Turkey 'Not Drifting Closer to Iran', Analysts Say

Western fears that NATO-allied Ankara is cementing an 'Islamist alliance' are unfounded, argues the International Crisis Group in a new report.

Haaretz Service
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Despite a near-breakdown in relations with Israel and cordial ties with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Turkey is not realigning itself with Tehran, according to a report released Thursday.

Turkey's moderately Islamist government has been at odds with Israel, once its staunchest regional ally, since the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip nearly two years ago.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan signing a nuclear deal in Tehran on May 17, 2010.Credit: AP

But in its latest report, the International Crisis Group, a non-profit conflict resolution initiative, says such fears are unfounded.

Turkish relations with Israel, already rocky, reached crisis point in late May when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid boat.

Following the raid, harsh condemnations of Israel from Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, coupled with his attempts to intercede with the Ahmadinejad regime in negotiations to halt Iran's nuclear program, have sparked fears in Israel and the West that Turkey is basing its foreign policy on an 'Islamist' ideology.

But according to the ICG, Turkey shares many of the goals of its Western partners, remains closely tied to America and Europe and should continue to play an important role in resolving Middle Eastern and other conflicts.

Turkey has changed greatly over the past two decades, becoming richer, more self-confident and no longer dependent on Washington or Brussels alone, said ICG analyst Hugh Pope. Despite the recent crises of confidence, all sides need to remember they still have a lot in common, and these commonalities remain a strong basis for improving stability in the region.

The ICG urged Israel and Turkey to work together to restore ties, arguing that the that Erdogans efforts, with Brazil, to secure a diplomatic settlement between Tehran and the international community Tehran's nuclear program should not be viewed as Turkey allying with Iran.

Ankara had some U.S. encouragement in engaging with Iran, the report said, and it has the same aim as its Western partners: ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

Israel and the West accuse Iran of using a civilian energy program as cover for an illegal atomic bomb project, a charge Iran denies.

"The U.S. and the EU should put aside clichés about Turkey 'joining an Islamist bloc' or 'turning its back on the West'," the report said.

Israel, meanwhile, should now take advantage of a UN-led panel of inquiry into the flotilla raid to repair its relationship with Turkey, if necessary reassuring Ankara by prosecuting any soldiers or officials suspected of wrongdoing, the report said.

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