(CNSNews.com) – Following his success in helping to broker a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will likely add to the pressure currently facing Israel over its undeclared nuclear arsenal, according to a leading Turkish commentator.
Israel, which has yet to respond formally to the agreement signed in Tehran on Monday, has long been troubled by Ankara’s increasingly outspoken criticism of Israeli policies on one hand and its warming relations with Israel’s foes – including Iran, Syria and Hamas – on the other.
At the month-long Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference now underway in New York, developing nations have worked to turn the spotlight from Iran onto Israel, breathing new life into a 1995 resolution by NPT signatories calling for the Middle East to become a “nuclear weapons-free zone.”
Although Egypt is the driving force behind the initiative, Turkey threw its weight behind it, with its envoy telling the conference that Turkey backs “the establishment of an effectively verifiable zone free of such weapons and their means of delivery in the Middle East.”
Erdogan frequently raises the subject, implying that the West is exercising double standards by focusing on Iran’s nuclear program while giving Israel a pass. (Unlike Iran, Israel has not ratified the NPT.)
Turkish foreign policy commentator Semih Idiz expects Erdogan to ratchet up the pressure in the wake of the Iranian nuclear fuel agreement co-brokered by Turkey and Brazil.
“Having been instrumental in working out a deal with Iran, it is unlikely that Prime Minister Erdogan will drop his criticism of Israel’s own nuclear program,” he argued in Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper.
“To the contrary, it is likely that Ankara will make much more of this now that Iran has been brought into line, and will push harder for a nuclear-free Middle East.”
Turkey is ostensibly an Israeli ally but under Erdogan it has become one of Israel’s most ardent regional critics, a trend that accelerated after Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008. Last month the Turkish premier labeled Israel the “principal threat to peace” in the region.
From defending Tehran’s nuclear activities in the international community, Turkey has now, together with Brazil, negotiated a deal which both governments are arguing should make more U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran unnecessary.
Israel regards Iran as the most serious strategic challenge it faces, given its suspect nuclear program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel threats, and Tehran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists in Gaza and Lebanon.
Israeli media report that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed ministers late Monday not to comment on the fuel swap deal. He was reportedly meeting with six key ministers on Tuesday morning to discuss a formal response.
Earlier one cabinet minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, told Israel Radio that time would tell whether the deal was of any benefit or whether Ahmadinejad was “continuing to deceive the entire world.”