A much-publicized two-day visit here by Israeli President Ezer Weizman has given a new prominence to the growing ties between Israel and Turkey.
During a Tuesday meeting with Weizman, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel vowed that Ankara would not cancel the military pact that the two countries signed in February, Weizman later told group of Turkish businessmen.
He said Demirel had told him that “no one will tell Israel and Turkey what to do.”
Demirel’s comments regarding the pact, as related by Weizman, came only days after the leaders of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt urged Turkey to cancel it.
“The agreement will not be canceled and it will continue without interruption,” Weizman reportedly told the group of businessmen.
Details of the pact officially remain secret, but according to a copy of the agreement leaked this week, it calls for the two countries to expand military cooperation by land and sea during five-year period.
Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has been among the most vocal opponents of the accord in the Arab world, expressing reservations about whether it would disturb the regional balance of power.
Weizman said during his visit here that Israel is not interested in posing any kind of threat to other Arab countries in the region through its developing ties with Turkey.
In a related development, Israel Aircraft Industries was reportedly close to completing a $600 million deal to upgrade the Turkish air force’s fleet of American-built F-4 Phantom jets. The agreement was reached last year, but was delayed as Turkey sought financing from Israeli financial institutions.
The future of the military accord nonetheless remains unclear, given the ongoing negotiations here to form a new coalition government that may be led by the pro-Islamic Welfare Movement.
The party’s leader, Necmettin Erbakan, has been a vocal critic of the military accord, though in recent days, as he confronts the chance to form a government, he has softened that stance.
During his visit, Weizman also addressed a U.N.-sponsored international conference on the future of the world’s cities.
The Israeli president used his speech before the Habitat II Conference to offer a reassurance that Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu would pursue the peace process, despite some of his hard-line comments during the election campaign.
“The commitment of Israel, its people and its leaders, in the past, the present and the future, to the attainment of peace, is unshakable,” he said.
During his meeting with Demirel, Weizman conveyed a message from Netanyahu in which the incoming prime minister underscored his commitment to attaining regional peace and to strengthening Israeli-Turkish ties.
In a separate development, Arab representatives at the non-governmental portion of the Habitat II Conference promoted Jerusalem as an Arab and Islamic entity.
The Islamic Congress for Jerusalem, based in Amman, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority were among the Arab groups with delegates at the June 3-7 NGO forum.
Housing in the West Bank was discussed at several sessions, and the Israeli government was condemned for destroying homes of suspected terrorists, said Harris Schoenberg, director of U.N. affairs at B’nai B’rith, who attended the meeting.
Criticism of Israel has been a typical feature of the non-governmental gatherings that run parallel to the governmental portions of U.N. conferences.
Anti-Israel feelings were evident at the last such U.N. gathering, the conference on women held last summer in Beijing.
The Habitat II Conference was called to examine how nations could improve the conditions of cities as well as provide adequate shelter for their populations.
Nearly half of the world’s population live in cities and it is estimated that more than two-thirds will inhabit cities by the year 2015.
Although housing traditionally has not been a Jewish issue, a Jewish presence at the conference is important because “as a community, we must also be vocal on issues related to humankind,” said B’nai B’rith’s Schoenberg.
Schoenberg said a Jewish presence at such international gatherings is necessary to build coalitions with other groups.
A Jewish presence at this particular conference demonstrated solidarity with Turkish Jewry at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise here and the Welfare Movement is seeking to form the next government, he said.