Photo: AP
Kurdish fighter in northern Iraq
Photo: AP

Damage to Israel-Turkey relations feared

Foreign Ministry sends calming messages to Ankara following publication on contracts won by Israeli companies to train Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq, claiming companies acted on their own initiative

Last week's publication by Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Israeli companies winning contracts with the Kurdish government to train and equip Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq has caused tension in the relations between Israel and Turkey, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday.


The affair received widespread coverage on the website of Turkey's popular newspaper Zaman, which reported that the new information revealed has caused tension between the two countries.


Foreign Ministry officials, aware of the fact that they were dealing with a very complex and sensitive issue, hastened to send calming messages to Turkey over the weekend.


The main message conveyed by the ministry was that the Israeli companies acted on their own initiative and that the official State of Israel does not operate in the discussed areas.


'Risk of human life for lucre'


Israel approached Turkey last year with an update on a number of private Israeli companies operating in northern Iraq. The Turks were told that Israel opposes any Israeli presence in northern Iraq.


At the same time, the Foreign Ministry harshly criticized the involvement of Israeli companies in northern Iraq, defining it as "scandalous and irresponsible."


A senior ministry official said that "this is a very serious issue, and that Israel knows about it and is not doing enough in order to prevent it."


"It is severe because the people who go there are risking their lives and could be hurt or kidnapped. Every year dozens of people are abducted there. What do we want, another (former Hizbullah captive Elhanan) Tennenbaum?" he said.


"This is an unnecessary risk of human life for lucre," he said. "In addition, this activity only complicated and endangers our relations with our ally Turkey. An entire country is in risk so that a businessman will make a profit."


'Turkey understands Israel could not prevent it'


The Turkish government showed interest in Yedioth Ahronoth's publication. The Turkish embassy in Israel translated the article and sent it to Ankara, waiting for instructions on how to respond.


Israeli officials estimated that Turkey would ask Israel for clarifications on the matter.


A senior Turkish official said that as long as only private companies are involved, this may be a source of concern for Turkey, but they understand that Israel could not prevent it.


However, he said if Turkey discovers that intelligence officers or Israeli officials were involved, his country would see it as a completely different story that may lead to a rift in diplomatic relations.


Meanwhile, Yedioth Ahronoth has learned that Turkey is concerned with the ease in which Israelis managed to cross the border from Turkey to Iraq, and that steps will now be taken to examine the issue.


Tsadouk Yakhiskeli and Anat Tal-Shir contributed to the report


פרסום ראשון: 12.04.05, 10:09
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