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TURKEY: Ankara suspicious that Israel's security behind U.S. push for regional missile shield

October 25, 2010 | 10:31 am

Ballistic_Missile_Defense_System_(BMDS)_ Is the United States using NATO to protect its special friend in the Middle East: Israel?

That's what Turkey suspects may be behind a U.S.-led push for an anti-missile defense system in Turkey, intended to ward off an Iranian attack.

According to a report published Monday in the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman, Ankara has sought and reportedly received explicit assurances from the U.S. that intelligence gathered using the missile shield's sensors will not be shared with Israel.

American officials have not been shy about fingering Israel's enemy, Iran, as the major reason for deploying the system, citing Iranian threats to Europe. But the article in Today's Zaman was rife with skepticism, pointing out that as a non-member, Israel is not eligible for protection from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"In fact, given the unpredictability of the security situation across the globe, it is possible that the missile defense system could even be used against Israel some day in the future," the article said. "NATO is an organization that operates on the principle of collective defense and an attack on an ally is considered an attack on the entire alliance."

It wouldn't be the first time that the U.Ss. was torn between its allegiance to NATO and its historic friendship with Israel. When Israeli forces stormed a Turkish aid ship off Gaza in June, resulting in the death of nine Turkish activists, Turkey threatened to invoke the NATO Treaty, which could have obligated the U.S. to become involved militarily.

A recent United Nations report found that several of the Turks aboard the aid ship had been killed "execution-style" at close range, further souring Turkey on Israel just before the scheduled Nov. 19 NATO summit in Lisbon, during which Turkey is expected to make a decision on whether to allow elements of the the missile system to be deployed on its territory.

Steven Pifer, a senior fellow specializing in security at the Brooking Institution in Washington, said that any benefit to Israel from such a system was likely incidental.

"Certainly a radar site that looks from Turkey toward Iran would benefit Israel, but the Israelis are advanced in terms of their own missile defense system," Pifer told Babylon and Beyond. "I think that because of their position in the region, [the Turks] are nervous about singling out the Iranians as a threat."

In the recent past, Turkey has pursued an independent policy in the Middle East, maintaining good relations with Israel, its Arab neighbors and Iran. That position has come under strain as Turkish-Israeli relations deteriorate and Ankara strengthens its ties with Syria and Iran. Turkey has come under fire recently for continuing its booming trade with Iran despite sanctions that should be binding for all U.N. member states.

The proposed ballistic missile defense system would be rolled out in two phases. The first would entail the deployment of U.S. Navy ships equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors in the eastern Mediterranean sometime in the next two years. The second would see the erection of a land-based radar site in Turkey by 2015.

Turkey initially objected to the new missile shield on grounds that the wording of the agreement singled out Iran as a threat. Not only does Turkey wish to maintain its friendship with Iran, but Iranian hostilities toward the West are increasingly seen as having roots in American and European support for Israel.

An editorial in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News slammed both the Turkish and American sides for being disingenuous in their political games, accusing Turkey of trying to gloss over the "inconvenient truth" about Iran while the U.S. plays the Armenian-genocide card in an effort to pressure Ankara.

"Multi-billion dollar missile defense systems may be much loved by military planners, engineers and defense contractors ... but as a defense in the age of terrorism, these technologically dubious designs are worthless," the article concluded. "We need a believable defense against 21st-century threats."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: A Standard Missile-3 is launched from the U.S. cruiser Lake Erie. Credit: U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

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