WASHINGTON, June 18 (UPI) -- One of the more intractable legacies of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war has been Israel's inability to bring Syria to the table to sign a peace treaty, as Syrian demands for an agreement include at a minimum the return of the occupied Golan Heights. As U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues her efforts to broker a Middle East peace settlement, she might consider engaging further the "honest broker" services of one of the few Middle East nations that enjoy decent relations with both Jerusalem and Damascus -- Turkey.
Turkey has had a bilateral military alliance with Israel since 1996; in but one example of their closeness, since 2001 U.S., Turkish, Israeli and NATO aircraft have held "Anatolian Eagle" training exercises at Konya.
For Ankara, however, while its economic and strategic concerns frequently parallel closely those of the United States and Israel, its Middle Eastern policies are more complex than either, as evidenced by their recent rapprochement with Syria. On June 13 at the third Turkish-Arab Economic Forum in Ankara, Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Alao said, "We are looking to develop Syria and Turkey's collaboration in the energy sector. In a few days we will announce the establishment of a new company. A deal will be signed between Syria's national petroleum company and its Turkish counterpart. The agreement will comprise many studies, including searching for petroleum and digging wells in various countries, including Turkey and Syria. It also is possible to collaborate in nuclear energy. We held talks with (Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi) Guler on that topic. In the future we may establish nuclear power plants together."
Turkey's dilemma is that Allah gave the country very little oil; of the country's around 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), which fulfills around one third of Turkey's total energy requirements, over 90 percent is imported, primarily from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt, Russia, Algeria and Egypt. If Turkey is to sustain its economic growth, estimated in 2007 at 8.5 percent, nuclear energy will have to make up a significant percentage of its shortfall.
It is undoubtedly the nuclear cooperation between Syria and Turkey that Israel and the United States will be watching most closely. Israel suspects Syria has been developing a covert nuclear capability with North Korean assistance, and on Sept. 6, 2007, eight Israeli air force fighters attacked a site near al-Kibar, claiming it housed a covert nuclear facility.
The repercussions of the aerial assault extended to Turkey, as Turkish television broadcast footage of jettisoned IAF fuel tanks that landed on Turkish territory. On Sept. 10, during a joint news conference with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan demanded an explanation from Israel over IAF fuel tanks jettisoned during the operation. For the rest of the year Israeli tension with Syria remained elevated, with IAF aircraft on several occasions scrambling to intercept suspect aircraft along the Israeli-Syrian border.
On April 26 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Damascus on a one-day trip, where he met with President Bashar al-Assad to mediate discussions between Syria and Israel. Erdogan told journalists both Syria and Israel had asked Turkey to mediate, adding while such efforts would necessarily begin at a low level, Turkey nevertheless would make whatever efforts were necessary, including sending an envoy to Israel. The incident remains shrouded in mystery. As a driving tenet of U.S. Middle Eastern foreign policy is its attempts to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program, its concerns about nuclear issues extend beyond the Persian Gulf. Accordingly, on April 24 the CIA released video of the site, which Syria insists was a disused military facility. Proclaiming it has nothing to hide, Syria has invited International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit the site from June 22 to 24.
It's obvious that while nuclear technology is "dual use," many energy-poor countries in an era of record-high oil prices are increasingly viewing nuclear electrical production as a panacea to chronic energy shortages. Turkey recently issued tenders for construction of its first civilian nuclear electrical plant for Akkuyu on its Mediterranean coast.
Unlike Israel, both Turkey and Syria are signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If Washington's primary objective in the Middle East remains halting Iran's nuclear ambitions, then it might trust its most stalwart Middle East Muslim ally to "do the right thing," especially as it has no significant energy alternatives to offer Ankara. Turkey already offers the West energy security in the form of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, transiting a million barrels a day of Azeri crude to Turkey's Mediterranean port, with more pipelines traversing Turkey being proposed every day. Ankara's pressing energy concerns, however, of which the Syrian venture is but one facet, have yet to be fully appreciated in Washington, which should acknowledge that any future resolution of Turkey's pressing energy needs will likely include a nuclear component, developed if necessary with neighboring countries.
For Israel, if it extends similar faith instead of fearing "worst case" scenarios, then it might in turn gain something that its foreign policy has sought for the last 35 years -- a comprehensive peace treaty with Syria. On a positive note, after two days of indirect Israel-Syria peace negotiations in Turkey ended June 16, both Israeli and Turkish officials described the atmosphere as "positive," adding that the contacts would continue.
And in the volatile Middle East, any peace treaty is a good thing.
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TEL AVIV, Israel, May 17 (UPI) --Nobel Energy of Houston, which discovered Israel's big gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, is pressing the government to decide soon on an energy export policy as the prospect of an undersea pipeline to Turkey gains credibility.