Moving in on Israel

Reports about the alleged rift between the Turkish government and military over Turkey’s relations with Israel were based more speculation than the facts, and in some cases based on wishful thinking, against a background of sustained refusal by Israel to offer an apology and compensation for its deadly attack in international waters.

In fact, from talks I have been having with government and military officials for the past week, I feel a growing sense of resentment in the Turkish military against Israeli spite. What appeared to be a temporary setback in relations has a real risk of potentially turning into a permanent structural fault line in dented relations with Israel simply because Tel Aviv has let the terrible saga go on by refusing to cooperate with Turkey’s demands.

Since it does not look promising to reach closure any time soon, the government has given a “go ahead” on some contingency plans, and state agencies, including the military-defense industrial complex, are realigning their policies according to national directives issued by the government. The government is assessing on which measures it should act and in what order. Contingency plans were drawn up and a comprehensive assessment of overall ties with Israel completed last month.

When the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said his government will not wait indefinitely on its demands and warned Israel that time is running out, I guess he was referring to a set of measures Ankara has been pondering for some time. There is no sign of “letting up” in Ankara on the pressure applied to Israel, despite the fact that it has raised some concerns in the United States administration, whose interest lay in patching up the damage between its two most valuable allies in the region.

Remarks made by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee earlier this month — that decisions made by the Turkish political echelon are not in line with the Turkish military’s wishes — are simply wishful thinking and do not correspond to the hard facts on the ground. It may have been the case in the 1990s when the military’s ties with Israel were at their peak and the civilian-military balance was heavily tilted toward the latter. But that is no longer the case.

Ashkenazi may be misreading the signals based on a personal relationship he has built with outgoing Turkish military Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Başbuğ. The force commanders are much more worried about the rise in terror in the southeastern part of the country, and pretty much occupied with the legal problems confronting them after some of their officers, including high-ranking ones, were accused of illegal activities. The last thing the top brass wants is to give an impression that they are cozying up with Israelis who were responsible for killing nine Turks.

My suspicions were confirmed last week at a private meeting where I had a chance to talk with a senior defense official sitting next to me. He said Turkey has completed almost all military contracts that were going on with Israel, stressing that no new ones were on the horizon. He also explained why he is not worried about service contracts for military equipment procured from Israel.

“Take for example Herons, Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicles,” he said, “It was outfitted with Turkish technology and surveillance systems. Local Aselsan-made electro-optical payloads (Aselfir300T) were fitted onto the Herons. Most parts used in manufacturing Herons are not Israeli made, but parts supplied by others, like the Germans. I do not think we’ll have any difficulty in servicing any of the equipment we procured from Israel.”

As long as Israel does not comply with the demands of the Turkish government, I do not see any other way to heal the rift, which is expanding every single day. The government has no choice but to curb its ties with Israel on every level, while private businesses also seem to be yielding to the hard fact that the fracture is permanent. The hospitality industry has already factored in the reduction of Israeli travelers who used to spend their vacations in Turkey.

Travel agencies do not seemed to be worried a bit as the number of travelers from other places, especially from Russia, Europe and the Middle East, have compensated for the fall in Israeli visitors. The hotels are almost full during the summer, and the government is hoping to break the record number of tourists and the income generated by tourism this year as well.

In the final analysis, it is clear that Israel needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Israel. But the right-wing Israeli government does not seem to have come to grips with this fact, and is acting more on domestic political considerations rather than on vital national interests. Let’s hope and pray that reason will prevail over shortsightedness. After all, once you break something, it is always difficult to fix the damage. I think there is still an opening left to heal the rift and sincerely hope Israel seizes the opportunity. However, time is running out fast.

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