Copyright: Nikolaos Mavromates on line
The Jewish minority in the Ottoman times were always the favorite millet of the Sultanate, the only nationality that did not ever betray the Porte by revolting. This may have been one of the factors that may have influenced Turkey to be one of the first states to recognize Israel’s Independence in 1948, the only Muslim nation that defied Middle East Arab sentiments and of course Tel-Aviv never forgot this gesture.
Israel has always been at Turkey’s side wither openly or covertly, during the Cyprus imbroglio between Greece and Turkey during the 1960s and 70s, even up to the S300 Greek Cypriot missiles incident in the late 90s. This cooperation was officially cemented with the Israeli Turkish Alliance in 1996 which was deemed at the time, a Byzantine alliance in the Mediterranean that could not easily be defeated. Turkey was reaping in the fruits of the alliance by having Israeli and Jewish Diaspora strongly supporting its causes whether lobbying in the congress of the USA or in the business world against Greek or Arab interests in the region. Nothing unusual for a marriage that was blessed and protected by Washington’s long term ambitions in the region. In addition Ankara’s military elite were trying to cash in by improving Turkey’s military and technical capabilities by having Israel upgrade its planes, tanks and even acquiring the Israeli state of the art air to ground Popeye I Rafael aircraft missiles.
However, the most important factor of the Turkish Armed forces was the experience gained by cooperating and training with one of the best military in the world, the IDF and the transfer of technology that could be used for bolstering Ankara’s regional policies over its major rivals in the area. Israel on the other side was using Turkey for bolstering its defenses against countries like Syria and Iran and also the ability to use the vast territory of Anatolia for training exercises of the Israeli Air force. Lack of training Airspace has always been a problem for the IAF.
So what has suddenly caused Ankara to change its pro Israeli stance and so openly condemn Israel’s actions against the Palestinians during its recent Gaza offensive, putting in jeopardy the alliance? Was it the Islamic ties that due to conscience forced Ankara’s Islamist government to react as Prime Minister Erdogan claims? Or the emergence of a new calculated and well executed foreign policy initiative by Ankara that made Israel feel like Caesar in the Roman senate when he got backstabbed by Brutus his best friend?
Much of this change in Ankara’s foreign policy has to be created to Turkey’s dynamic foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. His well calculated policies and moves have brought into force Neo-Ottoman policies and signals that turkey is becoming a geopolitical power that does not need Israel anymore.
One of his most recent accomplishments has been total, rapprochement, with Syria Israel’s number one enemy. Additionally he has negotiated lucrative oil and gas treaties with Russia and western companies and has greatly improved relation with Armenia one of Turkey’s rivals in the region. There has also been a significant warming of ties with Iran possibly due to the large minority of Kurds in both countries. The possible emergence of an autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq with the blessings of Israel and the US has been seen as a thorn by Turkey’s foreign policy elites and possibly one of the reasons that this alliance was not meant to last. In Addition the election of Barak Obama and Washington’s preference of Turkey as the model for other Muslim countries to copy and the latter’s need for the exodus of US forces from Iraq might have signaled Ankara to initiate its foreign policy ambitions: “The reemergence of Turkey as a major player in the Balkans Central Asia and the Middle East after an absence of almost 100 years.”
The gradual Islamization Turkish society and the gradual withdrawal of the Secular Turkish Armed forces from politics and the emergence of the Ergenegon conspiracy scandal against the Islamist Erdogan government has been manipulated very carefully by the Turkish government to push a more Islamist Neo Ottoman agenda in such a way that Israel has been caught unprepared. What have some of these actions been? It was in Davos Switzerland in Jan 2008 that Turkish Prime minister Erdogan first embarrassed Israel’s President Simon Peres by calling Israel “a murderer of the Palestinian people”. Turkish anti Israeli sentiment has gone as far as depicting Israeli soldiers as murderers of Palestinian children on a Turkish TV show called Ayrilik", (Farewell). The missed deadlines of Israel to give its best long range Heron UAV drones to Turkey may have also brought a cancellation of the planned 11-day Turkish- Israeli exercise by Turkey, codenamed Operation Anatolian Eagle, an action totally unheard in the past. One now may ask why Ankara is taking on Israel and possibly the United states. The answer may lie with Turkey’s new aspirations and a confidence that it’s pro Islamist stance may pay huge financial and military dividends in the long run.
Even with Ankara’s new found foreign policy independence, there are possible repercussions. It is sure that Israel will not sit idle. Israel knows that there are some countries like Greece that would gladly take Turkey’s former role. The grounds for a future Hellenic Israeli Defense pact is there, what is missing is the cause that will bring them together. Since 1994 Athens has been lurking to get Israel’s attention vis-à-vis Turkey and its strong Jewish lobby on the side of Greek national causes. In the 1999 visit of then Greek Defense minister Tsochatzopoulos some grounds were placed for mutual cooperation on certain defense issues. It was also the reciprocal visits of Greek and Israeli Air Chiefs Elyezer Shkedy and Iaonnis Yiagos that cemented the start of Greek Israeli military collaboration in certain areas like Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) that were later translated into action. In the spring of 2008 the Israeli air force used Greek military bases and air space in the Aegean for practicing refueling and long range attacks, a possible prelude to an Israeli air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Regardless, it is obvious that in the Mediterranean basin we might witness new alliances and new strategic goals. Turkey for Israel is still a major defense partner of strategic importance in the area nevertheless it is only time and Ankara’s Geopolitical gambles that will tell if this pact will hold or disintegrate like so many others in the past of human military alliances.
Perhaps we might even have to slightly change an ancient proverb which says that the enemy of my enemy is my friend into “The enemy of my friend in time of betrayal becomes my real and only friend.”