Jerusalem draws in the Turks to spy on Arab foes

Robert Fisk
Wednesday 24 February 1999 00:02
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FOR MONTHS, Israeli and Turkish intelligence officers have manned joint listening posts on the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian borders, sharing information on guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and Syrian and Iraqi military movements.

In Ankara and Jerusalem, Israeli and Turkish officials have also shared their experiences of two similar occupation zones - Israel's in southern Lebanon and Turkey's so-called "security zone" in northern Iraq. Israeli jets now regularly fly along the Turkish-Syrian frontier and - according to Syrian sources - over northern Iraq as well.

Encirclement of Syria lies at the heart of this still-growing alliance. When Syria put the Kurdish PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan on a plane to Moscow last year - the first part of a journey of exile that has ended in a Turkish prison - it was a sign of just how concerned Damascus had become by Turkey's power and the threats it was uttering. Indeed, the warnings to Syria from Sulieman Demirel, the Turkish President, to end its support for Mr Ocalan were almost identical in wording to those issued by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, to Syria when faced by Hizbollah attacks against Israeli occupation troops in southern Lebanon. "We reserve the right to retaliate against Syria," Mr Demirel said last October. "All necessary measures will be taken over Syria if the need arises."

But the extent of Turkish-Israeli military co-operation is still largely unknown to the Arab states, and to many in Israel itself. The Turks are interested in purchasing Israel's "Propine" early-warning system and its top secret "Wall" anti-missile technology, which is partly funded by the United States.

The upgrading by Israel of Turkey's Phantom jets is already costing Ankara pounds 382m, a small price for the Turkish military, which has pounds 19bn to spend on hardware over the next 10 years. Turkey has given Israel permission to fly its jets through Turkish airspace to attack Iraq if Israel is targeted by Iraqi missiles as it was in the 1991 Gulf War.

Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, first revealed the extent of Turkish-Israeli co-operation in a remarkable - but largely unpublicised - lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington five months ago. He spoke only vaguely of the joint listening posts on the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian borders but described them as "an important facet of our intelligence gathering capability". There was also, Professor Inbar added, "co-operation on terror".

The alliance was a Turkish idea, initiated in 1997 when the Turkish air force commander arrived without warning to see the Israeli ambassador in Ankara with the words - according to Professor Inbar - "we want to invite the Israeli chief of the air force to come to Turkey to visit". It wasn't all plain sailing. When the Turkish navy paid its first official visit to the Israeli port of Haifa last year, the Israelis had not bothered to send a naval representative to meet it; and Turkish officers were astounded when the Israeli harbourmaster refused to let their ships into port unless they agreed to pay harbour dues.

But Israeli planes are now training in Turkey, using Turkish bombing ranges, just as Turkish pilots are now flying in the skies over Israel. The Americans chair a regular meeting of Turkish and Israeli intelligence officers in Tel Aviv and on at least one occasion last year a Jordanian officer was also present. If Jordan's new King Abdullah was to upgrade this relationship, it would further isolate Syria. Mr Netanyahu's government has long believed - wrongly - that President Assad can be blackmailed into making peace without handing back the occupied Golan Heights if Syria was sufficiently intimidated.

President Demirel attempted to calm Arab fears when he attended the Islamic summit in Tehran last year although Turkey pointedly hosted a senior Israeli air force officer in Ankara at the same time. Oddly, Turkish distrust of Syria sometimes outdoes even Israel's suspicions. In 1996, just after the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, the deputy Turkish foreign minister described Israel's policy towards Syria as appeasement.

Back in 1982, Turkey condemned Israel's invasion of Lebanon as aggression until Israel furnished Turkey with intelligence files on the Armenian ASALA extremist group. Much to Turkey's delight, Mr Ocalan's PKK are always referred to by the Israelis as "terrorists"; Israel has expressed sympathy for Iraqi Kurds - but never for the millions of Kurds who live under Turkish military oppression. Israel supports only a limited form of autonomy for the Kurds of Iraq; which is not surprising since that is precisely the limited freedoms it wishes to give the Palestinians.

For Israel has had to cut its moral cloth to maintain its Turkish alliance. Turkey has successfully sought the help of Jewish lobby groups in New York and Washington to cosy up to the Americans and emphasise Turkey's strategic importance to the Middle East in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse. Inevitably, pro-Israeli groups have now begun to sympathise with Turkey's contention that the 1915 Turkish massacre of 1.5 million Armenians did not constitute genocide and may not have been - despite absolute proof to the contrary - the century's first holocaust.

Professor Inbar lamentably ducked the moral point in Washington. "I cannot really make a competent statement on this issue," he said - and Jewish American members of Congress have gone so far as to suggest no Armenian genocide took place. Others have been braver. Yosi Sarid, a member of theKnesset's foreign affairs and defence committee, remarked that "Jews who lost 6 million of their people in the horror of the Nazi genocide should be the last to join in denying the existence of another genocide ... There is a hardly a single outrage this [Israeli] government is not willing to commit under the pretence of a narrow-minded national interest, which is bound to prove counter-productive."

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