The report asserted that the Islamist government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has kept their military partnership with Israel despite their political crisis this year. Still, the Center, in a report by a leading U.S. analyst, warned that Israeli-Turkish relations were threatened by Ankara’s strategic alliance with Syria.
“Israel’s military relationship with Turkey, including ongoing joint air force training, military exchanges, and arms sales, appears to be secure for the time being,” the report, titled “The Islamist Transformation in Turkish Politics,” said. “Should bilateral political tensions continue, and as Ankara and Damascus enhance strategic ties, inevitably Israeli-Turkish military-to-military relations will suffer.”
Authored by former U.S. Defense Department analyst David Schenker, the report did not detail current Israeli-Turkish military cooperation. Instead, Mr. Schenker pointed to Turkey’s cancellation of Israel’s participation in the NATO-aligned Anatolian Eagle exercise in October 2009.
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In the wake of the cancellation, the Turkish government announced plans to conduct a Turkish military exercise with Syria. The report said Ankara’s decision was expected and reflected the policy of the ruling pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party.
The report said Turkey’s key motive for a military alliance with Israel, launched in 1996, was Ankara’s war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). By 1999, Turkey had forced Syria to expel PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and later arrested him. Since 2002, Syria and Turkey have signed 46 agreements, including a military training pact.
“Turkey no longer needed Israeli assistance to pressure the Syrian government to change its policy of providing safe-haven to the terrorist Kurdish Worker’s Organization,” the report said.
Mr. Schenker, now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, said Ankara’s embrace of Syria over the last three years reflected the decline of Turkey’s military. He said Mr. Erdogan’s party, which has succeeded in marginalizing the military, has been promoting relations with such countries as Qatar, Sudan and Syria while rejecting pro-Western Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.
“Today, the Turkish military can do little to impact the policies of the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development Party), which promote solidarity with Islamist, anti-Western regimes while dismissing secular, pro-Western Muslim governments,” the report said.
The report said Turkey began weakening its relationship with Israel as early as 2006. This year, however, Ankara sparked a crisis with Israel during its war with Hamas as the Turkish government improved relations with Syria. This included the first Syrian-Turkish military exercise in April.
“Clearly, 2009 was a watershed year for the Turkey-Syria bilateral relationship and a year of setbacks for Israeli-Turkish ties,” the report said. “While the long-term implications of these developments remain to be seen, the current trajectory is not cause for optimism.”
Mr. Schenker said Turkey’s support for Iran and Syria has raised concern within NATO. He said Ankara’s pro-Iranian policy could harm U.S. interests in the Middle East. “Perhaps more worrisome is the prospect that Ankara may, over time, pursue a closer foreign policy alignment with Iran that would undermine U.S. and Israeli regional interests,” the report said.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org