The Turkish government is seeking to quash speculation that its ties with Israel will be scaled back following moves by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to resume long-stalled peace negotiations with Syria, an opponent of increasing Turkish-Israeli security cooperation.
Turkish President Suleyman Demirel begins a two-day official visit to Israel Wednesday for talks with Barak aimed at reaffirming the U.S.-backed strategic partnership between the two regional powers. "This visit will show that the recent change in government both in Turkey and Israel will not affect core relations," said a senior Turkish presidential aide.
Turkish officials insist that Demirel's tour of the region, which includes talks with Palestinian officials and with King Abdullah of Jordan in Amman on Friday, underscores what they describe as Turkey's expanding role in the Middle East. "Our relationship with Israel," said a senior Turkish diplomat, "has forced the Arabs to reassess their relations with us, to take us far more seriously."
The growing security ties between Israel and Turkey have provoked deep unease throughout the Arab world and Iran. Leading the chorus of protest, Syria continues to demand cancellation of a military cooperation agreement signed by Israel and Turkey in 1996. The accord, which enables Israeli air force pilots to train in Turkish airspace and provides for intelligence sharing on Syria, Iraq and Iran, have been denounced by Damascus as a "diabolical alliance" that threatens Syrian security. Arab protests became more vocal after joint naval exercises by Israeli, Turkish and U.S. forces in the eastern Mediterranean last year.
Jordan sent a senior official as an observer to those maneuvers. But Jordanian officials quoted in the Arab media have said Jordan would not participate in a second round of naval exercises scheduled for later this year. Some commentators question whether the exercises will take place, but Turkish and Israeli officials discount speculation that Israeli-Syrian talks would affect relations.