In addition to a recent deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations over Israel’s refusal to apologize to Turkey for last year’s flotilla incident as well as the main opposition party’s statements indicating support for the Syrian regime, Turkey’s decision to host an early-warning radar portion of a NATO missile defense system has become a topic for domestic politics, with the two main opposition parties accusing the government of protecting other countries’ interests and not Turkey’s national interests.
During a joint press conference with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded to criticism leveled at the government for its involvement in the NATO missile defense system.
When reminded of comments suggesting that this system was developed for the protection of Israel, Erdoğan responded by saying that the installation of the early warning radar is being undertaken by NATO. All reviews have been carried out thoroughly and in detail in coordination with the General Staff and the Foreign Ministry.
“No steps that will trouble Turkey have been taken. All of these [comments] are plain rumors. We believe the step which has been taken is important for our region. That is why we have made our decision as a government by conducting the broadest-based consultations,” Erdoğan said.
At the NATO summit of heads of state and government in Lisbon last year, Turkey formally backed NATO plans to build a missile defense system, saying it would also contribute to national defense against the growing threat of ballistic missile proliferation.
The summit came after months of discussions between Turkey and the United States, in particular over some aspects of the proposed shield, most notably whether countries such as Turkey’s neighbors Iran and Syria should be named as potential threats.
Ankara insisted that the proposed system should provide protection to all member states and that reference to any country would undermine the defensive nature of the shield by antagonizing countries singled out as a threat. The Turkish insistence paid off in the end as the NATO summit endorsed the missile defense system plans without naming any country as a potential threat.
Yet, neither the length of discussions at the time nor the prime minister’s remarks have appeared to satisfy the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on the function and benefit of the missile defense system and the radar to be deployed in Turkey.
“It was said that ‘the target is not Iran’; it is very obvious that Iran is the target. If it is not Iran, is the target Papua New Guinea?” CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Muharrem İnce asked sarcastically at a press conference on Wednesday. “The [ruling] AK Party [Justice and Development Party] is a party which on the one hand threatens Israel while on the other protects Israel from Iran,” İnce said.
MHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Oktay Vural was another politician who was not satisfied with the government’s explanation on the issue.
“The government has to explain to us where the threat is coming from and the necessity of such an involvement in the missile defense system. Both NATO and US sources are saying that the system is being formed in response to threats from Iran. Unfortunately, the government is not giving us any explanation on these issues,” Vural told Sunday’s Zaman.
“We don’t believe it appropriate for Turkey to take such a step without any questioning. This system is directly designed as a shield against missile systems targeting Israel. Taking this step without informing the public sufficiently shows that Turkey’s foreign policy is now not centered in Ankara but instead that the government is assuming a foreign policy based on international interests. If a threat really stems from Iran, the government should clearly explain the extent of this threat. The government’s decision will make Turkey a target for missiles. We are convinced that the government’s move is related to Washington’s interests rather than Turkey’s security and that this step is being taken in line with Israeli demands,” Vural said.
“The government should make clear whether it sees Iran or Israel as a threat. We will have to see all together the consequences of a policy that sees Iran as a threat,” he added.
When approached by Sunday’s Zaman for his response to the criticism by the CHP and the MHP, AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Ahmet Aydın reiterated what the prime minister said this week, while underlining that the deployment of the early-warning radar is solely an issue within the framework of NATO activities.
Also recalling that the government has delicately worked in coordination with the General Staff and the Foreign Ministry when it comes to the details of the radar system, Aydın ruled out assumptions that the deployment would turn Turkey into a target.
“The polemics that have arisen on this issue are far from serious. Our government has shown and will continue to show the required sensitivity at every step of the issue,” Aydın told Sunday’s Zaman.