Turkey Accuses Israeli Jets of Breaching Turkish Cypriot Air Space
Turkish military officials on Thursday accused that an Israeli plane has been violating the air space of the Turkish Cyprus earlier this week causing the Turkish air forces to scramble two jets to chase the Israeli plane away.
According to a report issued by the Turkish air forces, the Israeli plane violated the air space five times for a total of eight minutes before it was chased away by two F-16 jets. The Israeli army said it would look into the incident, described by Haaretz as the latest stage of a scuffle between Turkey, Israel and Cyprus over the right to prospect the eastern section of the Mediterranean sea gas and oil reserves.
Last year, Turkish military reported that Israeli F-15 jets were scrambled to face a Turkish seismic research vessel, which was heading toward East Mediterranean. The jets overflew the territory of Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus and approached the Turkish ships in spite of the warnings by the Turkish Cypriot officials that it had breached the national territory of their country.
The jets returned to Israeli air space after Turkey dispatched two F-16 jets to track them. The report on Thursday did not specify what kind of jets Israel used in their breach of the Turkish Cyprus territory and provided no more details about it.
The situation between Turkey and Israel has complicated after Cyprus discovered huge offshore natural gas deposits. Turkey is questioning the right of the Cypriot authorities to develop these reserves, and has rejected a Cypriot-Israeli deal to demarcate their maritime borders.
Turkey and Israel broke off ties in 2010 after the Israeli Defense Forces attacked on May 31 a Turkish vessel, Mavi Marmara, which was heading to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid. On the occasion of the check the IDF troops got into a fight with the Turkish passengers on board, killing nine Turkish nationals.
Turkey demanded a formal apology and compensation for the families of the people who were killed. Israel refused to apologize, but offer to express sorrow for the loss of lives and to pay compensation to the families of the deceased.
The situation was made worse by a report sponsored by the United Nations, which dispatched a inquiry panel to talk to the Israeli officials and determine the circumstances of the Mavi Marmara incident in hopes to patch up the ties between Israel and the Turks.
The report, drafted by former New Zealand premier Geoffrey Palmer and former president of Colombia Alvaro Uribe, was presented to the U.N. by mid-September and was made public later in 2011, after the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decided that the report could not seriously hurt the relations which were almost irreparable.
Ban Ki-moon explained that he had been holding it back in order to give peace a chance, but the report was scorned by both sides, as it was recognizing that Israel had acted brutally against the people on board Mavi Marmara but that it had been acting in accordance with the international law.
The Turkish government accused the Palmer report, as it came to be called, of overstepping its jurisdiction in assessing whether IDF had been acting legally. The Turkish government has downgraded its relations with Israel, a former close ally of Ankara’s, and promised to make sure that the traffic in the eastern Mediterranean would be protected by Turkish military.
The Turkish decision to downgrade all ties with Israel came at a time when the Arab world was engulfed by the Arab Spring, which allow Turkey to emerge as the leader of the Muslim world. In order for Ankara to do this, however, the friendship with Israel had to be set aside.
The refuse of Israel to apologize to Turkey was motivated by the desire to protect the interests of the IDF troops who participated in the assault on Mavi Marmara. Israel feared that apologizing for the event would offer the families of the deceased legal ground to prosecute the soldiers.
The Israeli government refused to speak to the Palmer inquiry panel because the judges wanted to hear the depositions of the troopers, which the government could not allow. Officials of the IDF advised the political decision-makers to make sure that the Turks receive some sort of apology which would make them look good without creating a legal ground for prosecution. They argued that Turkey was a great military partner.11