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Iran deal raises risk of Turkish-Israeli fallout

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By Burak Akinci

Muslim-majority Turkey has been a close military ally of Israel since 1996 but relations have suffered amid criticism by Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government of Israel’s 2008-2009 Gaza war

Turkey may have scored a diplomatic victory by sealing a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran, but it risks further straining its deteriorating ties with estranged regional ally Israel, analysts said.

In a move that could ease pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme, Turkey and Brazil persuaded Tehran on Monday to agree to ship out the bulk of its low enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for nuclear fuel.

But the deal drew a harsh rebuke from Israel, with a senior official accusing Iran of having “manipulated” Turkey and Brazil – both non-permanent members of the UN Security Council – and warning the deal could fall through.

Israel’s outburst came against the backdrop of the increasingly delicate nature of once-flourishing Turkish-Israeli ties and of Ankara’s defence of Iran, which the Jewish state sees as its greatest strategic threat.

“The agreement signed in Tehran will inevitably deal a new blow to Turkish-Israeli relations, which are far from being satisfactory,” said Sinan Ogan, the head of the Ankara-based think-tank TURKSAM.

“You do not need to be a fortuneteller to say that Turkey’s initiatives in favour of Iran are making Israel uncomfortable,” he added.

Muslim-majority Turkey has been a close military ally of Israel since 1996 but relations have suffered amid criticism by Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government of Israel’s 2008-2009 Gaza war.

Monday’s deal, signed by the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Brazil, commits Tehran to depositing 1,200 kilogrammes of its low enriched uranium in Turkey in return for nuclear fuel for a reactor in Tehran.

Turkish media said the uranium would be stored in a facility of the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency in Kucukcekmece, outside Istanbul.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said after the signing that there was now “no need” for further UN sanctions against neighbouring Iran.

Analysts say Tehran’s decision on whether to respect the agreement will also determine the future of Turkish-Israeli ties after a difficult patch in recent months.

In January, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon gave Turkey’s ambassador a public dressing down, after which Turkey threatened to recall the ambassador if it did not receive an official apology.

In April, Erdogan branded Israel the “principal threat to peace” in the region.

“It is imperative for Iran to respect the agreement,” a senior Turkish government official told AFP, adding that Turkey “trusts” Iran to fulfill the terms of the deal.

But Ogan warned against putting too much trust in Iran.

“If Iran fails to respect its promises as it has done in the past, then Israel will accuse Turkey of buying time for Iran,” he said.

However Semih Idiz, a foreign policy commentator for the Milliyet daily, said Ankara’s efforts to resolve the Iranian stand-off through dialogue and its rejection of new UN sanctions were signs of a more proactive form of diplomacy.

Turkey’s improving ties with countries like Iran and Syria, another Israeli foe, have also led to accusations that Turkey was drifting away from the Western World, but Idiz disagrees.

“In a multi-dimensional world, Turkey is expressing not only its European and Western identity, but also its Middle Eastern or Balkan character,” Idiz said, also pointing at Turkish efforts to bolster ties with Athens and Moscow.

“It is not right to say Turkey is turning its back on the West. Turkey has a unique strategic position with neighbours who have problems with the West,” he added.

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