Analysis: NATO membership a restraint for Turkey

Diplomatic officials believe that NATO membership will prevent Erdogan from escalating crisis to point of military conflict.

September 7, 2011 02:56
4 minute read.
Turkish soldiers

turkey soldiers 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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NATO was the magic word in Israel on Tuesday.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is ultimately believed to be the main obstacle that will prevent Turkey from actually following through with its threat and dispatching naval vessels to the eastern Mediterranean to confront the Israel Navy.

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Why NATO? Because while Turkey is clearly escalating the current standoff with Israel, its continued membership in the Western military alliance is what defense and diplomatic officials in Israel believe will prevent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from making a move that could lead to a military confrontation with another Western country.

This does not mean that Israel is not concerned with the possibility that the Turkish navy will send one of its advanced Barbaros frigates armed with Harpoon missiles, torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles to Israeli waters. The scenario is so frightening since it could potentially lead to war with Turkey that defense officials preferred Tuesday to not even talk about it in hypothetical terms.

On the other hand, it is not being ignored by Israel and as one senior government official said: “This is a direct challenge and threat to Israeli sovereignty, which even if it is unlikely cannot be taken lightly.”

Turkey’s membership in NATO though is not the only restraining factor.

Earlier this week, Ankara announced it was deploying an American radar in Turkey as part of the US’s European missile defense shield meant to protect Europe against missiles from countries like Iran. Turkey might be upset with Israel but it is very concerned with Iran’s continued military buildup and particularly with its nuclear program.

While Erdogan’s announcement that Turkey was cutting off its military ties with Israel on Tuesday sent shockwaves throughout the world, it was only the latest nail in a coffin that has been under construction since May, 2010 after the Israel Navy killed nine Turkish nationals when stopping the Mavi Marmara.

The crisis can even be traced back further to Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in early 2009.

There are no real defense sales, there are no joint military exercises and even before the Mossad representative was reportedly expelled this week from Ankara, Israel’s ties with Turkish intelligence had already been downgraded due to concern the new head of intelligence there has strong ties with Iran.

It is not random, though, that the IDF and Defense Ministry have consistently pushed for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reach a compromise with Turkey and end the crisis before the publication last week of the Palmer Report on the flotilla incident last year.

Despite the recent increase in joint exercises with countries like Romania, Greece and Italy, the air force has yet to find a partner as close as Turkey, which allowed IAF planes to regularly train in Turkish airspace.

The loss of the Turkish market for defense companies has also been felt on the pockets of Israel’s large companies like Rafael, Israel Aerospace Industries, Elbit Systems and Israel Military Industries.

Strategically speaking, the IDF is extremely concerned with Turkey’s continued move in a radical direction and the possibility that another one of the region’s non-Arab countries – Iran is the other one – will one day evolve into an enemy of Israel. When Israel looks along its borders these days, regardless of whose fault it is, the situation is not encouraging.

This is what also served as the background for the assessment that OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen.

Eyal Eisenberg voiced on Monday night.

Eisenberg, commander of the Gaza Division during Operation Cast Lead, was appointed head of the Home Front Command earlier this year. On Monday night, he warned that the so-called Arab Spring could actually turn into a winter of radical Islam that would increase the chances that Israel will face an all-out multiple-front war in the future.

Why defense officials reacted the way they did and criticized Eisenberg is unclear since he said something that almost everyone in the IDF – from young platoon commanders to senior generals – have been saying for over a year now – and that is that with the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East and particularly the revolution in Egypt, the chances for another Yom Kippur-like war are real.

Maybe not tomorrow or in 10 years, but the possibility is real.

That is what Eisenberg wanted to get across. Israel is facing innumerable challenges – some maybe due to diplomatic failures – and as head of the Home Front Command it is his job to ensure the public is aware and prepared.

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