Turkey Tightens Syrian-Iranian Axis
after Snubbing Israel
The threat of the anti-Israel
axis north of the border worsened Wednesday with the
announcement that Turkey, which has close ties with Iran,
conducted joint military drills with Syria after snubbing
The maneuvers were held last week, revealed Syrian Foreign
Minister Walid Moallem, who made the announcement on the
Qatar-based Arabic-language Al Jazeera news network. "One week
ago, Syria and Turkey carried out maneuvers near Ankara,"
Moallem announced. "This is important because it refutes
reports of poor relations between the military and political
institutes in Turkey over its strategic relations with
The Syrian-Turkish military exercises were apparently being
held at the same time that Turkey was informing Jerusalem that
it would ban the IAF from participating in the joint Anatolian
Eagle exercise, a move that was not made public by Israel until
Sunday. The war games, scheduled to be held together with
Turkey, the U.S. and Italy, reportedly were to include mock
bombing raids in air space near the borders of Iran, Iraq and
Syria. Israeli planes are believed to have passed through
Turkish air space two years ago during the attack on a Syrian
nuclear facility under construction.
Two decades of close ties between Ankara and Jerusalem appear
to be coming to an end, the Asia Times reported Wednesday. It
explained that demands from the Arab world and from hard-line
Muslims in Turkey have influenced the government to distance
itself from Israel, which has supplied Ankara with hundreds of
millions of dollars' worth of equipment for refurbishing tanks
"This is a seriously worrying development," former Israeli Air
Force Commander Eitan Ben-Eliyahu told an interviewer on
Israeli television. "Turkey is critically essential in the
training of our air force over wide spaces, particularly given
Turkey's strategic location adjacent to both Iran and
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi
HaNegbi (Kadima) stated that the cancellation of the joint
military exercise is a "troubling" development.
Turkish officials tried to calm harsh Israeli reactions to the
surprise cancellation, but Israeli officials charged that the
government of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan is trying to
punish Israel for the three-week Operation Cast Lead
counterterrorist war against Gaza that concluded in
Prime Minister Erdogan also has been in the forefront of
criticizing the United Nations decision last month not to
discuss the Goldstone Report that accused Israel of war crimes
in the Gaza operation. The U.N. now is considering reversing
End of an Era?
The change in the friendship between Turkey and Israel, which
one senior Israeli official admitted may “have simply ended,”
leaves Israel without any friendly nation close to the northern
border. The Asia Times noted that the cancellation of the
aerial exercise may have severe implications on the effort to
prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
A Turkish-Syrian treaty signed Tuesday included plans to
strengthen military ties and to end visa requirements for each
country. Ten Turkish ministers flew to Syria for the high-level
meeting with Syrian counterparts.
Syria also praised Turkey for pulling out of the military
exercise with Israel and urged other Muslim countries, mainly
Jordan and Egypt, to cut diplomatic ties with Israel. Jordan
this week threatened to withdraw its ambassador to Israel if
Israeli police enter the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple
Turkey also played a critical role as intermediary in indirect
talks between Syria and Israel during the term of former Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert.
Turkey Tries to Calm Crisis
Ankara nevertheless may be trying to calm the current crisis
with Israel. Zamanonline, a Turkish news web site, reported
Wednesday that the failure of Israel to deliver UAVs to help
Turkey fight terror was the reason behind the cancellation of
the aerial exercise with Israel.
It quoted an anonymous senior air force official as saying that
politics is not involved with the current crisis with Israel.
The official reportedly said that Israel is not making good on
a four-year-old $180 million contract with Israel Aerospace
Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems for 10 Heron UAVs.
“Turkey needs those vehicles in its fight against terror. What
led to the recent crisis between Turkey and Israel was the
delay in the delivery,” he said.
“As Israeli authorities failed to satisfactorily convince
Turkey that they would be able to achieve the planned date for
delivery of the Herons, the Air Forces Command informed the
General Staff of the situation,” he told the web site. “The
General Staff asked Israeli authorities one last time about the
delivery of the Herons. Israeli authorities refused to give an
exact date and said they planned to deliver the vehicles by the
end of 2009, whereupon the General Staff decided to cancel the
international part of the exercises.”
Israeli engineers explained they ran into problems because of
the weight of Turkish-made electro-optical payloads, which
require a stronger engine for the Heron UAV. Two of the Herons
have been delivered, but Turkey claims they are not
Relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorated after the
three-week Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign ended,
with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan storming out two weeks
later during a panel discussion with President Shimon Peres
about the war with Hamas.