Analysis: Turkey's Jewish friend-Israel
By Sam Vaknin
UPI Senior Business Correspondent
SKOPJE, Macedonia, March 4 (UPI - 4 March) -- It is ironic that relations between
Turkey and Israel have never been better. The former is ruled by its first
Islamic government -- though constrained by secular-minded generals. The
latter is increasingly nationalistic -- Messianic and theocratic -- though
its newly elected prime minister, a former army general, Ariel Sharon, has
just put together a largely secular coalition government.
Each year, more than 300,000 Israelis spend their vacation -- and more than
a quarter of a billion dollars -- in scenic and affordable Turkish resorts.
A drought-stricken Israel revived a decade-old plan to buy up to 400 million
cubic meters a year of desalinated sea water from Turkey.
Israeli land use, hydrological and agricultural experts roam the Texas-sized
country. The parties -- with a combined gross domestic product of $300
billion -- have inked close to 30 agreements and protocols since 1991.
Everything, from double taxation to joint development and manufacturing of
missiles, has been covered.
Buoyed by a free trade agreement in force since 1997, bilateral trade
exceeded $1.5 billion last year, excluding clandestine sales of arms and
weapons technologies. According to the Turkish ambassador to the United
States, "Turkish exports to Israel consist mainly of manufactured goods,
foodstuffs and grain, while Israel's main export items to Turkey are
chemical products, plastics, computers and irrigation and telecommunications
A sizable portion of Turkey's $3 billion to $5 billion in annual spending on
the modernization of its armed forces is rumored to end up in Israeli
pockets. This is part of a 25-year plan launched in 1997 and estimated to be
worth a total of $150 billion. Israeli contractors are refurbishing aging
Turkish fighter planes and other weapons systems at a total cost exceeding
$2 billion hitherto.
Last May, the Israeli Military Industries and Elbit secured a $688 million
contract to upgrade 170 M-60A1 tanks. There are at least an additional 800
pieces in the pipeline. Small arms, unmanned aerial vehicles and rockets
originating in Israel make only part of a long shopping list. Israeli pilots
regularly train in Turkey. Joint military exercises and intelligence sharing
are frequent. The Israeli backdoor allows friendly American administrations
to circumvent a rarely Turkophile Congress.
The American-Israel Public Action Committee, the Jewish Institute for
National Security Affairs and, more generally, the almighty Jewish lobby in
Washington often support Turkish causes on the Hill. Three years ago, for
example, Jews helped quash a resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide
perpetrated by Turkish forces during the first World War. This exercise in
hypocrisy did not endear the Jewish community or Israel to either Armenians
or to European Union cardholding Greeks who have long permitted Palestinian
terrorists to operate from the Greek part of Cyprus with impunity. The
friend of my enemy is my enemy, and Israel is clearly Turkey's Jewish
But Israeli hopes that Turkey will reciprocate by serving as a conduit to
Arab regimes in the Middle East proved to be ill-founded. Only one-tenth of
Turkish trade is with its neighbors near and far. Turkey's leverage is
further limited by its chronic economic distress and its offensive designs
to monopolize waterways shared by adjacent countries.
Though Muslim, like the Iranians, Turkey is not an Arab nation. It counts
Syria, Iraq and Iran as potential enemies and competitors for scarce water
resources -- as does Israel. The recent rebuff by its parliament of
America's request to station troops on Turkish soil notwithstanding, the
country is defiantly pro-American against a backdrop of anti-Western
Turkey aspires to join the European Union because it regards itself as an
island of civilization in an ocean of backwardness and destitution. This
counter-regional orientation is another thing it has in common with the
Jewish state. In an effort to differentiate themselves, both polities were
early adopters of economic trends such as deregulation, equities, venture
capital, entrepreneurship, privatization and high tech.
Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize an ominously isolated Israel
in 1949. Both Israel and Turkey are democracies though they are implicated
in systemic human rights violations on a massive scale. The political class
of both is incestuously enmeshed with the military.
The two countries face terrorism on a daily basis and feel threatened by the
rise of militant Islam, by the spread of weapons of mass destruction --
though Israel is hitherto the only regional nuclear power -- and by global
networks like al Qaida.