After more than a year of strained relations, Turkey has decided to restore military and intelligence collaboration in the eastern Mediterranean with Israel as Ankara heads for a military showdown with Syria, according to debkafile's exclusive military sources. The deal worked out between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also gives Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan a role in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy and a chance to bring Hamas into the process.
The deal was discussed in a telephone conversation that took place between the US president and Turkish prime minister last Tuesday June 21, hours after Assad's hardnosed speech at Damascus University. The last ends were tied up when Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, visited Ankara secretly last week and met Erdogan and Fidan Hakan, the head of Turkish intelligence MIT.
Obama and Erdogan agreed that Bashar Assad's reign was over although both their intelligence agencies gave him another four to six months to hang on. To hasten his end, they decided on a two-part campaign: the US and Europe would step up sanctions on Syria and Turkey would raise the military heat.
This decision prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to comment for the first time on a possible Turkish-Syrian military clash: "…we're going to see an escalation of conflict in the area," she said.
Saturday, June 25, Turkey began setting up a big new camp to accommodate a further influx of 12,000 to 15,000 Syrian refugees at Apaydin 10 kilometers from the border, on the opposite side of which Syria's crack 4th Division is massing tanks under the command of Syrian Republican Guard commander Gen. Maher Assad, the president's brother.
The number of refugees continued to swell after soldiers again opened fire on tens of thousands of demonstrators who poured into the streets after Friday prayers, killing at least nineteen.
As Syrian-Turkish military tensions continue to escalate, Ankara saw the necessity of coordinating its air and naval operations with the United States and Israel in case the Syrian ruler responded to a border flare-up by launching surface missiles against Turkish military targets and US bases in Turkey. Obama urged Erdogan and Hakan to get together with the Israeli minister Yaalon to work things out, a move that would call up the old close strategic bonds between Turkey and Israel before the rupture over Israel's 2009 Cast Lead operation against Hamas in Gaza, the Turkish flotilla episode of May 2010 and other incidents.
Calling off Turkey's critical participation in the next big flotilla scheduled for this month to breaking Israel's Gaza blockade indicated the ice was melting.
For the sake of opening a new chapter between Jerusalem and Turkey, our sources disclose that Netanyahu gave in to Obama's request to give Erdogan another chance to promote Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy – this time by bringing Hamas aboard. The Turkish prime minister believes he has a fair chance of altering Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal's inflexible resistance to recognizing Israel.
After meeting Meshaal's rival, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in Ankara Friday, June 24, Erdogan said "Turkey would mobilize support to help the Palestinians achieve recognition and form their own state." Abbas replied: "There will be no turning back from the road to reconciliation [with Hamas]."
Abbas and Meshaal were both in the Turkish capital at the same time, although they denied meeting.
Confirmation that the Turkish prime minister had returned to the role of Israel-Palestinian broker, which he resigned in anger after Israel's Gaza operation in 2009, came from Jerusalem: Thursday, June 23, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told a visiting group of Turkish journalists: "We also accept and respect the fact that Turkey is a regional power with a great historic role."
As to Ankara's bid to broker reconciliation between Abbas and Meshaal and get them to sign a power-sharing accord, the Israeli official commented: "It is also in our interests that the Palestinians have unity. We know once they sign, they sign for everybody and we don't have to worry about this."
debkafile's political sources: Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have obviously recognized that if the price for Israel-Turkish reconciliation and a return strategic collaboration is accepting Hamas' presence on the Palestinian side of the negotiating table, it is worth paying. They have apparently conceded the long-held principle not to deal with a Palestinian terrorist group dedicated to Israel's destruction without seeking cabinet endorsement.