Part 1 of analysis
The Israel Air Force’s capabilities will not be significantly undermined. Turkey is not the only region where the IAF can hold drills simulating various combat scenarios: Long-range missions, operations in unknown territory, and cooperation with foreign forces. Nonetheless, the decision to cancel Israel’s participation in NATO’s aerial drill in Turkey must serve as a glowing warning sign in respect to the strategic and economic implications that may follow our growing diplomatic isolation.
The Muslim Turkey was for many years a formidable and reliable ally of Israel. At this time, however, our strategic relations with it appear to be at a freefall. The deterioration started after the failure of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s effort to mediate between former Prime Minister Olmert and Syrian President Assad; it turned into a tsunami during and in the wake of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
The anger felt by Erdogan, the devout Muslim, towards Israel, and the tailwind he has been getting from the Turkish street prompted him to force his desires on the secular security establishment, whose heads are apparently still interested in ties with Israel. As a result, the openly visible as well as the more surreptitious security cooperation between the two states is increasingly being eroded.
New deals worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars offered by Israel’s defense industries to the Turkish army, as well as cooperation with Turkish colleagues, are being put on hold or are cancelled altogether. Only recently, officials in Ankara preferred to purchase a spy satellite from Italy, even though it is inferior in quality and more expensive than the Israeli product offered to Turkey.
However, the cancellation of Israel’s participation in the aerial drill is a truly negative shift, even though we are dealing with a demonstrative propaganda move meant to appease domestic public opinion; the decision does not undermine Israel’s security directly or immediately.
However, Turkey (which is interested in gaining acceptance into the European Union) would not have dared adopt such move in defiance of Washington and its European allies had its government not reached the conclusion that the benefit it can expect among regional states by shunning Israel is greater than the potential damage.
In order not to sabotage whatever is still left of the relationship, officials in Jerusalem prefer to maintain a low profile and refrain from a significant response. However, we must recognize the fact that Ankara, for the time being at least, is no longer a dependable strategic and security partner for Israel. This fact already constitutes a substantial blow to our national security because it erodes our deterrent power vis-à-vis Iran and Syria. Anyone who looks at the regional map can easily understand this.
Israel has indeed embarked on a process of seeking substitutes to the strategic advantages offered by the relationship with Turkey. However, this process is difficult and complex, and it is doubtful whether it will compensate us for the lost ties with Ankara.
Part 2 of analysis to appear Wednesday