- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Middle Eastern capitals are increasingly critical of Turkeys growing economic and military cooperation with Israel, regarding such relations as a betrayal of Islamic solidarity.
Of particular concern to the Arabs are Turkeys plans to ship water to Israel.
So far Turkey has shrugged off Middle Eastern criticism, claiming that its secular form of governance cannot base foreign policy on religion.
The attacks — in the Arab and Iranian media and official statements — have increased in recent weeks, mainly because of the intensity of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The Arabs and Iranians feel that Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, has shown little interest in the "Palestinian cause."
Turkey at present is preoccupied with an economic crisis and problems in its application to join the European Union. It has carefully stayed out of the Middle Eastern imbroglio while applauding U.S. mediation efforts by special envoy William Burns.
According to Greek political commentator Giorgios Kapopoulos, "For an entire decade, Ankara has managed to couple its national interests in the Middle East with the strategic policies of the United States."
Diplomats say Turkey is more concerned about its future relations with Iran than the situation in the heart of the Middle East.
Its cooperation with Israel was recently enhanced by talks on shipping water from the Manavgat River by supertankers from Antalya to the Israeli port of Ashkelon south of Tel Aviv. The last round of technical negotiations ended May 24 and more talks are scheduled in the next few months.
Water has always been a critical issue in the Middle East and a potential source of conflict. Turkey controls the sources of the Euphrates and Tigris, flowing into the Persian Gulf across Iraq.
After the last session of talks, Turkish State Minister Tunca Toskay described the water situation as the "most important issue in the region in the next 20 years."
The Iraqi daily Al Tsaura, organ of the ruling Baath party, promptly denounced the water talks as "a culmination of a long series of agreements and forms of cooperation" between Turkey and Israel.
Intensified contacts between Israel and Turkey began in 1996 with a military and security agreement. In the spring of 1998, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said, "When we lock hands, we form a powerful grip."
Last April, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres visited Turkey for a major review of the bilateral relations. After the meeting, Mr. Peres said these relations have reached a "meaningful level and are gaining momentum all the time."
Speaking of Turkeys economic difficulties, he said: "Turkey is a butterfly, and I can see its wings coming out. The current pain and difficulties are transitory."
Iran and Syria have been accusing Turkey of controlling and limiting the flow of water into their countries. However, recently Turkey stressed that it did not want to use water as a "political tool" against Syria, regarded as a "front-line" Arab country in the conflict with Israel.
In Tehran, the English language Iran News has intensified attacks on Turkeys relationship with Israel, claiming that such an "unwise alliance" will cause Ankaras isolation in the Islamic world.
The officially sanctioned newspaper wrote in particularly virulent terms of Turkeys joint naval exercises with Israel, which ended earlier in May. And it called on Turkey to consider that "benefits of cooperating with other Muslim countries in the region far outweigh those of military pacts with Islams main enemy."


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