As Israel and Turkey work to mend relations Jerusalem is expected to begin negotiating with Turkey over receiving permission to place a strategic strike force in Turkey in preparation for a possible military assault against Iran.
Prior to the Marvi Mamara commando raid in May 2010 against a ship seeking to break Israel’s embargo on Gaza, the two nations enjoyed good relations including widespread military cooperation. After Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a short time ago decided to issue a formal apology and offer compensation to the families of Turkish nationals killed in the operation, the two nations are now working to restore ties, albeit slowly and with an air of caution.
National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror is expected to visit Ankara this week to sign documents towards renewed cooperation and he will offer Turkey advanced missile defense technology with the realization Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is quite concerned regarding the Iranian nuclear threat as is Israel. The offer of the missile systems will be contingent on permitting the IDF a foothold in a Turkish Air Force base northeast of Ankara. Amidror’s assignment will not be an easy one as moving ahead militarily will be contingent on reaching agreement between Israel and Turkey regarding the amount of compensation to be made to each of nine families. Israel was offering a total of $1 million while Erdogan is seeking about $1 million per family. Amidror will be trying to resuscitate an agreement between the countries from 1996, permitting Israel military training rights on Turkish soil. The agreement permits the IAF to practice in Turkish air space and use the air force base in question. In return, Turkish pilots take part in training exercises in IAF bases in the Negev. Amidror will have to enlist the support of a number of veteran Israeli allies in Turkey to overcome the compensation package obstacle in the hope of renewed military cooperation against the common foe, the Iranian nuclear threat.
Despite the tensions existing since the Marmara affair, the IAF has maintained contact with Turkish Air Force commanders amid a realization pilots may encounter one another while flying over the Mediterranean.
Amidror is authorized to make a generous offer to Ankara, which is concerned over the Iranian threat as well as the ongoing civil war in Syria. Ankara is anxious to get hold of the Arrow missile defense system as well as other advanced missile technology, including a thermal recognition weapons system that would give Turkish pilots a major advantage, enabling the identification of a target up to 150km (90 miles) away even in adverse weather conditions.
Israeli military assistance to Turkey in the past has been essential in that country’s battle against Kurds and rebel forces over decades. Today, Turkish concerns are focused on the Syrian border, as the civil war seems to be escalating daily.
Despite cautious optimism and similar concerns vis-à-vis Syria and Iran, Amidror and his delegation will not have an easy time as they meet with the nation’s deputy prime minister and deputy foreign minister. Complicating Amidror’s mission somewhat is sudden decision by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to visit Israel. Cyprus is Turkey’s sworn enemy, and the former is concerned regarding ramifications for his country as a result of the mending of fences between Israel and Turkey. After his successful reelection Anastasiades congratulated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while warning of concerns surrounding ongoing Israeli efforts to get back into Ankara’s good favor. It is these very concerns that prompted a visit by Cypriot officials two weeks ago, seeking to signal business as usual despite the anxiety surrounding a deal between Israel and Turkey may come at the expense of ties with Cyprus.
Israel, Turkey and Cyprus share a marine border and Turkey and Cyprus are in an ongoing dispute over territorial rights and control, a dispute which has already resulted in Cyprus calling on its ally, Jerusalem, to support its position. During the upcoming presidential visit, Anastasiades will address this issue with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as continued military cooperation between the two countries.
Minister of Regional Cooperation Silvan Shalom has already released a statement ahead of the upcoming visit, that efforts to renew ties with Turkey will not come at the expense of the relationship with Israel’s staunch ally, Cyprus, which include cooperation in military, gas and energy and other areas.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)