The Turkish foreign minister has categorically dismissed claims that Turkey's withdrawal of its veto of Israeli participation in NATO is linked to the alliance's decision to deploy Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border.
“This is absolutely not related to the Patriots,” Ahmet Davutoğlu said in a televised interview on Friday. “Those claiming so don't know how NATO works,” he added. The Turkish foreign minister criticized the reports for being misleading, claiming that they intend to cast a shadow over Turkey's diplomatic success.
Last week, Israeli and Turkish media outlets reported that Israel would be excluded from NATO's major military activities, including joint exercises, for the year 2013 but had been given limited authorization to attend some NATO activities.
Officials of both countries celebrated the decision as a victory against the other.
Relations soured between Turkey and Israel after eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American were killed when the Israeli navy attacked an international humanitarian aid flotilla, of which the Turkish Mavi Marmara was a part, attempting to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in May 2010. Following the attack, Turkey vowed to pursue every opportunity from within international platforms to put pressure on Israel diplomatically.
The Israeli media claimed earlier this week that Turkey's consent for Israel's participation in a limited number of programs under a NATO partnership was the result of a compromise from an earlier position.
“At the last minute -- and I think it was dependent on the Patriots -- it was approved,” an anonymous Israeli source was quoted as saying in one daily, claiming that the compromise came after Turkey and NATO agreed to the deployment of Patriot air defense missiles, which will be used in the case of a missile attack on NATO-member Turkey's territory from conflict-torn Syria.
Davutoğlu dismissed the reports and said the Israeli media had “conducted an operation” by claiming that Turkey had eased conditions within NATO on the alliance's cooperation with Israel. The foreign minister also complained about some news reports in the Turkish media which he said relied more on Israeli media reports than on statements by Turkish officials.
Davutoğlu also defended the deployment of Patriot missiles against what he called possible threats from Syria and downplayed increased criticism from Tehran, which argues the missile system is directed against Iran. Reiterating that the Patriot missile system won't be used unless there is an attack, Davutoğlu said this system is not a threat to Iran and that the Patriot systems will be removed once the threat to Turkey's security is gone.
Iran's civilian and military officials have strongly criticized Turkey for hosting NATO's Patriot missiles and have described the deployment as “provocative” and “dangerous.”
Turkey and Iran have been at odds over how to end the 21-month-old Syrian uprising and NATO's decision to deploy Patriot missiles in Turkey's territory. While Tehran has been the staunchest backer of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Turkey maintains that Assad must step down to make way for a democratic transition. Tehran has accused Turkey and Qatar of helping opposition forces fighting to topple Assad's regime, a key Iranian ally.
Davutoğlu avoided directly acknowledging that there is an active threat from Syria to Turkey but said that the Turkish government should always be ready to defend its people and territory.