Military deal softens Turks' shift to Islam with

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Turkey signed a military co-operation agreement with Israel yesterday in a move that balanced recent diplomatic and trade initiatives towards the Islamic world by the Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, and his new Islamist-led government. Turkish officials said the deal with Israel covered co-operation in the defence industry and was similar to agreements that Turkey has with about 20 other countries.

However, the deal was unusual in that it was the second joint military accord between Turkey and Israel this year. A previous agreement, which was signed before Mr Erbakan's Islamist Welfare Party came to power last June, allowed Israeli pilots to train in Turkish air space and attracted criticism from Iran and other Islamic countries.

Mr Erbakan, who is Turkey's first Islamist leader in more than 70 years, caused a stir in the United States this month when he chose Iran for his first foreign trip as prime minister. He signed a $20bn (pounds 12.9bn) deal to build a pipeline and import gas from Iran into Turkey, and followed it up with a range of important trade agreements signed during visits to Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Singapore.

These measures aroused suspicions in Washington that Mr Erbakan might be hoping to reduce Turkey's emphasis on its ties with the West in favour of closer involvement with the Islamic world. After he returned from his eastern trip, however, Mr Erbakan said: "We want to develop our relations with the West, and at the same time we want to raise to the highest level our relations with brotherly Muslim countries."

When in opposition, Mr Erbakan spoke out against the military training accord with Israel, but quietly lifted his objections after coming to power. His decision to keep this arrangement in place and to sign a new defence co-operation deal with Israel underlines there are limits to the pro-Islamist slant of his foreign policy.

More evidence to this effect came when Mr Erbakan permitted the renewal of Operation Provide Comfort, the US-led mission which uses a Turkish air base to protect Kurds in northern Iraq. The Welfare Party's deputy leader, Riza Ulucak, said: "Our stand is not one of abandoning one bloc and approaching another. We do not feel enmity towards anyone. However, we feel that it is our most natural right to give priority to our own interests."