Report: Israel launched air strike on Syrian arms depot from Turkish military base

Turkish FM Davutoglu vehemently denies Russia Today report that Israel used its base to attack Latakia arms depot.

July 15, 2013 13:02
4 minute read.
Israeli Fighter Jet F-16

F-16 . (photo credit: Courtesy IDF spokesman.)

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, considered by many in Jerusalem as hostile to Israel, found himself in the unusual situation on Monday of having to deny reports that Turkey cooperated with Israel in an attack 10 days ago on three Syrian arms depots in the port city of Latakia.

A Russia Today report quoted a source as saying the IAF launched the attack, which allegedly destroyed three depots – containing state-of-the-art, Russian-supplied Yakhont anti-ship missiles – from a Turkish military base.

“Israeli planes left a military base inside Turkey and approached Latakia from the sea to make sure that they stayed out of Syrian airspace so that they cannot become a legitimate target for the Syrian air force,” RT quoted “a reliable source” as saying.

Israeli officials declined to comment on this or any reports about the blast at the Latakia depots.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, when asked about reports of Israeli responsibility in a CBS interview Sunday, said, “Oh God, every time something happens in the Middle East, Israel is accused. I’m not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn’t do. I’ll tell you what my policy is: My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah and other terror groups. And we stand by that policy.”

This was echoed Monday by International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz who, when asked about reports of Israeli involvement in the attack, said that the Yakhont missiles – with a range of 300 kilometers – are a threat to Israel. He added that these missiles were among the best, if not the best, of their kind in the world.

“We set a policy,” he told Israeli Radio. “That policy is not to intervene in the civil war in Syria. With that we also set a rule, that we will make an effort to prevent the leakage of quality weapons, game changing weapons, to organizations like Hezbollah. That is our position and our policy.”

The Hurriyet Daily News quoted Davutoglu as furiously denying any Turkish involvement.

“Turkey will neither be a part nor a partner of such ‘attacks.’ The ones who claim this want to damage Turkey’s power and reputation,” he said. “It is out of the question that Turkey and Israel are part of a joint military operation.”

According to Today’s Zaman, the Turkish foreign minister said that Turkish media outlets spreading those reports were committing “an act of betrayal.”

Davutoglu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have in the past ridden barely hidden animosity toward Israel to wide popularity in the Arab world.

According to foreign reports, when Israel allegedly attacked a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, IAF planes on the way back to Israel jettisoned fuel tanks over Turkish territory. Indeed, it was the discovery of those fuel tanks that led to the disclosure of the attack, an attack neither Israel nor Syria were interested in revealing: Syria because of embarrassment, and Israel because it thought it could prevent a Syrian reaction if it did not “rub Damascus’ nose” in the attack.

The Russia Today story adds yet another layer of fog to the Latakia attack. The Sunday Times had previously quoted Middle East intelligence sources as saying that Israeli Dolphin-class submarines had been behind the attack, while CNN quoted US officials as saying the strike was the work of the IAF.

Israel Radio, meanwhile, quoted a Syrian rebel website as saying a senior former officer in the Syrian navy defected to the rebels and passed on information about the location of the Yakhont missiles, making contact with US intelligence through a Turkish intelligence intermediary.

This information, according to the rebels, allowed Israel to attack the depots through missiles fired from the sea.

Relations between Israel and Turkey remain tense despite Netanyahu having apologized to Erdogan in March for the 2010 IDF raid on the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship.

Following Netanyahu’s apology in March for any operational errors on board the Mavi Marmara that might have led to a loss of life, Israel and Turkey launched talks for compensation to be paid to the families of the nine Turks killed on the boat trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Those talks have stalled, as has the normalization of relations that were expected to be capped by an exchange of ambassadors.

Turkey has been a vocal proponent of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power. Following the apology to Erdogan in March, Netanyahu said that the volatile situation in Syria had been behind his decision to make an apology, something he had previously avoided.

“The fact that the crisis in Syria is getting worse by the minute was the central consideration in my eyes,” Netanyahu said. “Syria is disintegrating, and the huge advanced weapons stockpiles are beginning to fall into the hands of different forces.”

The Syrian reality, which includes global jihadist elements on its border with Israel on the Golan, creates tremendous security challenges for Israel, he stated.

“It is important that Turkey and Israel, which border Syria, can communicate with each other, and this is true regarding other challenges as well.”

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.

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