Israel would risk ‘earthquake’ with misuse of Turkish airspace, PM warns

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City on Wednesday. His visit to Mexico marked the first prime ministerial-level visit from Turkey to Mexico in almost a decade.

December 12, 2009, Saturday/ 16:50:00
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that Turkey would by no means let Israel misuse Turkish airspace to carry out intelligence and surveillance missions of a neighboring country, in strongly worded remarks this week.

Bilateral relations between once-close regional allies Israel and Turkey hit a low point last winter following an Israeli offensive in Gaza that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead. Erdoğan walked out of a World Economic Forum (WEF) session in January after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Turkish-mediated talks between Israel and Syria collapsed after Ankara and Damascus said peace talks could not proceed in the Israeli-Syrian track as war raged on in Palestine. Relations continued to deteriorate after Turkey canceled a military exercise in October in which Israeli pilots were to participate and after Turkey’s state-run TV aired a dramatic series that portrayed Israeli soldiers as bloodthirsty, cruel and repressive.

Turkey and Israel’s military cooperation agreements include allowing Israeli jets to use Turkish airspace for training.

If Israel were to misuse Turkish airspace to conduct reconnaissance operations on Iran, Ankara’s reaction would resemble an “earthquake,” Erdoğan recently said in an interview when asked about claims that Israel had used Turkey’s airspace for purposes of espionage.

During an interview with Egyptian journalist Fahmi Huwaidi published this week, Erdoğan firmly denied that any such Israeli violation had occurred. The prime minister warned, however, that the consequences would be dire if Israel attempted such a move.

“[Israel] will receive a response equal to that of an earthquake,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by the English-language Jerusalem Post. Urging Israel’s leaders to refrain from “using the relationship they have with [Turkey] as a card to wage aggression on a third party,” he underlined that Ankara would not be a neutral party and stand aside with its arms folded.

In September 2007, Israel used Turkey’s airspace for a bombing run in neighboring Syria, leading to serious anger in Ankara. Israel has not disclosed details on the air strike, which some analysts speculated may have targeted a nascent nuclear reactor. Syria had denied possessing such a facility. The discovery in Turkey of fuel tanks that had apparently been dumped by returning Israeli warplanes had strained ties between the Jewish state and its only Muslim ally in the region. Ankara had demanded an explanation from Israel after it was embarrassed by the discovery of the jettisoned fuel tanks in its territory in the aftermath of the raid.

At the time Turkish officials were also astonished by newspaper reports alleging that Turkey had prior notice of the raid and allowed its airspace to be used by the Israeli jets. Turkey firmly said it would never allow its territory to be used for an act “hostile to the security of Syria.”

Erdoğan, meanwhile, has stated that he is not planning to attend next year’s meeting of the WEF in Davos.

“I will not participate in [the] Davos [meeting] this year,” Erdoğan announced during a question-and-answer session with Turkish journalists on Friday during his flight from Mexico to Turkey as he wrapped up two separate officials visits, first to Washington, D.C., and then to Mexico City.

“Maybe we will let a few of our colleagues participate,” Erdoğan added, indicating that some members of the Cabinet would likely attend the WEF meeting, scheduled for Jan. 27-31.

“Yes, it is continuing for me,” Erdoğan responded when asked whether his boycott of the WEF meetings is ongoing.

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