Turkish army unhappy over drill with Syria

Barak also upset, but confident J'lem ties with Ankara shall overcome; wary of Syrian leadership, peace prospects with it.

Barak 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Turkey's joint military drill with Syria has not only disturbed Jerusalem, it has also riled the Turkish military, a senior Israeli strategic analyst told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "The Turkish military is not happy about this. It does not like Syria, and views it as a problematic state," said Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Inbar added that he was in touch with a number of Turkish army officers. Tensions between the secular Turkish military and the ruling Islamist AKP party are high following the arrests of more than 200 people, including dozens of senior army officers, over an alleged coup plot to overthrow the government. Last week, four additional army officers were arrested and an arms cache was seized by the Turkish authorities. "The army has to be very careful with intervention. The investigation into the army coup plot has raised tensions. The army will only get involved if it feels there is a threat to the secular character of the state," Inbar said. He added that "a joint simulation with Syria will be seen as a marginal event" that would be insufficient to push the army to intervene. "They [Turkey's military leaders] will allow the diplomats to maneuver," he said. Internationally, however, the drill raised many questions over Turkey's relationship to NATO (of which Turkey is a member), the West and Israel, Inbar said, and represented another milestone in Turkey's journey to move closer to Muslim countries in the region. "Syria is an ally of Iran. Its army is armed by the Russians. The drill should be raising questions in [NATO headquarter in] Brussels and in Washington. I am sure both Israel and the US are requesting clarifications," he added. "We have to wait to see what the nature of the drill is." Responding to news of the joint exercise, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that it was "definitely a disturbing development. But I believe that the strategic relationship between Israel and Turkey will overcome Turkey's necessity to participate in this drill as well." The Turkish-Syrian drill represents a paradigm shift in relations between Ankara and Damascus. In 1998, Turkey massed troops on its border with Syria and threatened to invade unless Syria ejected PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and closed down PKK training camps within Syria. Facing the might of the Turkish military, Syria backed down and threw out Ocalan. Inbar said Ocalan's capture by Turkish forces in 1999 was "apparently aided by Israeli intelligence." Relations between Ankara and Damascus were further strained by what Syria views as Turkey's occupation of the Alexandretta province, known to Turks as Hatay. "We can tell the Syrians: Turkey is occupying a whole section of Syria, and yet Syria is willing to hold joint military drills with Turkey. So there's no reason why Syria can't cooperate with us while we're sitting on the Golan Heights," said Dr. Mordechai Kedar, an expert on Arab political discourse at BESA. "This exercise is not necessarily to our detriment. We certainly have a case to put to the Syrians as a result of it," he said. Kedar, who served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence, added that the exercise came about due to a convergence of Turkish and Syrian interests. "Turkey appears as a regional power, and Syria is willing to play this game to give Turkey that recognition, because it wants to prove that it is Turkey's friend," Kedar said. Kedar stressed that it was important to pay attention to the type of exercise the countries would be holding. "If they're practicing saving people in the water, that's one thing, but if they're drilling combat against a joint enemy, that's very different. Each drill has a theoretical basis, and the question will be what is the basis in this exercise. "Israel must ensure that this drill doesn't come at our expense. It doesn't have to do that," he said.