In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman in Brussels last week, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen added his voice to the growing regional controversy over the nascent missile defense system, telling Iranians they have no reason to be worried unless they are planning to attack a NATO territory and making clear that deterioration in Turkey's ties with NATO's regional partner, Israel -- no matter how undesirable -- will have no effect on Ankara's place within the 28-member alliance.
"I have followed these statements. They are completely unfounded, because NATO's missile defense system is a defensive system. It is not directed against any specific state; it is directed against a threat, a missile threat," Rasmussen said, adding that there are now more than 30 countries in the world that either have missile capabilities or are in the process of acquiring them. "Some of them have a range that can hit a NATO territory. This is the reason we have decided to establish the NATO system: to defend, not to attack.
"So, actually, to speak quite bluntly about it, you can only consider our missile defense system a threat if you have an intention or an idea that you want to attack a NATO territory. If you don't have that intention, then our system is really, purely a defensive system with an aim to protect our populations against any missile threat, wherever it might come from," Rasmussen said.
NATO plans to announce an "interim" missile defense capability at its upcoming Chicago summit in May, focused at this stage only on the protection of forward-deployed troops, and a system with the capability to protect NATO populations and territory in Europe is expected to be fully operational in 2020. The X-Band radar deployed at a military base in Kürecik, a town in eastern Anatolia, has already become operational.
Turkey in Flurry of Diplomacy for Syria Conference to End Violence
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has spearheaded a sustained diplomatic effort in Washington to foster interest in a proposed conference on Syria that will explore ways to further isolate its embattled President Bashar al-Assad, support his enemies and end the ongoing violence.
He also conveyed Turkey's position on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues with members of Congress and in his speeches to various think tanks.
Davutoğlu announced last week that Turkey is considering delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Syria under the provisions of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, located in Geneva.
Davutoğlu told reporters in Washington that Turkey is preparing to mobilize alternative United Nations mechanisms following a veto by Russia and China at the UN Security Council. In this context, Davutoğlu appealed to the UN's top human rights body on Friday to send humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.
Strained Ties with Turkey Cost Israel's Elbit Millions
Israeli electronic defense firm Elbit Systems said on Sunday it expected a $60 to $65 million drop in 2011 fourth quarter net profit after it lost a contract with a foreign customer -- identified by the Israeli media as Turkey -- that the government did not support.
The company announced in December that the Israeli government, for political reasons, did not renew its authorization to complete a $90 million contract awarded several years ago.
Elbit has declined to name the foreign customer. Israeli media reports said the contract was to supply Turkey's air force with surveillance systems.
"The company is currently in discussions with the Israeli Ministry of Defense regarding arrangements with respect to claims of the company as a result of cessation of the program," Elbit said in a statement.
The ministry, which also would not state who the customer was, said in December that as a policy it does not elaborate how or why it makes its defense export-policy decisions.
Ties between once-close allies Israel and Turkey have deteriorated in recent years and reached a crisis point in May 2010 over Israel's killing of nine Turks aboard a ship trying to breach its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a leaked speech in 2010 that Ankara's newly appointed intelligence chief was a "friend of Iran" who might betray Israel's secrets.
Asked about the decision not to renew Elbit's authorization, an Israeli security official said "relations with the country in question are extremely important. Decisions on this particular matter were directly related to the specific system itself and not the general relations between the countries."
Elbit posted $43.7 million of net profit in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Probe Exposed PLKK Spy Ring, Deputy Prime Minister Says
Giving the government's first damage report after a Turkish prosecutor called senior intelligence officers to testify in an alleged terror probe, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said many spies had been uncovered and "years of efforts have been squandered" as a result of procedural errors in the investigation.
Bozdağ argued the turmoil arose from the misinterpretation of missions carried out by National Intelligence Agency, or MİT, officers.
"I cannot think of a greater mistake than to consider people who have infiltrated terrorists as people cooperating with terrorists. One cannot infiltrate them without committing a crime. The charges stem not from the law but from interpretations," he said in a televised interview Sunday, adding that giving a task to the agency other than gathering intelligence was not possible. "MİT is tasked with gathering intelligence and informing the relative parties; intervening at the time of action is not its job."
Ankara was left perplexed last week after a specially authorized prosecutor summoned MİT Chief Hakan Fidan and two retired officials for questioning over past talks with the outlawed Kurdish militants in Oslo in the investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
Fidan, as well as Afet Güneş and Emre Taner, did not appear in court to provide testimony, arguing the prosecutors needed the prime minister's permission to question them.
The prosecutors sought to question the suspects in relation to a number of claims, including charges pertaining to MİT operatives who allegedly transgressed their duties to infiltrate the KCK and gather intelligence by actually facilitating the KCK's administration instead, according to media reports. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey as well as the United States and the European Union.
The deputy prime minister also brushed aside the criticism and rejected comparisons with the case of former Army Chief Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who was arrested last month on charges of "leading a terrorist organization" despite a wave of outrage.
On the suggestions that the government itself was the real target, Bozdağ said: "To give credit to any of those scenarios is to accept that foreign powers control the judiciary. The implications are in any case terrifying. We believe that basing the reality on such suggestions will greatly harm the country."
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is set to rush through Parliament this week an amendment aimed at shielding MİT members, risking fresh tensions with opposition parties infuriated by the bill.
The proposed amendment to the act regulating the MİT said the agency's employees and those assigned to a special task by the prime minister can't be prosecuted without his permission for crimes that arise from the nature of their duties, crimes they commit while carrying out their duties or for offenses that fall under the jurisdiction of special authority courts.
The draft will be taken up at Parliament's Justice Commission tomorrow, and the AKP is expected to expedite procedures as much as possible so as to have the bill approved in the General Assembly this week.
The bill appears set to fuel fresh tensions with the opposition, which argues the amendment is tailor-made for a single person and thus unacceptable. Some observers said the vote could also prove another test for AKP unity in the wake of the recent controversy over the match-fixing law that exposed cracks in the party ranks.
The leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, vowed his party would do all it could to stop the bill. He called instead for the abolition of the special authority courts, which he has long denounced as tools to bully government critics and suppress the opposition.
"This bill would enable Erdoğan to set up special gangs within the state. This is a massacre of law," Kılıçdaroğlu said over the weekend. "There is one thing the prime minister fails to understand. If you encourage state institutions to act as hit men against each other today, you don't know whom the barrel will point at tomorrow."
Turkey faced a growing problem of democracy, Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding "it's time to see the reality and wake up from sweet dreams."
Co-Chair of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, Selahattin Demirtaş said: "The government must give up on any arrangement that is tailor-made for a certain person. It should focus on measures that would serve democracy such as the abolition of the special-authority courts and the anti-terror law."
The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, insisted Fidan should agree to questioning.
"If soldiers are testifying, the MİT chief should also," MHP Deputy Chair Reşat Doğru said.
Recovering Erdogan to be Back in Days
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to return to work in Ankara later this week after a second operation over the weekend that officials described as the final phase of the intestinal surgery he began Nov. 26.
"He will be back in Ankara this week," an aide to Erdoğan said Sunday, declining to give other details.
The prime minister's wife, Emine Erdoğan, told reporters that his health condition was "better than ever."
"Do not worry, he is very well and sends his best wishes to you all," she said after an opening ceremony in Istanbul. "Pray for him. We want your prayers."
When asked when her husband would be discharged from hospital, Emine Erdoğan replied, "very soon, hopefully."
In a written statement released Saturday, Erdoğan's office said "the second and last phase of the prime minister's digestive system operation was completed successfully, with a procedure that took about 30 minutes. The treatment was concluded as originally planned and the prime minister's health is very good."
The operation was performed late Friday at a hospital in Istanbul, close to where Erdoğan visited the graves of his mother and father earlier in the day. It came amid political jitters over a probe targeting Turkey's intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, a close confidant of the prime minister. Erdoğan reportedly stayed at the hospital over the weekend.
The U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen was among the well-wishers after the surgery, which coincided with growing speculation of a rift between Erdoğan and the influential Gülen community, whose support the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has largely enjoyed.
Praising Erdoğan as a "source of pride for the nation," Gülen said he always prayed for the prime minister and voiced hope he would return to work "with brand new dynamism," according to a message carried on the Web site of the Zaman daily, which is close to the community.
Main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said he had called Erdoğan after the surgery to extend his "get well" messages, but was not able to speak to him personally.
In a television interview last month, Erdoğan denied rumors he had cancer. He explained that doctors removed polyps from his intestines that carried the risk of developing into cancer.
CHP's Second Convention Rescheduled
The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, has rescheduled an extraordinary convention demanded by intra-party dissidents, bringing it forward from March 1 to Feb. 27, a day after the first convention was called by CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
The decision was made by a commission working on amendments to the party statute. The two conventions will have different agendas, but both pertain to reforms in the party statute which, the dissidents say, currently entitles Kılıçdaroğlu to "sultan's powers."
The dissidents were the first to call an extraordinary convention, but Kılıçdaroğlu outmaneuvered them and called his own one first in a bid to forestall any amendments that could weaken his standing. He has promised that the dissidents' demands for reform and broader intra-party democracy would be taken into consideration.
Anka Unmanned Plane to Take Off this Summer
The Anka, a medium-altitude and long-endurance, or MALE, unmanned aerial vehicle designed and produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries for more than $150 million, should be in the skies this summer, according to the manufacturers. But even the Anka's makers can't say how effective it will be against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, militants, the purpose for which it has been designed.
Efforts to design the Anka were launched in 2004 with $150 million for five aircraft, and eight years later, the drone, whose name was inspired from a mythical flying creature, has made several partly successful test-flights.
The drone's A version is a reconnaissance unit and the planned B version is projected to become the UAV's unmanned combat aerial vehicle. The A version is ready, but it is not known if the B version will appear soon.
Anka A had its maiden flight in December 2010, flying at an altitude of 10,000 feet for 14 minutes, but it ended in crash-landing. The drone's specifications call for a flight time of almost 24 hours at 30,000 feet. Two later flights also ended up in crash-landings, although their flight in the air was extended.
The drone had its first successful test flight on Oct. 25, 2011. Despite being at sub-standard flight conditions, the footage released by Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, put speculation about the crash-landings at a rest. On Nov. 22, 2011, the Anka held the follow-up test flight for six hours at an altitude of 20,000 feet.
The Anka's length is eight meters, wingspan is 17 meters and maximum takeoff weight is more than 1,500 kilos. The drone's eventual success prompted the Defense Industry Executive Committee, the country's ultimate decision-making body on defense procurement body led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to authorize the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, the defense industry agency, or SSM, to sign a nearly $150 million deal with TAI buy 10 Anka UAVs off-the-shelf. Simultaneously, the SSM released a request for information to buy engines for the drone.
This became Turkey's first deal for SSM to sign with a local or non-local entity to buy a product that has not met the project requirements in test-flights. The aim is to put the drones in service against the PKK this summer.
Turkey has increasingly been trying to use UAVs against PKK capabilities in an area in its southeast, bordering Iraq and Iran.
In the past, Turkey used to get UAV needs from allies like Israel. But relations with Israel are in deep freeze since May 2010, when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish-led aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turks on board. Turkey last year downgraded all military ties with Israel.
In one of the last major deals signed with Israel in 2007, Turkey was to buy 10 Heron UAV made by a team of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Turkey's Aselsan for $180 million. Nine of the Israeli UAVs are still in service, but Turkey had problems with the crafts as they frequently need upgrades in Israel.
Since the end of 2007, the United States has been involved in efforts to provide the Turkish military with active intelligence against the PKK. Using information gathered by U.S. drones, the military has hit PKK positions in northern Iraq several times since then.
The U.S. has agreed to a request by Turkey to transfer four MQ-1 Predator drones used for that purpose to bases inside Turkey as the U.S. forces prepared to withdraw from Iraq, moving the four drones to the Incirlik base inside Turkey.
Turkey separately has requested to buy four MQ-1 Predators and two MQ-9 Reaper drones from the U.S., to which a positive response has yet to be given since the request was made in early 2009.
Turkish Jets Bomb PKK Hideouts
Turkish jets have bombed outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, hideouts in northern Iraq, the Turkish General Staff said Sunday.
"After surveillance and target analysis in northern Iraq, Turkish Air Force jets hit with efficiency two terrorist targets (shelter and cave) in Zap and Hakurk regions at night on Feb. 11, 2012," the General Staff statement said. The statement also said jets returned to their bases safely, without giving any details on possible casualties of the PKK militants.
The PKK claimed it had not sustained any casualties in the air strikes.
"Turkish warplanes bombed the Zab and Khowakirk areas beginning at 9 p.m. on Saturday [Feb. 11] and lasted for a period of one hour," a senior PKK member was quoted as saying by the Agence France-Presse.
TheDoğan news agency said the air strikes caused damage to "farms and a number of villages" but no PKK or civilian casualties, the report said.
Turkey has stepped up air operations on PKK militants in northern Iraq over the past six months after an increase in PKK attacks on security forces inside Turkey.
Dozens Detained Across Turkey in New Wave of KCK Arrests
Dozens of people were detained early Monday for suspected links to the terrorist Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, during operations carried out across Turkey in roughly nine provinces.
The private Cihan news agency said among the premises raided on Monday were the offices of the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK, the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services, or SES, and All Municipal and Local Administration Workers' Union, or TÜM BEL-SEN, all in Ankara.
Cihan added that six people had been detained by the Ankara Police Department's counterterrorism teams. Ten people in İzmir and 10 others in Gaziantep were also detained on Monday as part of the KCK investigation, news reports said.
The Batman Governor's Office said in a statement on Monday that 24 people suspected of acting on the KCK's orders were also detained in the province. The statement added that the detainees are suspected of having thrown Molotov cocktails and participated in illegal demonstrations in the province.
The investigation into the KCK, which prosecutors say is a group that controls the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and other affiliated groups, started in December 2009 and a large number of suspected KCK members, including several mayors from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or BDP, have been detained.
The suspects are accused of various crimes, including membership in a terrorist organization, aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and attempting to destroy the country's unity and integrity.
BDP officials say the investigation is the government's way of suppressing BDP politicians, denying any links between the suspects and any terrorist organizations.