cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism signed between Turkey and Israel — which provided Turkey with valuable intelligence on Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) terrorist organization camps in Lebanon in the 1980s — has also been frozen by the Turkish side.

Before the raid on the Mavi Marmara, Turkey had held preliminary meetings with the Israelis over Arrow missile defense systems, conventional and plastic mine detectors and terrestrial radar systems to prevent infiltrations into Turkey from its borders with Syria and Iraq. Turkey has abandoned these plans as well as plans to purchase from Israel two patrol aircraft and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft worth $800 million.A $500 million package for the joint production of Popeye I and Popeye II air-to-air missiles and another project to produce $150 million of long-range Delilah missiles has also been shelved.

Turkey has also decided to freeze a tank modernization project with Israel in the wake of its bloody raid on a boat carrying Turkish peace activists in international waters.

Corporate-level projects to continue

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan warned against efforts in Israel to boycott Turkish goods, saying that Turkey would react harshly should such a thing occur. Reacting on Wednesday to reports yet to be confirmed with Israeli authorities that an Israeli court had, after the Mavi Marmara incident, ordered an injunction on the bank accounts and $10 million in receivables of Turkish Yılmazlar Group construction firm in Israel, Çağlayan emphasized that there should be a distinction made between political relations and commercial ties. While the SSİK meeting led by Erdoğan decided to end all state-level relations with Israel, the committee left the issue of agreements between military industry firms to the discretion of those corporations. The committee said it would not be appropriate for it to decide upon the fate of agreements and joint projects operated by ASELSAN, HAVELSAN, ROKETSAN and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE). What the committee did decide is that should most of these agreements be cancelled, sanctions including compensation will be arranged — but the initiative has been left to the firms themselves.

At the same time, however, it is known that such firms, both in Israel and in Turkey, are government-supported.

In a statement made after the six-hour SSİK meeting ended, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said that despite the fact that the decision on the shelving of military agreements had been left at the command of the Foreign Ministry, it would not be proper for the ruling administration to decide on the actions of military companies in both countries. The SSİK also decided the only path to a reversal of its decisions to freeze ties would be for Israel to apologize to Turkey and agree to an international investigation into the deadly Mavi Marmara raid.

In accordance with a Cabinet decision, Turkey’s roadmap from here on out will attempt to isolate Israel in the international arena. Following the condemnation of the Israeli military’s actions by the United Nations, NATO, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Arab League and the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum, Turkey will attempt to isolate Israel in every arena, leaving the nation to stand alone. A new strategy will also be implemented in an attempt to sway the attitude of the European Union with regard to Israel


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