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Turkey has thousands of landmines on its border with Syria. Will it sacrifice national sovereignty to get rid of them?
The ruling Justice and Development Party government has defended the bill, saying that it will spare Turkey the exorbitant cost of removing the mines and will develop the neglected border region for agricultural use. Yet opposition parties have overwhelmingly perceived the bill to be a “sale of Turkish sovereignty” to foreign parties.
Speculation that an Israeli company may win the contract has further inflamed sentiments, particularly as Ankara tried to offer the contract a few years ago without inviting any other bidders. That move was overturned by the courts.
The strength of the reaction, however, has also revealed endemic prejudice toward Israel in this constitutionally secular but predominantly Muslim country.
“We should not forget the fact that the Israeli state commissions nearly all of its citizens who go abroad, including Israeli tourists, with special tasks,” wrote columnist Husnu Mahalli in the Turkish daily Aksam. “The Israelis who will be working along the Turkish-Syrian border will first lead to damage in Turkish-Syrian relations.
Early this year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan boldly attacked Israel during its assault on Gaza, garnering him harsh criticism internationally while making him into a hero in Turkey and a number of Arab states. Yet he is also the person who pressured the Turkish government to pass the demining law, tying the matter to improving Turkey's economic condition. Economically, Israel has long been a strategic ally of Ankara.
Opposition politicians argued that awarding the work to an Israeli company would have adverse consequences on Turkey's flourishing ties with neighboring Syria, a longstanding foe of Israel, who has expressed concerns over its national security if the project succeeds. If granted the contract, Israeli companies would work for five years along the border with Syria, and would remain Syria's direct neighbors for 44 years, the duration of the agricultural land investment lease on offer.