ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Turkey urged Israel on Monday to show restraint over a decision to change a joint international military exercise to a national military exercise, ruling out comments by Israeli officials who suggested that political motives were behind changing the exercise, which would have included Israel.
The Anatolian Eagle exercise has been held every few years since 2001 to boost international aerial cooperation. The exercises, which are open to international participants, are held in different stages at three different times of the year.
“The international part of the third stage of the exercise, which was planned to run from Oct. 12–23, has been postponed in consultations with other participant countries. However, the exercise is being executed as a national activity. The state of affairs had been announced on the General Staff’s Web site from the beginning,” the Foreign Ministry said on Monday in a written statement, referring to the General Staff’s announcement on Oct. 7.
At the time, the General Staff briefly said the exercises would be held in Konya “with international participation being postponed as a result of contact with related countries by means of the Foreign Ministry.”
The Foreign Ministry statement followed Israeli media reports quoting Israeli defense officials as saying that the exercises in Turkey, which were supposed to include the US and NATO, had been scrapped over Turkish opposition to Israel, particularly due to its devastating offensive into the Gaza Strip in Dec. 2008-Jan. 2009.
“It is not right to extract a political meaning and to make political conclusions out of the postponement of the exercises. Within this framework, it is not possible to accept assessments and comments attributed to Israeli officials in the press. We ask Israeli officials to use common sense in their statements and attitudes,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said..
Yet, neither the General Staff announcement nor the Foreign Ministry statement, both of which have referred to each other, gave an exact reason for the change in the nature of the exercises. In addition, both statements also failed to explain the contents of consultations with the other participant countries.
The United States and Italy — which, along with Turkey, are members of NATO — were scheduled to take part in the exercise. Both countries withdrew their participation from the drill after learning Israel had been excluded, Israeli newspaper Haaretz suggested, citing Israeli Foreign Ministry sources.
A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Ankara would only say that the United States and its allies postponed the exercise “in hopes of re-scheduling it,” CNN International reported. “We look at this as a postponement, not a cancellation,” embassy spokesperson Deborah Guido told CNN.
Amid such a mood of tension between Israel and Turkey, the misrepresentation of remarks by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during an interview held on Sunday with CNN International have been another source of uneasiness at the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
“We hope that the situation in Gaza will be improved, that the situation will be back on the diplomatic track. And that will create a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations as well. But in the existing situation, of course, we are criticizing this approach, [the] Israeli approach,” Davutoglu told CNN.
However, unlike CNN said, it was not a response to “why Turkey excluded Israel from the exercises,” Turkish diplomatic sources underlined.