Turkey PM: My people rejected Israeli participation in NATO drill
Turkish paper quotes top military official as saying Gaza op was not reason for canceling drill.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said that "diplomatic sensitivities" led his government to ban Israel from a joint NATO air force drill, French news agency AFP reported.
"There is military cooperation between Turkey and Israel...but currently there are diplomatic sensitivities that we have to take into consideration," AFP quoted Edrogan as telling the Dubai-based channel Al-Arabiya.
"We have taken the conscience of our people into consideration when we decided.... I had to be the voice that expresses the existence of my people and my people were rejecting Israel's participation.
"We discussed it with the responsible parties and said yes, these drills will take place but Israel will not take part in them," he said.
Meanwhile, a Turkish newspaper reported Wednesday that the reason Turkey banned Israel from this week's NATO air force exercises was "yet another delay in the delivery of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs," and not Turkish opposition to Israel's Gaza offensive, the newspaper Today's Zaman quoted a senior Turkish air force official as saying.
On Sunday, Foreign Ministry sources said that Turkish military officials had approached the Israel Defense Forces recently with a surprising demand that Israel refrain from participating in the drill, due to the IDF's activity in Gaza. The exercise was canceled after the U.S. and Italy pulled their participation.
The Turkish official told Today's Zaman that the deal struck between Israel and Turkey was supposed to involve a shipment of Israeli-made spy drones, known as Herons, to Turkey, but that the shipment did not arrive on time.
"Turkey needs those vehicles in its fight against terror. What led to the recent crisis between Turkey and Israel was the delay in the delivery," the official said.
Several years ago, Turkey signed a deal to purchase 10 Herons from Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit for a sum of $180 million. Israeli media reported that Turkey was considering scrapping the deal when Israel failed to meet production deadlines, but Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said in May that Turkey would not break the contract. The Israeli company later announced that it would deliver four Herons in August, followed by another two and then the last four by the end of October.
The Turkish army has yet to use two of the 10 drones, which arrived in Turkey last November after an almost two-year delay, due to persistent technical problems, the Turkish paper reported. The report went on to quote Turkish government spokesperson and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek as saying that a proposal for the cancellation of the drill came from the General Staff as a response to yet another delay in the delivery of the Israeli UAVs to Turkey. "The proposal for cancellation came from the General Staff, not the government. However, there was no disagreement between the two bodies on the decision," Cicek was quoted as saying.
The report stressed that the Turkish government had no hand in the decision to cancel the exercise. "The Anatolian Eagle [exercise] is an organization of the Turkish Armed Forces. It is up to the air forces and the General Staff to decide on which countries will participate in the exercises. The government has not interfered in the decision," Cicek was quoted as saying.
The Turkish-Israeli crisis reached a peak on Jan. 29 after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a panel discussion in Davos in protest of Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also commented on the recent drill crisis and called on every country to refrain from any act that could harm the atmosphere of peace and stability in the region.