Cypriot President Demetris Christofias has warned Turkey to stop its warships shelling the strip of water dividing the Cypriot and Israeli gas exploration zones in the eastern Mediterranean.

Debkafile's military sources report Wednesday that Turkish warships began turning their guns on the strip dividing Israel's Leviathan gas field from Block 12 of Cyprus's Exclusive Economic Zone-EEZ, where a large gas field was recently discovered. Neither Israel nor Cyprus reported the Turkish attacks, which are staged in international waters, but both reinforced their naval units around the gas fields.

It was the Cypriot president who broke the silence Friday with a warning: "If Turkey does not change its gunboat diplomacy and stop playing the part of regional police officer, there will be consequences, which, for sure, will not be good -- either for the whole region or the Turkish people and, first and foremost, for Turkish Cypriots."

On Thursday, Israel canceled the $90 million sale to the Turkish Air Force of Elbit's hi-tech LOROP-Long Range Oblique Photography military surveillance system. Israeli defense sources said the transaction was canceled lest SAR radar or LOROP technology find their way into the hands of Israel's enemies, such as Iran.

According to military sources, Israel timed the deal's cancelation as a warning to Ankara to back off from its campaign of harassment in and around Israel's gas fields. Jerusalem, Athens and Nicosia are economic and security partners in the exploration and development of eastern Mediterranean gas resources.

The same firm, Noble Energy Inc of Houston, Texas, is working both Cypriot and Israeli fields. Shares in the U.S. company are held in Cyprus by the Cypriot national energy company and in Israel by Delek Drilling LP and Avner Oil Exploration LLP.

The recent discovery that the gas fields are much bigger than first believed has raised the stakes around them. The three governments involved are looking forward to becoming major gas suppliers to Europe and so reducing the continent's dependence on Russian and Turkish gas pipelines. Noble Energy's latest estimate, published Dec. 19, added 6.3 percent to the Leviathan well's untapped potential, raising it from the previous estimate of 16 to 20 trillion cubic feet.

Nicosia too will shortly issue an upwardly revised estimate of its gas field. According to Debkafile's energy industry sources, the new figure is cautiously estimated as 10 trillion cubic feet.

Both expect Ankara to escalate its nuisance offensive after the new Nicosia bulletin. As a precaution, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis was dispatched to Washington on Dec. 19 to talk the situation over with administration officials and obtain U.S. support for the continuing gas enterprise and the Cypriot stance against Turkish threats.

According to our Washington sources, the advice from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to go full steam ahead with gas drilling and ignore Turkish harassment. After their meeting, Kozakou-Marcoullis said the prospects for gas development have already dramatically increased her country's strategic importance.

In a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, she called Turkey "the neighborhood bully," adding that a Turkey "whose foreign minister once promoted a policy of 'zero problems' with its neighbors is now pursuing a policy of 'only problems.'"

Israel Lawmakers to Debate Recognizing Armenian Genocide Claims

An Israeli parliamentary committee is to hold a debate on Monday on recognizing the Armenian genocide claims, a move likely to further strain already tense relations with Turkey.

The education committee is to convene at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposal to mark April 24, the day when killings allegedly started in 1915, as a memorial day for "the massacre of the Armenian people." A similar proposal was rejected by parliament in 2007, when ties between Israel and Turkey were warm.

But relations plunged into deep crisis last year when Israeli forces killed nine Turks in a raid on a Turkish ferry, part of an activist flotilla seeking to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

"We've been working on this for many years," Georgette Avakian of the Armenian National Committee in Jerusalem told Israeli public radio. "Hope the time has come."

In October, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and axed military ties and defence trade. Last week, Israel cancelled completion of a 2008 contract to sell Turkey aerial surveillance equipment.

A parliamentary supporter of an Israeli memorial day for Armenian genocide claims -- Zahava Gal-On of the left-wing Meretz party -- said the changed diplomatic climate might mean that the measure gains support this time.

"For many years, Israel's government has refused to recognise the genocide for cynical, strategic and economic reasons, connected to its ties with Turkey," she told the Haaretz daily. "Now, given the state of relations between the countries, I can't rule out the possibility that the foreign ministry is exploiting affairs."

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in orchestrated killings during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. But the Turkish government strongly denies this, saying 300,000 Armenians and as many Turks were killed in civil conflict when the Christian Armenians, backed by Russia, rose up against the Ottoman Empire.

France's lower house voted last week to criminalize the denial of genocide claims in Armenia, prompting Turkey to suspend political and military cooperation.

Turkey's Destiny to Watch Out for Iraq, Iraqi Vice President Says

Put in a bind by an arrest warrant issued immediately after the United States pullout from Iraq last week, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has asked for Turkey's support to counter "unfounded allegations" against the Iraqi Sunni bloc and help Iraq stabilize before the country plunges into sectarian chaos one more time, a Turkish daily reported on Sunday.

"This is Turkey's destiny. Being a major player in the Middle East, Turkey needs to watch out for the people of Iraq," Hashemi was quoted as saying in an interview with the Milliyet daily, almost a week after an arrest order was issued against the country's top Sunni official on charges of running a hit squad to eliminate rivals and security officials, allegations he dismissed as being unfounded and "politically motivated."

Expressing concern over the escalating tension in Iraq after the U.S. pullout, Hashemi claimed that the warrant was part of a plot by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was looking to "hoard power in his Shiite bloc" and receiving help from Iran to sideline the Sunni bloc, led by the coalition partner al-Iraqiyya, in the country.

"Since it is losing blood in Syria, Iran is trying to tighten its grip over Iraq to make up for that loss," Hashemi further claimed, as he advocated that Iran was intervening in Iraq and steering the domestic climate, and Turkey should watch out for the people of Iraq to help stabilize Iraq's position as a constitutional state with power shared equally between blocs.

In response to the recent controversy arising out of the Hashemi arrest warrant, which was accompanied a few days later with multiple bombings in Baghdad that killed dozens of people, Ankara said it was following Iraqi developments with great attention and was concerned over the loss of life that seemed to be an "abuse" of the current political atmosphere in the country.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, while noting that Ankara would welcome Hashemi if he desired to visit the country, stressed that it would be better for the top Sunni official to remain inside Iraq, in fear that leaving the country due to political pressure would cause the opposition to leave one after the other, disrupting a healthy democracy in Iraq.

"All we are trying to do in the region right now is to prevent the circumstances of another Cold War all over again," Davutoğlu told the Turkish Radio and Television, or TRT, channel over the weekend, as he expressed concern that the already fragile stability in the region would receive another blow if Iraq descends into a sectarian-based conflict.

Davutoğlu also expressed his belief that Hashemi "would not take part in a terrorist plot," he nevertheless stated that a clarification of "such serious allegations" was urgently needed.

Having fled Baghdad following the arrest warrant, Hashimi is now based in Sulaimaniya, where he is staying as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Following the emergence of the allegations in the media, Talabani had requested that the conflict be dealt with silently and within the country so as to not allow chaos to reign over Iraq once more.

Following the allegations, Hashemi spoke from Arbil last week and asked to be tried by the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country, as he accused the Baghdad judiciary of being "under the influence of the government." Hashemi also urged the Kurdish administration not to turn him in, as Maliki demanded last week, but so far the Kurdish administration has kept him safe and free in its territories. Hashemi further alleged that "Kurdish officials would be the next targets" in Maliki's alleged plans to establish his "autocratic" rule in Iraq.

Back in 2003 when ironfisted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was toppled by a U.S. intervention in the country, Iraq went through a period of almost no governance and gradually sank into sectarian strife a few years later, where thousands of people were killed every month. The U.S. tried for nine years to come up with an Iraqi government that reflected an equal share of power between blocs, but Hashemi speculated that Shiite leader Maliki has been "plotting for a long time" to kick opposition powers to the curb once the U.S. left Iraq.

Following the order for Hashemi's arrest, which Hashemi labels a "Maliki initiative," the Shiite prime minister asked parliament to fire his Sunni deputy prime minister, the second most senior Sunni politician in the administration, Reuters reported on Saturday. The Sunni official further accused Maliki of trying to establish "one-man rule" in Iraq, and said he was trying to get rid of influential opposition names to that end.

"Today Iraqis live in an atmosphere of sectarian tension as we lived through in the hard years of 2005-2007," Hashemi told Reuters in an interview, as he warned that the consequences of Maliki's alleged plot would affect the sectarian balance in the country. "Mr. Maliki knows the supporters of Tareq al-Hashemi and which community he belongs to, and, therefore, he should have thought about the negative consequences of these issues."

Hashemi said in words that Maliki's politically motivated moves against top Sunni officials would find its echoes in the streets of Baghdad, which was painted with blood last week in a scene that reminded Iraqis of the sectarian conflicts of the very recent past.

With regards to the foreign interventions in the Arab Spring region, Hashemi also criticized the foreign belief that toppling dictators would be enough to restore peace in the countries, underlining that the real difficulty laid with the "second phase" of transition, which he said was forming a democratic government in those countries, "a phase that has utterly failed in Iraq."

Although Hashemi stated that it would be very difficult for neighboring countries to help the Iraqi people stabilize after the Hussein reign, he warned that "continuous instability in Iraq would eventually affect Turkey" and that the country must help Iraqis to avert the possibility of increased power in the hands of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, or emergence of "Iranian plots against Turkey," Milliyet reported.

"We trust Turkey. We need support to stand up against the intervention of neighboring countries," Hashemi said as called on Turkey with reference to an alleged Iranian intervention in domestic Iraqi politics, steering the environment in favor of the Shiite government.

Turkey has been battling PKK terrorism for more than three decades and has lost tens of thousands of people, mostly security personnel and engages in constant contact with Iraqi officials to combat PKK terrorism. The PKK traditionally launches its attacks from bases inside northern Iraq by crossing through the mountainous border zone between Iraq and Turkey, causing uneasiness in Ankara with regards to the possibility of more freedom and strength in the hands of PKK terrorists following the political vacuum in the country.

U.S. officials comforted Turkey ahead of the pullout, saying no vacuum would come into being in Iraq, and that the country would remain stable after their forces leave the country, blocking the possibility of the emergence of chaos in the country.

"If any state head comes to Turkey and requests asylum or makes any other similar request, Turkish tradition requires us not to turn that request down," Davutoğlu further noted as he recalled that Saddam Hussein and his family were offered shelter in Turkey to "save Iraq from a disaster," and every other state head would receive "the same welcome once they enter Turkish soil."

Turkey Aims to Limit France's Mideast Role

Turkey's military and political sanctions against France over the adoption of a controversial "genocide" bill aim to limit French influence in the Middle East and Caucasus, two important regions associated with ongoing ethnic and sectarian conflicts.

Immediately after the French Parliament voted Thursday in favor of a bill penalizing the denial of the 1915 events as genocide, the Turkish government announced that it would retaliate in kind with sanctions falling into eight categories. Four of them are military-related, three are political and the last spells out the cancelation of an economic and trade meeting.

In addition to the cancelation of joint military drills and joint exchange and training programs, Turkey has canceled annual blanket over-flight permission for French state planes and will instead issue permission on a case-by-case basis. It will also halt requests for port visits by French warships.

A very important detail suggests that these sanctions are not going to be removed even if France retreats from its position and quashes the genocide bill in the Senate.

"The sanctions will continue to be valid until the Turkish government says the opposite," a Turkish diplomat recently told the Hürriyet Daily News. According to the diplomats, the measures will seriously affect French access to the Middle East and the region beyond Turkey.

"France has intense ties with so many countries in our neighborhood. It has military and other sorts of cooperation with these countries. They gained a great advantage in reaching out to these regions using the blanket permission we have long provided to them," a diplomat told the Daily News. "Now they will lose time and money in doing so."

Two of the Middle East's key countries, Syria and Lebanon, where France replaced the Ottoman Empire as the colonial power after World War I, are seen as being crucial for the entire region's stability and still have close ties with Paris. Though the turmoil in Syria precipitated rapprochement between Turkey and France, recent developments indicate that the power struggle between the two sparring countries will now be exercised in the Middle East.

"Turkey will do everything to prevent a meeting on Syria and other key topics under the aegis of France," a diplomat said.

However, this development has seriously disturbed the United States since the tension is likely to weaken the international community's position vis-à-vis Syria.

Baku Evaluates Turkish Move

The political storm between Turkey and France will also have ramifications in the Caucasus, developments suggest. Even before the adoption of the law, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu complained about France's membership in the Minsk Group at a meeting with Lamberto Zannier, secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE. The Minsk Group was established in 1992 to solve the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan and consists of France, Russia and the United States.

"We have made clear to the OSCE secretary-general that France membership in the OSCE [Minsk Group] would damage the group's works as Paris openly took sides with the Armenians on this issue due to strong pressure from the Armenian diaspora," a diplomat told the Daily News.

But the diplomat said Turkey had not made any official application to the OSCE after the adoption of the law and had not asked Azerbaijan to do so either. On Friday, President Abdullah Gül asked for France's immediate removal from the Minsk Group membership on the grounds that it had lost its neutrality on the matter.

"Evaluations on Turkey's views are underway," an Azerbaijani official told the Daily News Sunday, adding that the France's adoption of the controversial bill had caused a serious reaction in Baku as well.

Though the government has remained silent on the issue, Deputy Parliamentary Chairwoman Bahar Muradova said:"Such behavior by France puts its impartiality and objectivity in doubt as a co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group in resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

Turkish Foreign Minister Says Hashemi Should Stay in Iraq

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Saturday urged Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is facing an arrest warrant on terror charges, to remain in Iraq, but said Turkey would not turn him away if he requested asylum.

"What would be appropriate for us is that Mr Hashemi should stay within the Iraqi territory," Davutoğlu said in televised remarks broadcast by the state-run Turkish Radio and Television, adding that Turkey's doors were open to him but that he would prefer him to stay in Iraq and contribute to a solution to political the problems facing his country.

Hashemi, a member of Iraq' Sunni Arab minority who has fled to the autonomous Kurdish region, is the subject of an arrest warrant that has plunged the country into political chaos. Davutoğlu said the gravity of the allegation faced by Hashemi could not be minimised.

"This is a very serious accusation and I think it must be clarified as soon as possible," he said.

Asked about Turkey's response if the Iraqi leader requested asylum from Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq, Davutoğlu said: "Our tradition requires us not to say 'no' to any statesman who requests asylum from Turkey."

A five-member judicial panel has issued a warrant for Hashemi's arrest on terror charges.

Hashemi says that the charges are politically motivated and that he would accept trial before a court in the Iraqi Kurdish region.

Turkey Will Not be Present in Iran Foreign Intervention, Davutoglu Says

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Saturday that Turkey would not be present in a foreign intervention in Iran.

Speaking on state-run TRT 1 TV channel, Davutoğlu said the Iranian foreign minister was the foreign minister with which he held most frequent talks in the latest term, adding that those talks were sincere.

"In the last nine years, Turkish-Iranian relations have reached their best level ever. I want to make it clear that Turkey will not be present in a foreign intervention in Iran," Davutoğlu said.

Touching on a compromise reached between the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, Davutoğlu said Turkey made very active contributions to the process.

Now that the Palestinians have united under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel's arguments are no longer valid, Davutoğlu added.

Hike in MP Salaries Stirs Controversy

An amendment that significantly hiked pensions of parliamentary members has caused controversy as the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, decried the extraordinary increase and announced that disciplinary sanctions will be applied to two CHP deputies who supported the amendment.

"It is not right to increase pensions of members of Parliament in a midnight operation," CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Sunday.

The amendments that increased pensions of deputies were passed without any debate around midnight Thursday, while the French Parliament's adoption of a bill outlawing the denial of Armenian genocide allegations still dominated the country's political agenda. An initial proposal fixing lawmaker pensions to 40 percent of the president's salary was followed by a second one that raised the rate to 60 percent.

The changes, adopted as part of amendments to the Pension Fund Law, would increase lawmakers' pensions from 4,980 Turkish Liras to about 8,000 liras and make those who have served at least two years in Parliament eligible for lifetime pensions.

All four parties of Parliament backed the amendments, but the CHP was outraged by the MPs' pension increase the following day and said Tanju Özcan and Ahmet Toptaş, the two CHP deputies who backed the proposals, will face disciplinary sanctions.

"CHP backs the amendment to fix pension inequality of the retired lawmakers but is totally against the extraordinary increase," a CHP statement said. The CHP administration approves the proposal fixing lawmakers' pensions to 40 percent of the president's salary, but a proposal that raised the rate to 60 percent irked the party seniors, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

The significant increase of lawmaker pensions also prompted harsh objections from public unions, indicating that millions of pensioners expected amendments on their pensions.

"It's astonishing how the deputies are skillful on the issues related to themselves while 2 million public servants and millions of pensioners are waiting for harmonization of their pensions," Ahmet Gündoğdu, chairman of the government-backed Confederation of Public Servants Trade Unions, or Memur-Sen, said.
Confederation of Public Trade Unions, or Kamu-Sen, Chairman İsmail Hakkı Koncuk also denounced the increase, claiming the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was primarily responsible for the amendment.

President Abdullah Gül's opinion will be decisive on this amendment as he has the right to approve or reject the bill. Gül vetoed a law that reduces penalties for match fixing on grounds the amendment was "against the public conscience." Gül may veto the amendment that raised lawmakers' pensions to 60 percent of his salary, the Hürriyet Daily News wrote.

"The president considers public opinion while examining the laws. He did not turn a deaf ear to the public reactions. We saw his previous practices. He will make his decision considering public opinion," Gül's close circle said, according to Hürriyet.

On the other hand, 74 AKP deputies will not have the chance to get re-elected at the end of the current electoral period. According to the party's statute, a deputy can be elected to a maximum of three terms. Among 74 deputies who are serving their third terms are prominent figures of the AKP including Bülent Arınç, Ali Babacan, Nurettin Canikli, Hüseyin Çelik and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Can Presidential Elections be a Surprise?

While debates on President Abdullah Gül's presidential term are ongoing, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mentioned seven years for the first time. Erdoğan's Çankaya (the presidential mansion) calculations have postponed the confirmation of this subject until the beginning of 2012.

In the first week of January, the Parliamentary Constitutional Commission will meet and will make alterations to the Constitution so that Gül's presidential term ends in 2014. But this will not end the debates; on the contrary, it will rekindle them. It is highly probable that the opposition will take the amendment to the Constitutional Court.

Obviously, Erdoğan's Çankaya calculations will radically change the equilibriums starting from the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Several assumptions, estimations and questions are voiced in the corridors and lobbies of politics.

Will Erdoğan ascend to Çankaya? If he is going to try this, will he do this to be the first president elected by popular vote? Will Gül lead the party, if that is the case? If Erdoğan is elected, can he stay in Çankaya as an "unauthorized" and "ineffective" president? Will he say "yes" to Gül's leading the AKP? Or will he support another name loyal to him? Will he make use of the writing of a new constitution and propose a presidential or semi-presidential model? Will he retreat and set up a foundation and devote himself to social affairs, justifying his move with the "three-term principle" of the AKP statute?

Nobody but Erdoğan knows the answers to these precise questions whispered in the deep corridors of the AKP. The main reason of the intraparty tension is based on this. Because Erdoğan is not sharing his game plan, his close aides are stumbling.

A leading AKP official said:"If the three-term principle stays valid, only a few ministers such as Ahmet Davutoğlu, İsmet Yılmaz, Erdoğan Bayraktar and Ertuğrul Günay will be able to continue among the 25 ministers. The others have to wait a term. There are many people in this situation in the party."

If that statute article stays, the core administration of the AKP will be empty by the first elections. Several important names, such as Bülent Arınç, Ali Babacan, Binali Yıldırım and Hayati Yazıcı from the Cabinet, as well as Speaker of Parliament Cemil Çiçek and Hüseyin Çelik and Mehmet Ali Şahin from the party organization will not be able to run for office. A total of 74 deputies are covered by this rule. In other words, those names that have moved the AKP to its present position have to withdraw. There are those who want the ban to be lifted but Erdoğan is resisting.

One of the AKP founders, Cüneyt Zapsu, is one of those who know Erdoğan closely.

"Talk to people who know the prime minister well. If there is a major announcement to be made at 12:00, even if the time is 11:59, nobody knows for sure," he said from the southeastern city of Kahramanmaraş. "This includes his wife also. He says nothing to anybody. Will he become the president? Everybody says he will be, but he can draw back at the last minute and may not become the president."

Erdoğan had retreated into a similar silence until the last moment during Gül's Çankaya candidacy.

The AKP is waiting for Erdoğan's decision. And it seems as if the Çankaya process will be painful in terms of the AKP. The cards will be reshuffled whether or not Erdoğan ascends to Çankaya. Erdoğan may give clues during the 2012 autumn congress about the changes in the party's core administrators and in the cabinet and what his decision for 2014 will be. Expectations in the AKP corridors are all in that direction. Just as Zapsu, many AKP members agree that the surprise-loving Erdoğan will surprise everybody.

Core Positions in Opposition May Change Soon

The "extreme nationalist" wing within the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, is pressing for an exclusive congress to discuss statutes with external support from former leader Deniz Baykal and former general secretary Önder Sav. Their aim is to make the statutes they have created "more democratic" so that they can maintain the supporter balance and gain advantages in the party general assembly for the main congress. Because CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu knows this, he is opposing them. It is being whispered in the corridors that Kılıçdaroğlu is highlighting the names of some opponents in an effort to break the group's resistance and prevent the opposition from growing.

ECHR Option to Confront France's Decision

CHP İzmir Deputy Rıza Türmen is an experienced European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, judge. He said the motion adopted in the French Parliament that criminalizes the denial of Armenian genocide claims can be taken to court. Türmen said it could be an individual's case or it could be that of the state, but a state case could also have a political bill.

Türmen suggested another avenue, He said a case could be opened in the International Court of Justice after recognizing the authority of the court. The government is said to have noted Türmen's options.

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