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Ron Ben-Yishai
Turkey left an opening
Despite Turkish announcement - which sounds dramatic – it will not have profound effect on existing state of relations between two nations, leaving room for bridging gaps in the future

As expected, Turkey was infuriated by the publication of the Palmer Report and Israel's refusal to apologize for its takeover of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara vessel in 2010.

 

With that being said, its response is not extreme, leaving room for rehabilitating relations in the future – via low-profile, secretive talks mediated by the US. Perhaps even in the near future.

 

Palmer Report aftermath:

 

The first reason behind Turkey's decision not to completely break ranks with Israel is its desire to maintain its position as a major Mideast player. Without ties with Israel, Turkey would have a limited ability to shape and influence events in the region, which is currently undergoing rapid change and fluctuation.

 

Turkey has recently lost all its clout in Syria and in Libya. It did not demonstrate superb diplomatic skills. Ankara and Cairo are also competing behind the scenes, while ties with Israel are an important asset to counter Egypt and Iran.

 

The second reason is the United States. Turkey is extremely important to the Americans, especially in relation to the planned US military withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Ankara is an important eastern bloc member of the US-led NATO alliance. Its geographic location enables the Americans to carry out quick logistical operations from and to the countries where fighting is taking place. Turkey also plays a major role in maintaining stability in Iraq.

 

It is because of the above reasons that Turkey refrained from firing all its cannons, reacting in a relatively restrained fashion – despite the reverberating headlines – to Israel's refusal to apologize. The response can be divided into two – a military aspect and a diplomatic aspect.

 

Diplomatically, Ankara decided to further reduce its representation in Israel to a second-secretary level. In fact, Turkey is reinstating the level of ties that existed between the nations in the 1980s, prior to the Oslo Accords. Ambassador Gaby Levy is about to end his tenure in Ankara and is currently on vacation in Israel. The Turkish ambassador to Israel has long since returned to Turkey after he had been recalled for "consultations". Diplomatic relations are still intact as consular ties will continue as usual. Strategic consultations, in any case, are held between senior officials.

 

In addition, Ankara hasn’t changed at all the entry and exit arrangements of Israelis from and to Turkey, and did not even suggest a possible change in the economic ties between the nations, which amount to tens of billions of dollars.

 

As to the military relations, these were very warm in the past and centered on intelligence, joint aerial and naval maneuvers, and Turkish defense spending in Israel. Since the 2010 flotilla, Ankara canceled all joint maneuvers. As a result, other NATO members canceled their participation in a major aerial maneuver in Turkey. A naval exercise had also been called off.

 

It can be said that by severing its military cooperation with Israel, Turkey lost more than Israel since it can no longer share the vast experience of Israel's pilots and ground crews. The benefactor of this downgrade in military ties is Turkey's arch-rival Greece, as Israel upgraded its ties with Athens to replace Turkish exercising grounds that were no longer made available.

 

With regards to the intelligence cooperation, words must be minced but it too ceased from being intimate as it was prior to the flotilla. The reason for this is that a year ago, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan appointed his confidant and member of the Islamic party to head the country's external intelligence service. The appointment and Turkey's warming relations with Iran resulted in Israel reexamining its intelligence connections.

 

The Turks reacted in the same manner last year, so its announcement of freezing military relations with Israel is no great loss. The security-related cooperation with Turkey has been frozen over a year ago.

 

It remains unclear whether Turkey has also halted its defense acquisitions in Israel but it doesn’t matter much. Since ties took a turn for the worse 18 months ago, there have been no major defense contract signings between the Israeli and Turkish defense industries. Israel, however, decided not to stall agreements that had already been signed, including a major deal involving unmanned aerial vehicles that has already been completed.

 

Israel also sold to Turkey the Lorop system that enables fighter jets to take photos from a distance of 100 kilometers without jeopardizing the aircraft. At first, the defense establishment pondered whether to sell this advanced system, fearing it could fall into the hands of a third party, but in May this year it was decided to go through with the deal and it is now being executed. It is worth many tens of millions of dollars. Aside from this contract, there are hardly any defense trade ties between Turkey and Israel, except for maintenance of old agreements.

 

If Turkey decides to halt defense contracts with Israel, the damage to the Israeli economy would not be significant, although the defense industries would further suffer from a market loss worth billions going back to the previous decade.

 

The military relations between Turkey and Israel have taken a blow since the Islamic takeover of the Turkish army's brass, at the expense of the old brass, which tried very hard to maintain what was left of the relations with Israel.

 

That is why despite the Turkish announcement from today - which sounds dramatic – it will not have a profound effect on the existing state of relations between the two nations, leaving room for bridging the gaps in the future.

 

 

 

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