jews & muslims co-operate: here's proof

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    Çevik Bir and Martin Sherman
    Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2002

    The 1990s loom like the lost decade in the Middle East. The carefully-constructed house of cards known as the Arab-Israeli "peace process" lies in a heap. Saddam Husayn still menaces his neighbors and the region. And the prime export of the region, aside from oil, is fundamentalist-fueled terror…In the balance sheet of stability, the 1990s left the Middle East in the red. But at the top of the plus column is one indisputable achievement: the Israeli-Turkish relationship…The ties between these two countries—democratic, pro-Western, non-Arab—could provide the Middle East with stabilizing ballast, which is now a vital interest of the West. Yet theirs is a peculiar relationship with a complex history. Its potential may be very great indeed, but realizing it requires that the partnership be promoted and managed with utmost care.

    Here, then, is a short prospectus on the past, present, and future of the Turkish-Israeli relationship, by a co-author who was one of its Turkish architects, and another co-author, one of its Israeli proponents.

    In the Beginning

    The first thing that must be understood about the relationship between Turkey and Israel is that, for a very long time, Israel was eager to develop it, and Turkey was reticent… In 1949, Turkey was the first majority Muslim nation in the world to recognize Israel, and for three decades, remained the only such country to do so… Diplomatic missions were opened in 1950 at the legation level. But until the 1990s, relations were more symbolic than substantive…. Turkey withstood constant Arab diplomatic and economic pressure to cut diplomatic ties with Israel. But those ties did not develop any momentum.

    …During Israel's first years of independence, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, worked assiduously to forge a close bond with Turkey… Relations with Ankara were also in accord with what was then a central pillar of Israel's foreign policy: the "periphery states" doctrine. Israel sought to offset the diplomatic and economic isolation imposed by its near Arab neighbors by…forging ties with more remote, non-Arab neighbors… From the very outset, Israel hoped that ties with Turkey—a Western-aligned, Muslim-populated state—would dilute the religious element of the Arab-Israeli conflict and might even evolve into a strategic relationship, reinforcing Israel's ties to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Europe…
    Throughout the Cold War period, Ankara preferred to seek allies in the West rather than in the Middle East, opting for a policy of non-engagement in the region. Even in the 1970s, when several of Turkey's Middle Eastern neighbors started to acquire weapons of mass destruction and ballistic delivery systems, Ankara pointedly turned its back on the region. By Turkey's exclusive reliance on NATO, it ran a considerable risk, since the purpose of the alliance was to counter the Warsaw Pact. Was NATO obliged to come to Turkey's defense if it were attacked from the Middle East? On paper--Article 5 of the 1949 Washington Treaty--the answer seemed to be "no."

    The end of the Cold War finally brought Turkey to reevaluate its ties with Israel. With the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, NATO's future became unclear. The eastward expansion of the European Union (EU), the surfeit of EU-based security and defense schemes, the moves to set up a European rapid reaction force, all created uncertainty for Ankara… At the same time, potential threats to Turkey originating in the Middle East began to grow at an alarming pace. At various times, Syria, Iraq, and Iran have had accelerated programs for chemical and biological weapons, as well as long-range delivery systems. And at various times, Turkey has faced threats from terrorist groups…Moreover, the danger of radical Islam…continues to menace the secular, Western-oriented fabric of the Turkish state.

    Two other trends combined in the 1990s to nudge Israel and Turkey together: the failure of democratization in Arab countries and European unification…. A leading analyst has remarked that Turkey and Israel "share ‘a common sense of otherness' from the non-democratic and Arab regimes that dominate their region." [Daniel Pipes, "A New Axis: The Emerging Turkish-Israeli Entente," The National Interest, Winter, 1997-98, at] This sense of "otherness" deepened in the 1990s when the Arab Middle East failed to undergo the democratizing transition experienced by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. During the same decade, the accelerated movement toward European unification intensified Turkey and Israel's sense of marginality. Both countries…could not count on a European consensus in favor of their inclusion…

    However, the liaison between Ankara and Jerusalem would not have gone far had it only been a club for the isolated. Each side had very tangible needs that could be fulfilled by the other. For Turkey, Israel represented a much-needed source of technologically advanced military equipment… For Israel, with its narrow territorial dimensions, Turkey offered geostrategic depth…

    The Warming

    The shift in Israeli-Turkish ties began in 1991 in the wake of the Madrid peace conference, when Turkey moved to upgrade relations to full ambassadorial status. But the real breakthrough occurred in November 1993, when Turkish foreign minister Hikmet Çetin visited Israel. During the visit, he signed a memorandum on mutual understanding and guidelines on cooperation… Upon his return, Çetin announced that Turkish-Israeli relations would be advanced further in all areas, adding that the two states would cooperate "in restructuring the Middle East."…

    [In] 1996, the two countries signed a far-reaching military coordination agreement. The accord provided, among other things, for Israeli air force planes to utilize Turkish air space for training purposes. In August of the same year, the two governments concluded an additional agreement for the exchange of technical knowledge and expertise, paving the way for Israeli upgrading of over fifty Turkish air force F-4 Phantoms. The 1996 accords were followed by a flurry of mutual visits and declarations… The Turkish army's chief of staff, Ismail Hakki Karadayi, visited Israel in early 1997. This was followed by a visit by Israel's foreign minister David Levy to Ankara. Then Turkey's defense minister Turhan Tayan paid a visit to Israel, as did Çevik Bir (co-author of this piece) in early May 1997. [By] the latter part of 1997 significant numbers of commanding officers from both militaries had met each other…

    The new ties weathered several difficult tests, the most severe of which was the rise to power of Necmettin Erbakan, head of the anti-Israel and Islamist Welfare Party, in 1996… Erbakan's anti-Israel rhetoric was rife with traditional anti-Jewish motifs and myths. For him, Israel was a "timeless enemy" and "a cancer in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world." He accused Israel of seeking to undermine the Islamic faith, warned of the specter of a "greater Israel" stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, and alleged that a "Zionist conspiracy" was to blame for Turkey's economic difficulties. Before his election, Erbakan pledged to freeze Ankara's relations with Israel and to annul the bilateral agreements between the two countries. Some analysts thought Erbakan's election would constitute a fatal blow to the relationship.

    It didn't. Under the provisions of Turkey's constitutional system, the military is charged with protecting the secular republican legacy of Kemal Atäturk, the founder of modern Turkey. The army made it clear to Erbakan that it would not sit idly by and watch Turkey turn toward Islam or allow Israeli-Turkish military relations to be jeopardized… [The] secretary general of the powerful National Security Council…declared that Turkey's secular society and educational system formed basic tenets of the country's national security. Erbakan was kept in check…

    Another test arose from the vehemence of the criticism leveled by those who saw themselves as adversaries (or potential adversaries) of Turkey or Israel (or both). For example, Vice-President ‘Abd al-Halim Khaddam of Syria…warned that …U.S.-Turkish-Israeli ties were "the most dangerous alliance … witnessed since the Second World War." The Iraqi foreign minister Muhammad Sa‘id as-Sahaf termed the joint naval maneuvers in January 1998 "a provocative act." Iranian president Muhammad Khatami also declared that the Turkish-Israeli entente "provokes the feelings of the Islamic world."… Since September 2000t…Turkish voices have been raised in criticism of Israeli policies. Once again, speculation swirled about the possibility that agreements might be suspended or cancelled…
    Just what has the partnership achieved so far in strategic terms? In what directions should it develop?
    Strategic Content

    [The] entente between Ankara and Jerusalem is clearly not a military alliance in the traditional sense. Neither state expects the other to wage its wars… Nevertheless, their relationship can still be considered a strategic partnership, for it is rooted in a fundamental convergence of views on a wide range of issues, both regional and global… Israel and Turkey do share concerns about Syria, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the danger of Islamic radicalism, potential threats from Iran or Iraq, and the geopolitical destiny of Central Asia. The strategic partnership between Turkey and Israel is not a classic balance of power play… It is rather a relationship between two "status quo powers," pooling resources to ward off common threats… The strategic benefits that both countries have derived so far from their relationship can be grouped under the following rubrics:

    Enhanced deterrence. Israeli-Turkish military

    cooperation has undoubtedly enhanced the deterrence postures of both parties and so reduced the chances of violence being instigated against either one of them…

    Enhanced coercive diplomacy.

    Coercive diplomacy draws on many of the same elements as deterrence, but instead of dissuading an adversary from undertaking an undesired action, it compels an adversary to undertake a desired action.
    Turkey's coercive diplomacy has already benefited from the liaison with Israel. In 1998, Damascus bowed to Turkish pressure to expel PKK head Abdullah Öcalan and terminate support for his organization, whose terrorist activities had cost the lives of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens. There is general consensus…that Syrian compliance with Ankara's demands was prompted in no small measure by the perception among Syrian leaders that they might have to deal with a combined Turkish-Israeli threat… Indeed, the recently signed security coordination pact between Syria and Turkey is viewed by some as an additional benefit that devolved to Ankara as a result of the Turkish-Israeli détente, which compelled Damascus to resign itself to the new realities of the Middle East…

    Enhanced standing in Washington.

    Cooperation between Turkey and Israel creates a synergy that increases their importance to the United States. This is especially true following the events of September 11, 2001, which starkly underlined the fact that the Israeli-Turkish entente demarcates the fringes of a region fiercely inimical to U.S. interests….

    Next Phase

    The dramatic events of September 11 constitute a watershed for the international system, irrefutably demonstrating the severity of the threat of international terrorism and radical Islamism… The Middle East is fast on its way to becoming the principle generator of these threats. This opens new vistas for the Israeli-Turkish relationship, as a counterweight to the menace of radical forces… There are four major messages that the entente should convey to the region and beyond:

    It is aimed at providing increased security and stability in the Middle East and beyond.

    It demonstrates the merits (both in moral and political terms) of democratic regimes…

    It is not motivated by any aggressive designs and is not directed against third parties.

    It is open to other like-minded regional actors, thanks to its informal structure and non-aggressive objectives.

    The ultimate direction of this relationship may reside in the ease of its interaction with the network of interlinking ties being forged under the rubric of "the war on terror," the purpose of which is nothing less than remaking the Middle East. This is precisely where the Israeli-Turkish partnership goes beyond its value to both states and serves as a beacon of optimism to a benighted region… [The] Turkish-Israeli relationship deserves to be nurtured and rewarded by all those whose interests lie in a stable and democratic Middle East. And Israel and Turkey must regard their entente as open-ended, welcoming to all those who would share its premises. In a Middle East where the forces of disorder weave ever-more intricate networks, the champions of stability can't afford to do less.

    (Çevik Bir was deputy chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces from 1995 to 1998 and negotiated several landmark Turkish-Israeli military agreements. Martin Sherman is a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya
    and lectures in political science at Tel Aviv University.)

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