The United Nations report on the Mavi Marmara attack of May 31, 2010 was a "thorough and professional job," U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. But that the U.S. is concerned with Turkish-Israeli relations.
"We have, over many months, tried to work with our ally Turkey and our ally Israel to strengthen and improve their bilateral relationship. We still believe that getting back to a good partnership between them is in each of their interests, and we will continue to work for that goal with both of them. But we are concerned about the state of the relationship today," Nuland said.
"Our emphasis with both the government of Turkey and the government of Israel is to hope that we can de-escalate, we can defuse, and we can get them back to talking about improving their relationship. There are freedoms of navigation issues for both Turkey and for Israel, but we want to avoid future confrontations and we want both of these strong allies of the United States to get back to a place where they have a good working relationship with each other," Nuland said.
In response to a question on U.S. efforts to improve Turkish-Israeli relations, Nuland said:
"Secretary Clinton had a long bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Paris and those conversations have been followed up in recent days in Ankara by our Ambassador. We have had a number of conversations with Israel on this and on other matters over the last few days. And, as you may know, we have Ambassador David Hale and Dennis Ross in Tel Aviv today."
No Apology, No Lifting of Gaza Blockade, Israeli Minister Says
Ties with Ankara sank to new lows as an Israeli minister reiterated Wednesday that Israel will not apologize to Turkey for the deadly May 31, 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which ended in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, and it will not lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip.
"Israel defends its interests and its government will not apologize," said Yisrael Katz, Israel's transport minister, and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. Katz, who spoke on Israeli public radio, made the comments a day after Ankara said it was suspending military deals with the Jewish state.
Relations had already frayed over the incident, but tensions reached new highs last week after the UN published a report on the raid, accusing Israel of using excessive force during the operation, but endorsing the Jewish state's naval blockade on Gaza.
Turkey responded angrily to the report, announcing the expulsion of Israel's ambassador and suspending military agreements with Israel. The report's publication had been delayed several times while the two countries tried to patch things up.
Ankara had called on Israel to offer an apology for the raid, compensation to the victims' families and to lift the blockade on Gaza. All of these terms were rejected by the Israeli government.
On Wednesday, Katz also said the Gaza blockade would not be lifted.
"Israel maintains its naval blockade of Gaza to stop the transfer of weapons to terrorists from Hamas," he said, referring to the Islamist movement that rules the coastal territory. Israel has accepted the UN report, with some reservations, but Turkey dismissed its findings and has threatened to lodge legal action against the Israel before the International Criminal Court.
Turkish Prime Minister Describes Israel as 'Spoiled Boy'
Turkish Navy ships will "show up" more frequently in the East Mediterranean as part of measures against Israel, Turkey's prime minister said, slamming the Jewish state as the "spoiled boy" of the region.
"The eastern Mediterranean Sea is not a region unfamiliar to us," Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday in his first public comments after Turkey announced measures against Israel over its failure to apologize for killing nine Turks on a Gaza-bound aid ship last year.
Turkish forces stationed at naval bases in Aksaz and İskenderun are capable of patrolling regional waters and escorting civilian ships in the Mediterranean, Erdoğan told reporters.
"Certainly, our ships will show up more frequently in these waters. We will see them [there] very frequently," he said. "So far, Israel has always played the role of a spoiled boy in the face of UN resolutions concerning Israel, thinking that it would carry on with this role."
On Friday, Ankara said it would take action to ensure the safety of maritime navigation in the East Mediterranean as part of measures against Israel that included also the downgrading of diplomatic ties to the second-secretary level.
The departure deadline for Israeli diplomats expires Wednesday. Erdoğan said Turkey was "totally suspending" military ties and defense industry cooperation with Israel, warning of "various other sanctions" depending on developments in the future. He initially said that trade with the Jewish state had also been frozen, but his office later clarified that the prime minister meant "commercial ties in the defense industry sector."
Erdoğan held a nearly two-hour meeting Tuesday with Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel to discuss ways of protecting maritime navigation in the Mediterranean, NTV said.
Israel's deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara ferry in international waters on May 31, 2010 was an example "of savagery and state terror," Erdoğan said, stressing that Turkey was determined to protect the rights of its citizens.
A report on the raid, penned at the end of a UN panel inquiry, and leaked to the media last week, "is of no value to us," Erdoğan said, echoing Ankara's disappointment over the document. The report declared that Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip was lawful and justified by attacks on Israel by militants in Gaza, even though it found that the troops used "excessive and unreasonable" force.
Military Relations Frozen; Israeli Military Attaché to Stay 'For Now'
The fate of Israel's military attaché is still in question despite a statement by an Israeli official that his post will not be affected by the freeze in Turkish-Israeli military ties, Turkish diplomatic sources said Tuesday.
"According to the Israeli protocol, personnel at the office of the military attaché are considered below the second secretary level," a Turkish diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday. Turkey has given Wednesday as the deadline for Israel to withdraw all diplomatic personnel above the second secretary level," the diplomatic source said. "We have not told them who to expel. We have just notified them that any diplomatic personnel above the level of second secretary should leave Turkey by Wednesday, in line with Article 11 of the Vienna Convention."
Because each country's hierarchy works differently in how it ranks military and other attachés, the decision on Israel's military attaché, Col. Moshe Levy, will not be clear before Wednesday.
"We will make another evaluation if he does not leave Turkey," the source added, hinting Turkey may ask for the attaché's expulsion in the upcoming days. Ambassador Gabby Levy was already in Israel on holiday when the sanctions were announced last week and will not return to Ankara. His deputy, Ella Afek, will have to leave Wednesday, but ambiguity remains over who will accompany her out of the country. All diplomatic personnel leaving Turkey must return their diplomatic ID cards to the Turkish Foreign Ministry before leaving Ankara.
Much speculation has been made in recent days over Levy's fate, as it was not clear whether his post was covered by Turkey's expulsion demand.
"There's no break with Turkey. The proof is that our military attaché in Ankara will remain in his office and that consular services there will continue to function," senior Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad told Israeli public radio, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.
Turkish diplomatic sources described Gilad's statement as another effort of counter-spin against the announced Turkish sanctions.
"Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan openly announced that military relations have been frozen with Israel. Who do they think will talk with their military attaché in Ankara?" a diplomatic source asked.
Turkey has withdrawn its military attaché at the rank of colonel but his lower-ranking deputies will remain in Tel Aviv.
Erdogan Insistent on Gaza Visit
Turkey's prime minister said Tuesday that his plans to visit the Gaza Strip remain uncertain, but that he will push the issue in talks with Egyptian officials next week.
"Talks on a decision to cross into the Gaza Strip will continue until the last moment. We will make the final decision there [in Cairo] while talking with our Egyptian friends, our brothers," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters Tuesday. "According to that there may be a visit to the Gaza Strip, or there may not. That's not certain yet."
Erdoğan is scheduled to pay an official visit to Egypt Sept. 12-13.
He has expressed his intention to cross into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip through Egypt's Rafah border gate as a reaction to Israel. Diplomatic sources have suggested, however, that Erdoğan is unlikely to actually make the trip. And Egypt is reluctant to agree to his crossing to Gaza through the Rafah border due to its agreements with Israel restricting entries to Gaza.
Egypt has also warned of security concerns that might put the Turkish prime minister's safety at risk if he travels to Gaza. Turkey has refused to blacklist Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Ankara has argued that Hamas's rule is legal since they were elected by the Palestinian people.
Erdoğan declared that he planned to pay a visit to Gaza in order to push Israel to apologize for its deadly raid last year on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship leading a flotilla of aid vessels trying to breach the naval blockade of Gaza.
Erdoğan's visit to Egypt may be expanded with trips to Libya and Tunisia, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News, raising the prospect of an "Arab Spring" tour of countries where opposition protesters have risen up against longtime rulers.
Turkey's EU Minister Says Israeli Relations Will Not Directly Affect EU Bid Process
Turkey's European Union minister and chief negotiator said on Tuesday that Turkish-Israeli relations would not affect Turkey's EU process. Egemen Bagis said Israel was not an EU member, and therefore it could not have a direct impact on Turkey's EU membership bid.
"Turkey's relations with Israel go on in the level of second secretary, and our expectations from Israel are clear and obvious," Bagis said during his meeting in Ankara with Emine Bozkurt, a member of European Parliament who is holding talks in Turkey regarding a report on women's rights.
Bagis said Turkey expected Israel to apologize, pay compensation to families of people who lost their lives in the deadly attack, and end its unjust embargo on Gaza.
"These are clear expectations of Turkey, and our relations will normalize when Israel abides by them," Bagis said. Moreover, he said, Turkey would continue its fight against social problems and deal with horror killings and domestic violence.
Spanish PM Says Changes in Arab World Highlight Importance of Turkey's EU Accession
The Spanish prime minister said on Tuesday that changes in the Arab world indicated how important Turkey's European Union (EU) accession was.
"I will continue to support Turkey whether I am the prime minister or not," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in a joint press conference with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
Zapatero said Spain was supporting the establishment of new democratic systems that respected freedoms in Arab countries. The Spanish premier hoped that those who wanted to bring up new alternatives during changes in the Arab world would have a look at Turkey, and expressed his willingness to see Turkey in the EU soon.
On Palestine, Zapatero said everyone should cooperate to find a solution to the dispute and work on solutions that would be voted at the United Nations General Assembly. Zapatero said Spain's support and sympathy to Palestine were obvious, and his country would do everything it could at the UN General Assembly to take under guarantee the negotiation process.
Zapatero also said the global economic crisis could only be responded to globally and EU countries, the United States and developing countries should work together against economic crisis.
Zapatero said Turkish-Spanish economic and commercial relations were going well, and Spain was a country making the most investments in Turkey. Tourism was also boosting between the two countries, Zapatero said, with more Spanish tourists visiting Turkey daily.
Referring to Israeli-Turkish relations after the deadly Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Zapatero said the two countries should reach an agreement and the international community should respond, as there were people who lost their lives.
Palestinian Official Says Turkey's Attitude Encouraging
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's special envoy Nabil Shaath has said that Turkey's valiant attitude has encouraged thePalestinian people.
In a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday, Shaath said he came to Turkey to hold talks about their "September Campaign," which aimed for the recognition of Palestine by the United Nations.
Israel not only occupied Palestine, but it also built settlement units in those occupied areas, he said.
"Palestinian Liberation Organization declared the state of Palestine in Algeria in 1988. Turkey played a pioneering role and became the first country recognizing the state of Palestine. While working for international recognition of our state, we have also maintained the peace talks. However, our territories are still under occupation," he said.
Shaath said that Israel was still building settlement units in eastern Jerusalem, adding that some six thousand Palestinians had been imprisoned in Israel. Referring to Israeli forces' raid on the aid flotilla, Shaath said that they well-understood Turkey's attitude against Israel. Turkey wants nothing but its legitimate rights, he said, and extended their support to Turkey's decision to apply to international courts.
Any Israeli hegemony in the east of Mediterranean is unacceptable, he said, adding that they wanted a peace based on the principle of equality, freedom and independence for citizens of all countries in the Mediterranean region.
U.S.-Designed Radar System Installed in Turkey Meant to Detect Missiles Fired from Iran
The early warning radar system designed by the United States that will be installed in Turkey is specifically designed to pinpoint missiles fired from Iran toward the U.S. and Europe, according to the chairman and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, or MDAA, in the U.S.
"The AN/TPY-2 radar system is there only for Iran," missile defense lobbyist Riki Ellison told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Monday. "It will work with the missiles on U.S. ships outside of Turkey and on the new site in Romania that will be in place in 2015."
Iran's defense minister on Tuesday criticized NATO for the pending deployment of an early-warning radar system in Turkey, saying Tehran would not tolerate any aggression against its national interests, Reuters news agency reported. The Turkish and U.S. governments said Friday that the radar system will help spot missile threats coming from outside Europe, including potentially from Iran.
Minister Ahmad Vahidi warned Turkey about the radar system, which Ankara says is not aimed at any specific country.
"The West claims the radar system [in Turkey] is not meant to confront Iranian missiles, but they should be aware that we will not tolerate any aggression against our national interests," Vahidi was quoted by state TV as saying.
Diplomatic sources from the Turkish Foreign Ministry told the Daily News on Tuesday that the radar system in Turkey would not be aimed at any specific country, including Iran. The ministry said deploying the early-warning radar system in Turkey was part of a new NATO policy that included a new defensive concept of preventative deterrence. Foreign Ministry sources said that within this new concept, geographically the best role for Turkey to play with minimum risk and maximum benefit would be to be one of the countries where a preventative radar system is deployed.
According to Ellison, the radar system in Turkey will work with the missiles on U.S. ships outside of Turkey and also on the new site in Romania that will be in place in 2015.
"The system will have the capability to protect all of Turkey and Southern Europe with the missiles we have in the Mediterranean against Iranian short- and medium-range missiles," Ellison said, adding that the system was not for Israel, as it is too far north for Israel, which has its own systems
"Deployment of this radar in Turkey is the last part of President Obama's defense policy statement," Allison said. "In Phase 1 of Obama's defense policy statement, until the end of this year, the radar will be deployed in Turkey with a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean right now with the SM-3 block IA missiles. There will also be a fire control solution in Germany. Those are all being deployed. So this is the last piece of the Obama's specific plan," Ellison said.
The location for the radar system would be selected by Turkey and the U.S., and it will most probably be in the area closest to Iran.
"I don't think it will be deployed on a U.S.-operated naval base such as the base in Adana for technical reasons. Because the closer it is to the Iranian border, the better it is," Ellison said. Mostly U.S. civilians will be in charge of the radar system, but very few U.S. troops around it, with Turkish soldiers in charge of protecting the area where the radar is located instead. The information from the radar system will go directly to Ramstein Airforce Base in Germany, where it will then be shared by all of NATO, Ellison said.
"That radar will be able to pick up anything that comes across Turkish airspace from anywhere. So, for instance, if Pakistan fires missiles in that direction, it can pick them up. It can cover anything flying over Turkish airspace," Ellison said. "And the radar will stay as long as there is a legitimate threat from Iran."
Official Admits to Fraud in Lighthouse Case, Report Says
Money transfers between a number of firms and the Lighthouse e.V. charity association in Germany were registered on double accounts, according to the testimony of an official from the private channel Kanal 7 on July 15.
Kanal 7's IT systems manager Cüneyt Kavasoğlu had testified to prosecutors in an Ankara court that donations to the association were transferred into the vaults of certain firms whose shares were held by the executives of Lighthouse e.V., Kanal 7 executives Zekeriya Karaman, İsmail Karahan and Mustafa Çelik, as well as Zahid Akman, the former head of the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, the daily Taraf reported Tuesday.
"I received instructions from Muzaffer Şafak to [create] a synchronization program to initiate a double account registry showing money transfers into and out of firms in which the Lighthouse e.V. and Kanal 7 executives [and] Zahid Akman were shareholders," Kavasoğlu told prosecutors, according to allegations.
Şafak's lawyer, on the other hand, allegedly indicated that his client was not in a position to issue such directives. Ankara prosecutors Mehmet Tamöz, Nadi Türkaslan and Abdulvahap Yaren, who had received Kavasoğlu's testimony, were later dismissed from the case.
Meanwhile, Atilla Kart, the Konya deputy of the opposition Republican People's Party, or the CHP, claimed the Ministry of Interior had a 35-page report indicating the fraudulent activities of the "Deniz Feneri" (Lighthouse) charity in Turkey.
"There is a thread inside this profiteering organization that goes all the way up to the prime minister. This is a net that engulfs the AKP. This is a net that includes administrative divisions both in a local and a central sense," Kart told Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday.
"As such, the double account records had already been more or less disclosed. And it was [already] known about. The prosecutors reached the suspects through this evidence anyway, despite the government's [efforts] to hinder [them.] The investigation then dragged on for too long but proceeded in a lawful way," Kart said. "The government acted quickly when they saw the prosecutor's legal determination and that this mole set up was about to be uncovered. They illegally removed the case from the hands of the prosecutors through the Ankara Public Prosecutor. This is a state of panic. The Justice Ministry and the government, however, will not be able to hinder this process, as the truth is too plain for all to see."
Turkish Legal System Suffers from Inability to End Cases Promptly, Chief Says
On the first day of the new Judicial Year, Chief of the Turkish Court of Appeals, Nazim Kaynak, said the real problem in the Turkish legal system was not long periods of detention, but rather the inability to end cases in acceptable periods of time.
"While we had five minutes to look at a file in 2000, this period dropped to two minutes in 2010," Kaynak said.
Erdogan Calls Again for BDP to Join Parliament
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed a call Tuesday for pro-Kurdish deputies to end a parliamentary boycott, but insisted that their absence from the legislature was no loss for democracy.
The participation of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in parliamentary work would be "good in terms of democracy," Erdoğan told reporters when asked about a BDP convention at the weekend that signaled the boycott would continue.
"But if they do not come, that's not a deficiency for Turkish democracy. That's their deficiency, they are the losers," Erdoğan said. "And let me put it very openly and clearly – sooner or later they will come to this parliament."
BDP-backed candidates won 36 seats in the June 12 elections. But the deputies have refused to take their parliamentary oaths and shunned Ankara in protest of rulings that denied release to six colleagues who were elected while in jail and stripped one of them of his parliamentary seat.
Barzani Calls on PKK, PJAK to End Attacks from Iraqi Soil
Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani urged the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and its Iranian wing, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, to end attacks on Turkish and Iranian targets from Iraqi bases.
"I call on the PKK and PJAK to end military operations launched from our soil and seek their rights through political means," The Anatolia news agency quoted Barzani saying on Tuesday. He was speaking at a meeting with representatives from the Iraqi Kurdish administration in foreign countries.
The PKK uses its mountain bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks on Turkey. Turkish warplanes have bombed PKK targets since late last month, after the terrorist group intensified attacks, killing dozens of Turkish soldiers in the past two months.
A PKK offshoot, the PJAK, has been involved in armed clashes with Iranian forces in recent years. Iranian officials said on Monday that at least 30 PJAK members were killed in fighting near the Iraqi border. Barzani said the Kurdish people's rights should be respected, but added that these rights can be secured through peaceful means. He also said he and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd, were trying to find a solution to end the armed conflict.
Israel Rift Proves Turkey's Zero Neighbor Problems Policy a Failure, MHP Leader Says
Turkey's recent toughened stance against Israel over last year's flotilla incident, prove the government's zero problems policy with neighbors "has gone bankrupt," opposition Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli said.
Bahçeli on Tuesday released a written statement on worsening Turkish-Israeli ties, accusing the government of showing "a fake enmity towards Israel." Bahçeli alleged that the government was trying to keep a recent deal to establish a NATO radar system in Turkey off the agenda by assuming a "fake anti-Israeli stance."
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Friday announced that an early warning radar system will be deployed in Turkey within the NATO missile defense program aimed at countering ballistic missile threats. Israeli-Turkish relations, which have been worsening since last year's flotilla incident, almost collapsed after Turkey swiftly decided to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Israel and put all military agreements on hold following the release of the UN report last week, which revealed that the UN considers the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza legal and also deems the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to have resulted in the "unreasonable killing" of civilians.
"It becomes clearer day by day that the [Justice and Development Party] AKP mentality, which is failing to get its proposals accepted in the international arena, is resorting to fake enmity with Israel in order to maintain support in domestic politics and to prevent debates over the missile shield project," Bahçeli said. "If the AKP is playing the Israel card to gloss over the missile shield issue and to change the agenda, this plan will be soon exposed and it will pay the price for that."
Bahçeli added that it is unacceptable for the AKP to drag Turkey into "the midst of the storm."
"We see the fact that Turkey has become a country having problems with all its neighbors rather than a country with zero problems with its neighbors as obvious proof that the government's foreign policies have gone bankrupt," Bahçeli said.