Top US Intel official in Ankara to head off naval clash, bring Palestinians to talks
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 19, 2011, 6:31 PM (GMT+02:00)
The US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper arrived in Ankara on an urgent surprise visit Sunday night Sept. 18 as Turkish saber-rattling threatened three major US interests:
Sunday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the information gathered by the US radar system to be stationed in Turkey's Malatya province as part of the NATO missile-shield would not be shared with Israel – thereby disrupting the entire system; Monday, US Noble Energy began drilling gas off Cyprus in defiance of Turkish threats; and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' headed to New York to promote UN acceptance of a Palestinian state – with Ankara's encouragement.
Clapper went straight into talks with the Turkish General Staff, the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) and Foreign Ministry. No official statement was issued on the visit. Turkish sources indicated only that it concerned the planned deployment of the NATO radar system, the fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) "as well as other developments in the Middle East."
However, debkafile's intelligence sources report that Clapper was in Turkey for a last-ditch Obama administration bid to avert sea and air hostilities erupting between Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Israel in the eastern Mediterranean where tensions have been building up over Turkish threats inter alia against offshore gas exploration by Israel and Cyprus.
The US intelligence official's assignment in Ankara tied in with another last-ditch Washington effort, namely to break down Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's stubborn resolve to press for UN acceptance of a Palestinian state and to sidestep peace negotiations with Israel.
Intelligence reaching the Obama administration traces that obduracy to a quiet conversation Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan held with Abbas in Cairo on Sept. 12. Since then, the Palestinian leader has dug in his heels against every effort to divert him from his UN gambit – even after Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair persuaded Israeli Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to show flexibility on such thorny issues as Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish national state and the 1967 borders.
The reason was so unreceptive - even to the near-certainty of US aid cutbacks - was a guarantee, administration sources found he obtained from Erdogan, that Turkey would provide the Palestinian Authority with the financial assistance it needed to make up for the reduced flow of aid from the US and Israel – provided he stuck to his guns.
On the day of their Cairo conversation, Ankara leaked tough new instructions issued by the Erdogan government to the Turkish Navy to pen Israeli warships inside their 12-mile territorial waters and disable the weapons of any vessels sailing beyond that limit.
Erdogan's purpose was to impress the Palestinian leader with the seriousness of Turkish willingness to confront Israel and the United States and persuade him that the Palestinians' best interests lay with aligning with Ankara.
Those sources report that the Palestinian fell for the Erdogan line and determined to stage his own confrontation with Washington and Jerusalem at the United Nations. Friday, Sept. 16, he formally announced he was committed to filing an application with the UN Security Council for Palestinian membership of the world body, despite repeated warnings that it would fail.
debkafile's Washington sources report that, as a last resort, after Israel's flexibility had no effect, the administration sent a high-ranking envoy to take all the issue up with the Turkish prime minister. Since Erdogan had enough influence to persuade Abbas to clash with the US and Israel, he was also believed capable of persuading him to back off.
James Clapper was also commissioned to caution Turkish leaders against continuing their threatened military brinkmanship in the Mediterranean. Another demand was that Ankara line up behind Washington's campaign to revive Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in lieu of their UN initiative and makes sure Mahmoud Abbas knew about the Turkish policy switch.
Following Davutoglu's statement on the X-band radar, Clapper was authorized to warn the Erdogan government that if it barred the sharing of information with Israel, the plan for its installation in Turkey would have to be abandoned. The entire missile shield system is based on a network of advanced radar stations scattered across the Middle East, including the Israeli Negev, and Israel's highly-developed ability to intercept Iranian ballistic missiles.
President Obama has scheduled a meeting with Erdogan for Tuesday, Sept. 20 , on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York. The expeditious Clapper mission was meant to make sure ahead of the interview , Ankara smoothed out the bumps in the ground between Turkey and the United States on the three explosive issues .