Turkey and Israel, two countries that have had strained relations since an Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killed nine Turks last year, are likely to face a new crisis over Turkey’s Göktürk electro-optical satellite project, which will pave the way for the Turkish military to gather its own intelligence.
The project will enable Turkey to acquire high-resolution images for military intelligence in Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. It will also strengthen Turkey’s hand in fighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Concerned that the satellite will gather images of its territory, Israel has pressured France, which is working on the construction of the satellite in cooperation with the Italian-based company Telespazio, to stop the project. Given the possibility that its efforts in France may yield no results, Israeli officials are also lobbying in Ankara.
Once the satellite is launched in 2012, Turkey will be able to sell the images it obtains to other countries as well. Israel is currently attempting to negotiate with Turkish officials in order to ensure Turkey does not sell images of Israel to other states and Palestine. However, the response from Turkish officials was clear: “We will decide how to use the images taken by our satellite.”
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, high-level officials from the Turkish Defense Ministry said: “For years, Israel has obtained images of our territory. For the first time, we will have a satellite for intelligence. Reciprocity is essential in international relations. If they observe Turkish soil, Turkey has the same right, too.”
Turkey’s defense and procurement authorities completed the deal with Telespazio for the construction and launch of the country’s first military satellite, Göktürk, in 2009. The 250-million-euro contract was signed on July 16, 2009 at a ceremony attended by representatives of Telespazio and top Turkish officials, including Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül and Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) head Murad Bayar.
The agreement includes the provision of an Earth-observation satellite equipped with a high-resolution optical sensor, the building of an integration and test center for satellites in Turkey and the entire ground control system that will carry out in-orbit operations, data acquisition and processing.
In September, Ankara slammed Israel with sanctions that include reduced diplomatic ties and a hold on all military agreements in the immediate aftermath of details being leaked of a UN report on the Gaza flotilla attack. Turkey has demanded an apology from Israel, compensation for the families of the flotilla victims and the removal of the Gaza blockade before the countries can normalize relations. The UN report revealed it considers the Israeli navy’s blockade of Gaza to be legal.