Recep Tayyip Erdogan AP June 6, 2010
A banner featuring a picture of Turkey PM A banner featuring a picture of Turkey PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan outside a souvenir shop in Gaza City outside a souvenir shop in Gaza City, June 6, 2010. Photo by AP
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A claim that Israel is using wiretapping equipment it sold Ankara to listen in on Turkish citizens is making headlines in that country.

According to the pro-government newspaper Taraf, the Turkish army's deputy chief of staff, Aslan Guner, purchased sophisticated wiretapping equipment in Israel in 2007 to aid Turkey in fighting the Kurdish PKK, which is considered a terror group by Turkey.

However, the newspaper claims the Israel Defense Forces communications branch has allegedly used the equipment to listen in on 2,000 Turkish citizens, including political activists, members of opposition parties and academics.

According to information Taraf received from a senior army officer, Turkey gave Israel technical details of the GSM, or Global System for Mobile Communications, used in Turkish cell phones, so it could conform the equipment to it. This information, according to the officer, allows Israel to listen in on the cell phone conversations of any Turkish citizen.

In response to the allegations, Guner, who at the time was also head of military intelligence, said that the equipment purchase had been authorized by the Turkish Defense Ministry and that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had also signed it.

"The equipment was purchased to fight terror but if someone listened to other people it should be exposed," Guner said.

The Turkish army said in a statement that it has launched an investigation into whether the system was used illegally.

Political activists allegedly targeted by the wiretaps are planning to sue those responsible, as Turkish law prohibits the military's electronic communications command from installing wiretapping equipment. Only Turkey's national intelligence organization, the police and the gendarmerie, a branch of the military responsible for maintaining public order, may install such equipment, after receiving permission from the court and the Communications Ministry.

Though Israel supplies Turkey with aerial drones and electronics used to fight terror, Ankara has also accused Israel of being behind PKK attacks. PKK actions increased immediately after the flotilla to Gaza, and critics allege that Israel wants to use them to show that it can strike at Turkey's soft underbelly.

Report: U.S. to cancel drills

The anti-government newspaper Hurriyet reported yesterday that the United States planned to cancel its participation in military exercises with Turkey in October, ostensibly to force Turkey to invite Israel, which has taken part in the exercises since 2001.

However, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said the U.S. had already participated in two such exercises this year and traditionally did not take part in more than two per year.

The spokesman made no reference to Israel's exclusion. But last year, after Turkey excluded Israel from a joint exercise, both the United States and Italy canceled their participation.