Attack on Turkey-Iraq pipeline knocks out oil flows

Turkish authorities are blaming sabotage for a fire on a pipeline carrying petroleum from Iraq to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast that cut oil flows late on Friday, NTV television said.

The fire on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline erupted near the town of Midyat in southeastern Turkey, it said, citing the provincial governor.

The Governor of Mardin, Turhan Ayvaz said that a sabotage was staged against the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik Oil Pipeline in Midyat.

“We have cut off the flow of oil in the pipeline. There were no casualties in the blast. Fire crews came to the site to extinguish the fire,” Ayvaz said.

Ayvaz said on Saturday that oil flow would resume once the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik Oil Pipeline got repaired.

Tight security measures have been taken in the region. An investigation was launched on the pipeline blast.


Global Defense Sales Slip 3.3%, Aerospace Rises

Worldwide defense sales fell 3.3 percent in 2011 from a year ago, driven by governments’ spending priorities, weak Western economies, and withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, a report from consultancy Deloitte said.

The decline in defense contrasted with an overall 2.3 percent rise in global aerospace and defense revenues, helped by higher production rates of airliners, the 2011 Global Aerospace & Defense Industry performance wrap-up report showed.

Despite the rise in the headline revenue figure, many key financial results generally fell, “likely because of the predominant weighting of the defense sub-segment,” the report said.

European industry grew by 0.8 percent compared with U.S. industry’s 3.3 percent, a lower performance attributed to a difference in “incentives, management philosophies, and work force practice,” the report said.


Syria: Rebels Seize Border Crossings with Turkey, Iraq

Syrian rebels took control of two major crossings on the border with Turkey and the main Abu Kamal post on the border with Iraq.

Syrian rebels took control of two major crossings on the border with Turkey and the main Abu Kamal post on the border with Iraq on Thursday, the first time opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have seized posts on the country’s frontiers.

Hakim al-Zamili, head of the security and defence committee in the Iraqi parliament, told a local television station that rebels were in control of the Abu Kamal border crossing, on the Damascus-Baghdad highway and one of the most important trade routes in the Middle East.

A Syrian rebel fighter and a opposition spokesman said fighters seized control of the customs and immigration buildings on the Syrian side of the northern Turkish frontier gate of Bab al-Hawa and activists said the Jarablus crossing also fell into rebel hands.

Rebels have tried to seize Bab al-Hawa, a vital commercial crossing, for 10 days but managed to oust soldiers after heavy fighting on Thursday, the rebel said.

Footage that activists said was filmed at Bab al-Hawa showed rebels climbing onto the roofs of buildings at the crossing and tearing up a poster of Assad.

“The army withdrew,” a rebel fighter who would only be identified as Abu Ali told Reuters on the Turkish side of the border, where he was being treated for wounds. “The crossing is under our control – they withdrew their armoured vehicles.”

Ahmad Zaidan, spokesman for an opposition group called the Higher Council of the Revolution’s Leadership, said rebels were already in charge of large areas around the border crossing.

The reported seizure of Bab al-Hawa, opposite the Turkish Cilvegozu gate in Hatay province, comes after the rebels said they were forced to withdraw earlier on Thursday after they attacked the gate, guarded by some 200 troops, but had to pull back when government helicopters were called in.

The raid was also meant to provide an opportunity for opposition sympathisers among the government soldiers to defect.

The rebels had planned for 80 soldiers to defect but only 14 managed to escape, Zaidan said. Most defections, he said, were pre-planned and sympathetic soldiers would know of an impending rebel attack.

The border crossing was closed after the attack and around 40 Syrian and Saudi trucks lined up on the Turkish side were unable to cross.

While cross-border trade and traffic has been greatly reduced as violence inside Syria has increased, border gates along the 910-km (560-mile) Turkey-Syria border have largely remained open and vehicles have been free to cross.

At Jarablus, 400 km (250 miles) northwest of Damascus, activists said military and intelligence personnel pulled out from the nearby border town of Ain al-Arab, inhabited by members of Syria’s Kurdish minority.

In neighbouring Iraq, Zamili urged the Iraqi government to send extra troops to the border, al-Iraqiya television said.

Iraq said earlier this month it had reinforced security along its 680 km (420 miles) desert border with Syria, making it Iraq’s most heavily guarded frontier.

A local police official at the Sinjar border crossing in northern Iraq said it was still under Syrian government army control: “We have heard no shooting, nothing has changed.”

The border raids came as rebels clashed with troops loyal to Assad in Damascus and a day after a bomb attack on a security meeting in the Syrian capital killed three of the president’s closest allies.

Turkey, which has called on Assad to step down, is giving sanctuary to opposition members and fighters on its soil and is providing shelter to more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence at home.


US Analyst: Damascus bombing ‘smells of Mossad’


An image grab from video, released by the Syrian opposition Shaam News Network on July 20, 2012 and dated July 19, 2012, shows an explosion alleged to be in Zabadani, outside Damascus. AFP photo

A former U.S. intelligence analyst said Israeli spy network Mossad could be linked to a fatal bombing that killed top security officials in Damascus on July 18.

An unidentified former analyst said “the entire attack smelled of Mossad,” according to Kasım Cindemir of daily Habertürk. Members of the Syrian opposition reportedly claimed Israel played an important part in the attack, with some saying they received satellite images from Mossad showing the building where Syria’s National Security Council meeting took place.

Free Syrian Army officials had said the attack was not a suicide bombing and they had placed the explosives in the meeting room “days ago.” Louay al-Mokdad of the opposition force reportedly said they had placed 10 kilograms of C-4 explosives in the meeting room beforehand and that they intended to hit the meeting on its originally planned date of July 20. Al-Mokdad said the meeting was brought forward one day and that President Bashar al-Assad did not take part in it as they had anticipated. Syrian Information Minister Umran al-Zuabi blamed foreign intelligence agencies for the bombing, saying “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel” were the forces behind the attack.

Turkish president says downing of fighter cannot be ignored

Turkish President Abdullah Gul

Turkish President Abdullah Gül said today it was not possible to ignore the fact that Syria had shot down a Turkish fighter jet and said everything that needed to be done following the incident would be done, Turkish media reported.

“It is not possible to cover over a thing like this, whatever is necessary will be done,” Gul was quoted as saying by state news agency Anatolia. It was not immediately clear where he was speaking.
Gul said it was routine for jets travelling at high speed to cross borders for a short distance. He said an investigation into the incident would look at whether the plane was downed in Turkish airspace, media reported.

Gul also said Ankara had been in telephone contact with Damascus and that a search operation for the plane and missing pilots was still under way.

Turkey, Israel: Potential for a Fresh Start?

Thursday marks the two-year anniversary of the 2010 flotilla incident, a crisis on the high seas that triggered a tailspin in Turkish-Israeli relations.

In the aftermath of the incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador and demanded an apology from Israel as well as reparations for the nine slain activists. Ankara even announced that its warships would escort future missions to Gaza.

Attempts to mend fences have stalled over the issue of an Israeli apology. With Turkey willing to accept nothing less than a full apology, and Israel for the moment unwilling to accommodate this demand, the two sides seem to be at an impasse.

Yet below the surface, not all is grim in Turkish-Israeli relations. Remarkably, economic ties have been flourishing between the two countries.

Turkish-Israeli economic ties took off in the late-1990s as part of a growing strategic convergence. Deepening trade was underpinned by a series of bilateral agreements opening Turkish and Israeli markets to each other. Notable agreements included a free trade agreement (1996), a double-taxation prevention treaty (1997), and a bilateral investment treaty (1998). These agreements ushered in an era of improving political and economic ties. Trade jumped from $449 million in 1996 to more than $2.1 billion in 2002. This remarkable acceleration continued with bilateral trade increasing 14.6% per year, on average, from 2002 to 2008.

Surprisingly, the diplomatic crisis has not translated into an economic crisis. Take for instance, a boycott announced by several Israeli grocery chains in the wake of the flotilla incident. Despite the assertions on the part of these retailers, Turkish export of vegetable products has remained steady since 2007, and exports of prepared foodstuffs, beverages and tobacco doubled between 2007 and 2011. From 2010 to 2011, trade increased by 30.7%, far surpassing the growth that occurred during the heyday of Turkish-Israeli ties.

Still, defense ties have been hard-hit. Following the flotilla incident, Turkey froze at least a dozen defense projects with Israel, including a $5 billion deal for tanks and an $800 million sale for patrol aircraft and an early-warning radar plane.

Despite these bruises, economic ties seem destined to deepen even further in the long term.

For starters, all the aforementioned trade and investment treaties remain solidly in effect. Secondly, neither side seems eager to disrupt the trend of booming bilateral trade. In the aftermath of the flotilla incident, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his intention to cut all relations with Israel, including trade. But Ankara rapidly corrected the statement, adding that commercial ties would not be downgraded. Similarly, when an Israeli investment house announced its plans to divest in Turkey, the head of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce urged firms to refrain from any actions that might hurt Turkish-Israeli business ties.

The mutual reluctance to rupture trade ties is understandable, especially in light of the global economic climate. After all, both countries owe much of their growth in recent years to buoyant exports, a large portion of which were sold in European markets. This means that both countries are vulnerable to a sluggish European recovery. Greater bilateral trade could pick up some of the slack, especially on the Israeli side, where Turkey constituted Israel’s sixth-largest export market in 2011 and could climb the ranks as Israel’s traditional markets remain anemic.

Israel is important for Turkey as well. In terms of volume, the Israeli market is small, but it presents significant opportunities for Turkish producers to move up the value chain. In March, the Turkish Industry and Business Association identified Israel as a priority investment partner, underlining the advantages of coupling Turkey’s land and labor with Israel’s innovation economy. A telling example of this potential can be found in Bursa, where Turkish manufacturers are assembling electric cars as part of a venture with the Israeli company Better Place. Thanks to this venture, Turkey is now producing its first electric car with technology that would not have been easy for the Turks to develop on their own.

There is also a political angle that could bode well for bilateral ties. Faced with an increasingly volatile Middle East, some Israelis are concluding that they are better off rebuilding ties with Turkey, even if this does not mean going back to the honeymoon years of the 1990s. Meanwhile, Turkey faces a popular uprising in Syria that holds the potential of spilling over its borders. Along with downward-spiraling ties with Iraq, not to mention regional competition against Iran, this suggests that Israel is perhaps not the biggest fish to fry.

Turkey and Israel seem to have potential for a fresh start. Even if the pair continues to diverge on certain core political issues, both seem to secretly prepare for the day they can make up again. As always, the flag follows the money.

Soner Cagaptay

Turkish civilian killed in attack by Kurdish terrorist

TR Defence – Diyarbakir

PKK is a criminal militant organization recognized as terrorist by the U.S., Turkey and European Union.

A construction worker was killed and three people were wounded when Kurdish militants attacked a military outpost in southeastern Turkey near the Iraqi border, security sources said on Saturday.

Fevzi Altunc was killed late on Friday when gunmen from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) opened fire on the outpost in a remote area in Hakkari province, the sources said. The three wounded workers were being treated in hospital on Saturday, they said. They had been building the station in the wooded, mountainous area near the village of Yesilova. Security forces have launched an operation in the area, said Firat News, a website close to the PKK. The website said Altunc was killed and the others were wounded during a firefight between the PKK and Turkish soldiers.

Separately, PKK rebels kidnapped a village leader and five other members of a state-backed militia after stopping their vehicles at a road block in Bitlis province late on Friday, the sources said.


Israel delivers 4 more Herons

Isreal has delivered 4 Heron unmanned reconnasissance aircraft to Turkey. TR Defence sources reported on Saturday.

Turkish-Israeli relations were heavily damaged following Israel’s deadly raid to Turkey’s Mavi Marmara aid ship in international waters, claiming the lives of 9 Turks and 1 American on board. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and all military relations were frozen in response. Recently, relations further strained after an Israeli aircraft violated North Cyprus’ airspace,  a protectorate of Turkey, reportedly in order to gain intelligence on the latest oil & gas drilling developments and to gauge Turkey’s response to a possible hot conflict over the island of Cyprus.

Behind closed doors, however, Israel has seemingly started to try and repair relations. Turkey had sent to Israel 5 Heron-type unmanned aerial vehicles for maintenance and upgrades. But Israel had  thus far refused to return them to Turkey due to the restrained relations. Finally though, four of the five Turkish aircraft were delivered back to Turkey last week, reports indicated.

Condition and mission worthiness of the airplanes, though, is unknown and there still remains one more aircraft to be delievered.


Past grievances no obstacle to better ties: Armenians

Gyumri, the second-largest city in northwestern Armenia with a population of approximately 160,000 people, is strongly seeking the reopening of the border with Turkey in order to resuscitate the local economy.

Although Armenian politicians in their initial statements about the possibility of normalization of this country’s strained relations with Turkey following the parliamentary elections last Sunday were not upbeat, most people continue to expect to see an improvement in the troubled relationship between the two countries, urging Turkey to open its border with Armenia.

Sagis, a 57-year-old lottery ticket seller in Yerevan, who didn’t want to give his last name like many people here, says his great grandfather came to Armenia from Turkey’s Muş province. He said, “Neighbors should be friends.” Azniv, an 85-year-old retired teacher, told us, “We don’t need enemies, we need friendship.” According to Arman, a 37-year-old businessman who is country director of Fedex in Yerevan, Turkey and Armenia have no choice but to normalize their relations because they are neighbors.

Most Armenians here say the symbolic step in that direction would be for Turkey to open its border with Armenia, which it closed in 1993 following the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani soil, including Nagorno-Karabakh.

Tigren, 33, the co-manager of a Pizza Hut in Yerevan, says: “The border has to be opened. It will be good for us economically.”

The city that wants the border to be reopened most is Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia with a population of 160,000. Gyumri’s rundown streets and the visible poverty level of the city are in high contrast with the well-maintained streets of Yerevan.

Alexander Ter Minasiyon, a tourism agency operator in the city, says: “In Gyumri we know the difficulty of living in a border town near a closed border. To get to Kars, which is only 90 kilometers away, we travel 497 kilometers via Georgia. We lose about 10,000 tourists every year,” noting that the city of Kars on the Turkish border also wants the border to be opened. He added that there is a Russian base on the Armenian part of the border facing the Ani ruins [in Kars], and the soldiers don’t allow tourists to even look at the site across the border.

“The financial cost of the border being closed is huge. I don’t agree with the politicians who say we can get along without Turkey. We are losing a lot,” says Levon Barseghyan, who notes that Turkish products cost 30 times what they should cost because they are delivered through Georgia.

Vahan Khachatryan, a businessman who owns Gala TV, a network that broadcasts in the Gyumri region, says he has been looking for a Turkish partner for his soap manufacturing business, noting that the border being closed is causing delays in communication and transportation.

The irony lies in the Russian military units near the border that Gyumri wants to see open. The Russians are protecting the population from a “potential threat” from Turkey. There are also Russian troops and a radar unit inside the town.

Border towns on the other side are also suffering from the situation. “The illicit trade between Turkey and Armenia as of 2011 had reached a volume of around $280 million, according to unofficial figures,” says Noyan Soyak from the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC).

“It is possible to say that this figure can increase up to three times in a very short period. Opening the border would ensure that goods from the eastern and southeastern Anatolian regions arrive in Yerevan in four to five hours, shortening the time greatly,” Soyak adds. “We perceive the possibility of the trade volume between Turkey and Armenia reaching $1 billion, including tourism revenue, in three years if the border were open,” he said.

According to the TABDC, the most attractive sectors for Turkish traders and investors are textiles, machinery and the food industry, and, of course, there is great potential for untouched sectors such as transportation, energy and information technologies.

But Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister and an important figure in the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which came in second place in the elections, points to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as the main obstacle to opening the border. He said: “So our focus should be on Nagorno-Karabakh. If we can solve that problem, then Turkey will open the border.”

Gyumrian artist Aleksey Manukyan says: “The Karabakh issue is costing us dearly. We still have an eastern mentality; we can’t act pragmatically. People don’t voice this openly, but such is the situation.”

One person who can’t wait to see the day the border is opened is Karine Petrosyan, the chief of the Akhurian Train Station. She remembers that the last train from Turkey arrived in Akhurian in April of 1993. “I will retire 10 years from now. I want to see that train again before I retire.” She says the village of Akhurik, after which the station is named, has been affected negatively by the border closing. Many young people left the village. There are also people who say Turkey should first recognize the 1915 massacre of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 as genocide. One such person is Eleonora, a 25-year-old bank clerk. “We can’t possibly normalize our relations before Turkey admits the genocide.” Armen Pahlevenyan, a taxi driver in Gyumri, agrees. “Nothing can be described as normal unless Turkey recognizes the genocide,” said Pahlevenyan, whose great grandfather had to migrate to Gyumri from Kars.

Nana (19), a university student from Gyumri, says once Turkey recognizes the genocide, the past will stop haunting both countries.

Others, yet, prefer to look to the future instead of setting the genocide as a prerequisite for better relations. Smbat, a 55-year-old Armenian who didn’t want to give his second name, also has his roots in Kars. His family was forced to come to Yerevan during the 1915 incidents. “Whatever happened is in the past. We should now open the border. We want a better life for ourselves and for our children. We, as Armenians, aren’t after revenge. We want good neighborly relations. And Turkey should also want this.” Milla Kazanian (21) of Yerevan also agrees, saying: “The past is in the past. Now is the time to look forward. The border should reopen, and our relations should go back to normal.” Felix, an 18-year-old university student, said, “The past shouldn’t be an obstacle to the normalization of ties, but we would like Turkey to recognize the genocide.” On the Turkish side, there is concern that recognition would bring up the issue of reparations.

Galust Sahakyan, leader of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) parliamentary faction, meanwhile, indicated that Armenian leaders had their own red lines that will take priority over any form of reconciliation pact. He said at a meeting with a group of Turkish journalists on Friday, “For us, the Karabakh problem and the genocide issue are more important than a restart in relations with Turkey.”

“It is not enough to admit and then to apologize. Responsibilities such as returning land and paying compensation should also be fulfilled,” says Giro Manoyan, from the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a socialist party that nevertheless is known for its staunch Armenian nationalism. The votes for the party fell from 12 percent in the 2007 elections to 5 percent in this year’s elections.

Gala TV owner Khachatryan says: “What’s important is that Turkey opens the border. When people can freely interact, they will say ‘we are sorry.’ The historical facts of the past should be accepted, and we should all look forward.”


CIA chief holds talks in Ankara on Syria, PKK

The United States’ top intelligence chief paid an unannounced two-day visit to Ankara to discuss deepening instability in Syria and the joint fight against terrorism.

David Petraeus, chief of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), held meetings with top Turkish officials both yesterday and on March 12, the Hürriyet Daily News learned.

Petraeus met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the previous day. The visit is Petraeus’ second to Ankara since he was appointed CIA chief last July.

According to Prime Ministry officials, Erdoğan and Petraeus exchanged views on the ongoing crisis in Syria while also discussing the joint battle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The officials further discussed an intelligence-sharing mechanism launched in 2007.

Petraeus’ visit coincided with that of Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League’s special envoy to Syria.

Though both officials stayed in the same hotel in Ankara, there was no confirmation of a potential meeting between the two.

Annan, who is trying to push the Syrian leadership to end its measures against anti-government rebels, is the latest international figure to have met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.