Turkish and Syrian militaries conducted joint drills last week aimed at improving security cooperation on their shared border. The three-day exercises, which began on 28 April, were similar to those held last year. Both Israel and the US are concerned that Turkey may share Israeli technology with Syria. It was only 12 years ago that Syria and Turkey came to the brink of war. With that in mind, their rapidly improving relations are indeed significant, especially for Israel. Also last week, reports emerged that Israel has refused Turkey’s request for the Israeli-built advanced Barak-8 missile interceptor, which it fears could end up in the hands of Iran.
Bottom Line: There is considerable concern in the Israeli government that the Turkish government is increasingly shifting away from its traditionally close ties with the Jewish state. Turkey’s military exercises with Israeli enemy Syria exacerbate that perception significantly.
Alliance with Israel is of strategic utility for Turkey, but a utility that is largely pragmatic. It gains access to the Israeli defense industry (but perhaps not for much longer), and the relationship is good for Turkey’s image in the NATO alliance. However, even within NATO, Turkey is becoming increasingly critical. It has recently raised concerns about the Israeli nuclear program at a NATO summit in Tallinn, Estonia.
Turkey’s ruling AKP has largely given up on Europe, and is now looking to improve ties with its more accessible eastern neighbors. In particular, it is working to improve energy ties with Iran and Russia. Israeli relations are already a serious point of contention domestically, in the context of the power struggle between the military and traditional secular nationalist elite and the Islamist AKP.
The serious consequences of the European Union’s foot-dragging on Turkish membership are now emerging, and even if the EU had the political will to do so, a change of heart now might be too late to bring Turkey back into the fold and renew its significance as a strong Middle East mediator and important NATO ally.
The EU’s non-response to the Greek financial crisis was also closely watched in Turkey, and it is becoming clearer that integration might not bring all that many benefits, as far as Ankara is concerned.
By. Jen Alic