My latest column published last Tuesday attempted to analyze deepening mistrust in Turkish-Israeli relations in the wake of an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship last year in May, resulting in the death of eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish-American.
This mistrust became more apparent after the latest row concerning a Turkish spy satellite project named Göktürk and contracted to the Italian company Telespazio, teaming up with French electronics company Thales.
At the center of the controversy have been Israel’s attempts to influence Telespazio to not allow Turkey to take pictures of Israeli territory with the Göktürk satellite. This has prompted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to criticize Israel, though he did not mention it by name.
“We are sending our Göktürk satellite to space in 2013. Some people are disturbed by this. They say, ‘Turkey will watch us from space in the future.’ You have been watching us for decades,” Erdoğan told young members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) last Friday.
According to a senior Turkish procurement official, the Göktürk deal signed with Telespazio in 2009 is clear in the sense that it does not stipulate any restrictions on Turkish coverage of areas while taking pictures. But Turkey is a state that abides by international law and Israel should not have a concern, the same official stressed.
The fact that relations between the two countries have hit a historic low has not had a negative impact on the Turkish defense industry since local companies have now been able to produce some technologies that Turkey used to rely on Israel for, such as tank technology, the same official added. Neither have there been any projects with Israel that have not been completed, he recalled. The most recent arms imports that Turkey has had from Israel have been six Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
Before Turkish-Israeli political relations began deteriorating gradually since late 2007, when Israel raided Hamas-controlled Gaza, causing the deaths of over 1,000 civilians, Israel had ranked second after the US in arms exports to Turkey. During the second term of the ruling AK Party, which has demonstrated more sensitivity to the cause of Palestine than any other Turkish government, relations between the two countries saw a gradual decline in all spheres, hitting a historic low. This state of relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv has also had a negative impact on relations, mainly in arms trade between Turkey and its close NATO ally, the US. The US Congress has already taken a negative stance toward Turkey due to the unresolved problems between Turkey and Armenia.
Having a strong Armenian constituency as well as being influenced by the strong Israel lobby, Congress is inclined to not give authorization to the US administration for arms sales to Turkey. For example, President Barack Obama has long been refraining from seeking authorization from Congress for Turkish requests to purchase US arms. This is due to Obama’s fears that Congress will deny authorization and that it will strain ties between the two NATO allies.
The arms that Turkey seeks to import from the US and for which Obama has not submitted a request for approval include four Predator UAVs and two armed Reaper UAVs as well as six C-130 transport aircraft. Saudi Arabia agreed last year to sell six US-made C-130s in its inventory. But they can only be delivered once Congress authorizes their sale. Turkey decided to buy C-130s as a stopgap measure since a European consortium of which Ankara is also a participant has long delayed completion of the manufacture of A400M transport aircraft.
When you deal with Israel, you deal with the US. Whether we like it or not, this is the golden rule that should be borne in mind. But Israel has received many benefits from restoring ties with Turkey, too, at a time when turmoil in the Middle East continues.
Clarification from Telespazio
The company sent the following clarification note upon the publication of my column on March 16, 2011, headlined “Turkish-Israeli mistrust deepens.”
Telespazio, a Finmeccanica/Thales company, the prime contractor of the Göktürk Earth Observation Program, points out the following:
Telespazio never attempted to buy the Göktürk optical sensor from an Israeli company.
The Göktürk satellite is manufactured in France by Thales Alenia Space, a Thales/Finmeccanica company, using state of the art technology for the high-resolution optical sensor.
Göktürk is on track for a launch window in line with contractual obligations.
Published in Turkey's TODAY ZAMAN on March 17.