Military manoeuvres anger Arab world

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The Independent Online
Israeli and Turkish warships together with a United States destroyer conducted naval manoeuvres in the east Mediterranean yesterday, sparking denunciations in the Arab world of the new military alliance between Israel and Turkey.

The 12-hour-long exercise, called "Reliant Mermaid", took place off the Israeli port of Haifa. Five vessels - the Israeli missile boats Lahav and Nitzahon, the Turkish frigates Yavuz and Zafer and the USS John Rodgers - carried out a simulated search-and-rescue exercise looking for survivors of a supposedly sunken fishing vessel.

The operation underlines the strength of the military link between Israel and Turkey, the two strongest military powers in the Middle East, which has developed since they signed a military agreement in 1996. Yitzhak Mordechai, the Israeli defence minister, agreed yesterday that there was a security aspect to the manoeuvres, the first of their kind between Israel and Turkey.

"[They] are not against any other country. It's only to be able to coordinate and to have exercises together," he said.

Under the 1996 agreement Israeli aircraft can carry out exercises in Turkish airspace. Israel has also signed contracts worth $700m (pounds 440m) to upgrade Turkish airforce F-4 Phantoms and F-5s.

Syria, sandwiched between Turkey and Israel, feels threatened by the new alliance, as do Iran, Iraq and Greece, Turkey's other neighbours. Turkish troops have repeatedly entered northern Iran in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas.

Egypt believes that its value to the US as a strategic ally is being reduced. An alliance with Turkey may also make it easier for Israel to freeze the Oslo accords with the Palestinians and face a renewed cold war with the Arab world. Only Jordan sent a military contingent to yesterday's exercise.

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