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Al-Ahram Weekly - November 11, 2010

Turkey's ties with Israel plunged to new depths after the AKP named Israel as one of the main threats to Turkey's security

by Gareth Jenkins

According to Turkish media, Ankara has included Israel in a new draft of its National Security Policy Document, commonly known as the Red Book, which lists the main strategic threats to the country's security. On Sunday, Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov responded by calling on all Israelis to boycott Turkey as a holiday destination in order to preserve their "national honour".

Turkey's Red Book is updated every five years at a meeting of the Turkish National Security Council (NSC), which brings together members of the civilian government and the high command of the Turkish military. The contents of the Red Book are a closely-guarded secret. In order to become state policy, it has to be approved by the Cabinet. But, apart from those who are also members of the NSC, even the members of the Cabinet are not allowed to know what it is in the Red Book.

Traditionally, the Red Book was drawn up by the Turkish military and merely rubberstamped by the civilian government. When it first came to power in November 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) acted cautiously and was careful to avoid antagonising the military. As a result, the previous Red Book, which was approved in 2005 and was a concise 11 pages drafted by the military. Although its contents remain secret, it is believed to have listed Greece and Iran as the major foreign threats to Turkey's security, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and what are termed "reactionaries" -- namely, Islamist extremists -- as the main domestic threats.

In recent years, as the AKP has grown in confidence, it has gradually tightened its grip on the apparatus of state, including marginalising the once powerful military. It had been the fiercely secularist Turkish military which had been the main driving force behind the country's close ties with Israel and insisted on "reactionaries" being listed as a threat to the security of the state. In contrast, the AKP had always distrusted and disliked Israel, although it was only after the launch of Operation Cast Lead, the brutal Israeli military incursion into Gaza in December 2008, that the party became openly antagonistic. The bilateral relationship finally collapsed in May this year, when nine ethnic Turks were killed during the Israeli assault on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Speaking last Wednesday after the NSC meeting to approve the new Red Book, government spokesperson Cemil Cicek refused to provide any details of the changes that had been made, although he did confirm that it was now "a little longer" than 11 pages. He also stated that the new document omitted any reference to "reactionaries" being a threat to national security.

"Our legal system does not regard being reactionary as a crime," said Cicek. "So we cannot include such a concept in this document." Cicek refused to be drawn on whether or not Israel had been listed as a threat, although journalists sympathetic to the government quoted unnamed high-ranking AKP officials as reporting that the new Red Book had indeed included a reference to Israeli policies being a threat to the stability of the region.

They reported that the characterisation of Greece and Iran as threats to Turkey's security had been toned down. The previous Red Book is believed to contain references to the threat from Iranian missiles and Tehran's possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. AKP officials said that although the new Red Book expresses Turkey's concern about the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, this is set within a broader opposition to any nuclear weapons in the region, in a clear reference to the AKP's repeated condemnation of Israel's nuclear arsenal.

Privately, AKP officials describe the new Red Book as being the first to reflect the priorities of the civilian government rather than the Turkish military. They also claim that it has been reshaped to reflect Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's concept of "zero problems" with Turkey's neighbours and closer ties with the countries of the Middle East, a policy they describe as being incompatible with characterising Iran as a threat to Turkey's security.

The AKP's refusal to regard Iran as a security threat has already caused tensions with Turkey's erstwhile Western allies. In June, the AKP infuriated both the US and the EU by trying to prevent additional UN sanctions against Tehran over its uranium enrichment programme. The AKP is currently locked in a bitter argument with its NATO allies over its refusal to allow elements of NATO's missile defence shield -- which is designed to guard Europe against a possible attack from Iran -- to be stationed in Turkey.

While as a NATO member, it is virtually impossible for Turkey to refuse to take part in its missile defence shield, the suspicion is that the shield is really to protect non-NATO member Israel which is threatening to attack Iran, not NATO- member Turkey, which has no reason to fear an attack from Iran. With this in mind, Davutoglu has insisted that any reference in the missile shield agreement to Iran as the target must be removed.


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