Israel's raid last year on an aid flotilla in the eastern Mediterranean Sea was "no different" under international law than what Somali pirates are doing in the Aden Gulf, Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım said Thursday.
"Israel's act in these waters is no different than the pirates in the Aden Gulf," Yıldırım told the Hürriyet Daily News during a meeting in Istanbul, referring to the diplomatic feud between Israel and Turkey over Israeli commandos' deadly raid May 31, 2010, on a Gaza-bound aid ship, killing nine Turks.
"Except for the 12-mile coastal shore, the waters are open to everyone's use. No country has the right to prevent us from using our law-granted rights," the minister added.
On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey "will apply all necessary preventive measures in order to ensure its navigational freedom," noting that the country has the longest coastline bordering on the East Mediterranean.
Yıldırım on Thursday expressed agreement with Davutoğlu's earlier comment that Israel does not have the right to implement a 20-mile zone of territorial waters along its shores.
"No one has the right to take over these waters. If they do, they will get their response from us," the transportation minister said.
Referring to Israel's demand for 20 miles of territorial waters due to the sea blockade of Gaza, Yıldırım said Israel has the right to only 12 nautical miles in the eastern Mediterranean.
"The way that Israel is acting by not obeying international law is sea banditry," he said, adding that Turkey would not accept the unlawful implementation. "Stretching from Gibraltar Strait to the Gulf of İskenderun, 23 nations have the right to travel freely in [these] international waters."
Accusing Israel of violating international maritime laws, the minister said "there is nothing we will do about the current situation" as long as Israel refuses to apologize for the raid on the Mavi Marmara aid ship.
Israel "will not apologize to Turkey" and will not lift its blockade on Gaza, Israeli Transportation Minister Israel Katz, said on Israeli public radio Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Navy is "a strategic arm" of the state, adding, "this is a long and strong arm," daily Hürriyet reported Thursday. His comments followed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's statement Tuesday that Turkish Navy ships would "show up" more frequently in the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak played down the diplomatic crisis with Ankara on Thursday, saying the current dispute "will pass," AFP reported. Describing the dispute over Gaza as "spilled milk," Barak added, "We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region."
Turkey late last week downgraded its diplomatic relations with Israel to the second-secretary level and suspended all military contracts after a long-awaited UN report on Israel's flotilla raid was leaked to U.S. media on Sept. 1.
Gul: Norway Attack Reflects Threat Pose by Extreme Right Ideologies
Turkish President Abdullah Gül said Thursday that the July attack in Norway, which left dozens of people dead, showed that terrorism and extremism were not connected to any specific religion or geography.
Delivering a speech at the Global Policy Forum, taking place in Russian city of Yaroslavl, Gül said that the recent attack in Norway showed that extreme rightist ideologies posed a threat to security in the world.
Curing illnesses such as xenophobia in the West needs more efforts than dealing with the problems of the East associated with underdevelopment, Gül said.
Democracy is the strongest force that makes a country powerful and competent. The survival and international prestige of a state are assured when that state receives its power from its own people, Gül also said.
Turkish President Calls Israel Ungrateful, Burden to its Allies
Israel is "ungrateful" and a burden to its allies, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said Thursday, calling on Tel Aviv to consider an "honorable peace" with its Arab neighbors.
"Look at the scene when [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu speaks in the U.S. Congress. It is impossible for him to receive that reaction in his own parliament," Gül said, speaking while on his way to Yaroslavl, Russia, to attend an international conference on "The Modern State and Multiculturalism."
In his comments, Gül also highlighted the favors he said were done by Turkey on Israel's behalf.
"They [display] a certain ingratitude as if we have to do this, however. I mean, there is no reciprocity. [This is] a country that burdens even its allies. Let them do [all] the thinking from now on," he said.
"They [Israel] came to us [about] an apology four times over, [and] this friend of ours [Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu] received our approval, but they backed down at the last moment," Gül said, referring to Ankara's demand that Israel apologize for its deadly raid last year on a Gaza-bound aid ship, an incident that killed nine Turks.
"Israel is like a small island in a region inhabited by several hundred million Arabs. When the Arabs were governed by undemocratic regimes, it was possible from Israel's perspective to come to terms with those leaders," the Turkish president said. "Take a look at when military cooperation [between Israel and Turkey] began to develop. Democracy is on the ascent, however, and no democratic country can follow a dishonorable policy by disregarding its own citizens' wants and sensitivities. For that reason, Israel must think about an honorable peace."
Speaking about the ongoing uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, Gül also recounted an initiative he undertook regarding the turmoil in Bahrain while taking King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on a tour of Istanbul. The Turkish president said he spoke to al-Khalifa about the fate of 12 doctors who treated people injured in clashes in Bahrain and were involved in anti-government protests initiated by the country's Shiite majority.
"I told the King of Bahrain that the initiative for dialogue would be strengthened if [he were to] release them [the doctors]. He made a promise to me, and we learned yesterday the doctors were freed. Of course, the Shiites who have their hopes vested in us are very satisfied," he said.
Gül also called for Turkey to act with self-confidence and raise democratic standards in responding to the recent flare-up of the conflict with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. "[The PKK] have no interest either in the Kurdish issue or in the rights and the justice of citizens in eastern Anatolia," he said.
In his comments, Gül also expressed his views about online social media, of which he is an avid user.
"In the old days, there were coffeehouses and gardens. People would sit down, talk and exchange ideas. Today, however, people do not even have the time to greet their neighbors," he said. "That is why they use social media because the Turkish people are not as cold as people of some countries; they are warm-blooded and talkative."
"I love children's messages best because it is clear they write them themselves without the assistance of their elders. There are even those who call me 'Uncle Abdullah,'" the president said.
He also explained he had feared he would get negative reactions about a photograph he posted on the Web site Twitter of him with a Cadillac convertible.
"The great majority liked it, however. A citizen took our photograph with his cell phone just as I was making a U-turn while driving the car," he said. "Truthfully, I kept wondering for days as I glanced at the newspapers which one would publish [the photograph]."
Genel Energy Partners with UK Company to Dominate Oil Reserves
A new Anglo-Turkish partnership that emerged with the merger of UK company Vallares and Turkish businessman Mehmet Emin Karamehmet's Genel Energy has revealed plans to dominate the vast reserves of oil in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq. The partnership, led by ex-BP CEO Tony Hayward, also plans to invest elsewhere in the Middle East, once the dust of the Arab Spring settles.
Responding to questions from the Hürriyet Daily News on the sidelines of a press meeting in Istanbul, Hayward said Vallares would deal with the regional Kurdish administration, not Baghdad. Eventually, the Kurdish region will have a "significant say" in what is going to be finally approved in Iraq's expected hydrocarbons law, he said. Mehmet Sepil, the CEO of Genel Energy International, said the firm expected the law to be approved in Baghdad by the start of next year.
The complex partnership will be completed through an all-share reverse-takeover in which Vallares will issue new shares worth $2.1 billion to acquire 100 percent of Genel, giving Vallares and Genel's current owners equal stakes in the combined business.
"The only approval we need is from the Kurdistan Regional Government, and we expect that approval to come before the end of September," Hayward told the Daily News on Thursday. "All of the indications in Kurdistan show that things are only going to get better. I think this is a good time to invest in the region."
Sepil said the new company would be listed on the London Stock Exchange in around four weeks and that it would offer 50 percent of its shares to the public. "In the end, the company will rank among the top 100 companies in the U.K.," Sepil said.
Sepil said he would have a stake of 14 percent in the new company, down from his current 29 percent, while Karamehmet's stake will fall from 56 percent to 28.
Pragmatic Realism in Region
Commenting on possible risks regarding stability in northern Iraq, Hayward spoke of a "pragmatic realism" that has emerged between the regional government and Baghdad. "This means [one] can invest," he said. "[The two governments] have agreed to revenue-sharing mechanisms. Payments are being received and I think all indicators show that things are only going to get better. There will be some bumps in the road, but the train and its direction are clear."
He also said when the oil law dispute is resolved the Kurdish administration "will have a significant say in what is finally approved."
"[Kurds] have a significant standing both in the Iraqi Cabinet and in parliament," he told the Daily News. "This law is important for all foreign investors in Iraq, not only for those who are investing in the region."
Northern Iraq has attracted more than $10 billion in energy investments from more than 40 companies from 17 countries. Sepil said he expected similar consolidations in northern Iraq, adding that Genel, whose headquarters will be Ankara, aims to be among the few companies left in northern Iraq at the end of the next wave of consolidations.
Noting the seismic political shift in the Middle East, Sepil said Genel would like to invest in other locations, especially in North Africa, including Libya, after stability is established.
After the press meeting in Istanbul, Hayward and Sepil headed to Arbil in northern Iraq
Turkey Says NATO Radar Not Against Russia, Used for Defense
Turkey has said NATO's pending deployment of an early warning radar system is only for defense and only against arms, referring to the possibility of missiles from non-state actors as well.
On Thursday, President Abdullah Gül told reporters, upon his return from Moscow, that Russia is a strategic partner and that NATO's to-be-deployed radar system is only for defense purposes. He said he discussed these issues with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, stressing Russia's increasingly cooperative and close role with the world's largest military alliance.
Turkey has recently agreed to host an early warning radar system as part of NATO's missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats from neighboring Iran. The Turkish and U.S. governments said last Friday that the radar system will help spot missile threats coming from outside Europe, including potentially from Iran. The system, provided by the United States, is to become operational later this year.
The Turkish president also said arms that pose a threat to NATO members could not only emanate from states, but from non-state organizations as well. "For this reason, this is totally for defense purposes. We are also closely discussing and consulting on this issue with the Russian side," Gül added.
Muslim Turkey, with NATO's second biggest military, has become a bigger player in the Middle East, emboldened by its booming economy and a more Islamic identity, seeking stronger ties with Muslim countries in the Middle East, like Iran. Turkey has also sought stronger ties with Russia, which has said a NATO missile defense system could threaten its security if it develops the capability to down Russian nuclear missiles. However, Russia's NATO envoy said a radar system in Turkey would not threaten Russian security.
Newspaper Reports Possible Land Operation of the TSK in Northern Iraq
The Turkiye daily said hundreds of troops were sent to military bases stationed in the north of Iraq. Many armored vehicles, called Kirpi, were sent to the border region. According to the Turkiye daily, the TSK is preparing to give a full blow to terrorist PKK organization in north of Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Says Navy Will Escort Future Aid Ships to Gaza
Turkey's prime minister has said Turkish warships will escort Turkish Gaza-bound aid ships in the future.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Al-Jazeera television that the navy will accompany the aid ships to protect them from raids like the one Israel launched on a flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade last year, when nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.
Erdoğan's comments to Al-Jazeera were carried by Turkey's Anatolia news agency late Thursday.
Turkey has already announced it would increase patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in response to Israel's refusal to apologize for the raid. But it was the first admission that Turkey intends to send warships to protect ships trying to break the blockade.
Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives but insists its forces acted in self-defense.
Turkey Warships to Gaza a 'Grave' Threat, Israeli Minister Says
Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor on Friday described a threat by the Turkish prime minister to send warships to escort any aid vessels trying to reach the Gaza Strip as "grave and serious."
"These remarks are grave and serious, but we have no wish to add to the polemic," Meridor said on army radio. "It is better to stay quiet and wait. We have no interest in aggravating the situation by replying to such [verbal] attacks."
Late on Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkish warships would escort any aid ships trying to reach Gaza in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, in a bid to protect them from Israeli forces.
"Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip," Erdoğan told Al Jazeera television, according to an Arab-language translation of his comments in Turkish.
"From now on, we will no longer allow these boats to be the targets of attacks by Israel, like the one on the Freedom Flotilla, because then Israel will have to deal with an appropriate response," he warned.
Erdoğan was referring to the clash on May 31 last year when Israeli commandos stormed a six-ship flotilla in international waters in a bid to stop it from breaching its naval blockade on Gaza.
During the ensuing confrontation, Israeli troops killed nine Turks on board a Turkish ferry, sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries that has strained relations to breaking point.
Turkish Premier Speaks to Al-Jazeera
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkish vessels carrying humanitarian aid would never be subject to any attack again.
In a televised interview with Al-Jazeera, Erdoğan said about the freedom of the seas in the Mediterranean, "for the time being, Turkish vessels are obliged to protect their own ships. This is the first step. We are going to send humanitarian aid to the region. And Turkish vessels carrying humanitarian aid will never be subject to any attack again."
"Turkey does not make the same mistakes with Israel in the international waters. Turkey's state and military decency do not allow such mistakes. Our goal is to stand against atrocity in the world and support those who are desperate," Erdoğan said. "There are desperate people here. Israel bombed those desperate people for 15-16 days. Those people are trying to live in tents now. We want justice for them.
"There are 1.5 million people there and they cannot be ignored. Our historical, cultural and humanitarian ties with them entail us to make such a decision. We cannot remain silent against their living conditions," Erdoğan added.
Turkish Economy Minister Attends 'Megabuild' Fair
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan attended the Eurasia Building Materials Fair, or MEGABUILD, in Istanbul on Thursday.
The fair was held by Turkish Environment and Urbanization Ministry, Economy Ministry and Construction Materials Industrialists' Association.
Speaking at the inauguration of the fair, Caglayan said that delegations from Europe, North Africa, Balkans, Middle East and America would make business connections with Turkish companies during the fair.
Noting that Turkey ranked the second in construction sector in the world, Caglayan said that Turkish contractors committed more than 6,200 projects worth $203 billion in 91 countries. Caglayan said that there were ongoing constructions of Turkish contractors worth of $18.5 billion in Libya.
Caglayan recalled that he, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, several ministers and more than 100 businessmen would visit Egypt, Tunisia and Libya next week.
Noting that Turkey would probably grow eight percent in the second quarter of 2011, Caglayan said that Turkey's growth would be nearly seven percent in 2011.
Caglayan said that building materials sector's export was $16.5 billion in 2010, and it was $11.5 billion in the first seven months of 2011. He added that Turkey made 28 percent of world's total iron-steel export.
Megabuild will end on September 11. Delegations from 36 countries will hold bilateral business talks in the fair. 150 Turkish, and 80 companies from 11 countries are attending the fair.
Sabah Daily Newspaper Quotes Turkish President
"Ruling the people based on fear is over," President Abdullah Gül said. "The period in which people in the Middle East were ruled under pressure is about to end. The region is in a historic stage to enter a period of democratic rule."