Turkey’s second slap: A war game with Syria
Tuesday, Oct.13, Syrian defense minister Gen. Ali Habib made the triumphant announcement: We held our first joint land military exercise (with Turkey) last spring. And today we have agreed to do a more comprehensive, a bigger one. He spoke at a ceremony declaring a free trade zone between the two countries and opening their borders for the passage of their citizens without visas. Present were the two foreign ministers, Ahmed Davutoglu and Walid Mualem.
The next day, Today’s Zaman provided Ankara’s explanation for its last-minute decision to cancel Israeli participation in the annual multiple air maneuver with NATO under the caption: Delay in delivery of Herons behind drill crisis, not politics. A senior Turkish military source was quoted as saying: “Israel has failed yet again to deliver the Israeli-made surveillance drones known as Herons to Turkey. Turkey needs those vehicles in its fight against terror. What led to the recent crisis between Turkey and Israel was the delay in delivery.”
The source said Ankara ordered 10 drones for $180 million and although the manufacturers, Israel’s Elbit and the arms industry, rescheduled delivery dates, the Turkish military command does not believe they will keep to them.
However, according to debkafile‘s military sources, the Turkish generals are operating on two tracks: First, they are increasingly lining up with prime minister Tayyep Recip Erdogan’s blatantly anti-Israel line, while at the same time hoping not to lose Israel as a source of advanced weapons and intelligence technology.
The Turkish military grievance against Israel as reported in Today’s Zaman was meant to rebut an American rebuke. US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday that “as to the question of whether there was a government that was invited to participate and then removed at the last minute, we think it’s inappropriate for any nation to be removed from an exercise like this at the last minute.”
Since last year, the Turkish military has been dodging between two conflicting tracks: Falling in line behind a government led by an Islamic party which is intent on developing close ties with Iran and Syria, while at the same time not giving up its longstanding profitable military interchanges with Israel.
Turkey staged its first joint military drill with Syria seven months ago on April 27, with the participation of border patrol units. Then too Turkish generals first tried to allay Israeli apprehensions by claiming it was a small, insignificant event. But then on May 4, chief of staff Gen. Ilker Basbug declared that the collaboration was “none of anybody’s business.”
Asked if Israel should be worried, the general snapped back: “Why would it concern Israel? We will not ask for permission from anybody else to conduct such exercises.”
Israeli officials withheld comment at the time hoping to preserve the traditional alliance with the Turkish army on a separate track from the Erdogan government’s pursuit of extremist connections. By precipitating a full-blown crisis over Israel’s participation in the multiple war game this October, Ankara has demonstrated that the two are no longer inseparable; the army is now completely under its heel.
Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Turkish prime minister poured venom on Israeli air strikes against Hamas its January Gaza offensive and the “murder of Palestinian children with phosphorus bombs” – as yet another motive for cancelling Israel’s participation in the air exercise.
Neither prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, defense minister Ehud Barak or foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman answered him. Instead, they had deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon issue a mild statement that Israel-Turkish strategic relations were important and should be preserved.
Unfortunately, those relations have flown out of the window with Israel’s removal from the drill. debkafile‘s Ankara sources stress that foreign minister Davutoglu is steering the Turkish government and army toward a broad new horizon after persuading Erdogan that the way to restoring Turkey to the regional primacy enjoyed by the Ottoman empire depended on its assuming leadership and mediation roles in the Middle East and Muslim world. For two years, Ankara tried to broker a Syrian-Israel peace accord and sought to act as go-between in the disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Syria and Iraq.
Erdogan is not deterred by every single Turkish mediation effort running aground, a fact which his hostility to Israel is designed to mask.
Wednesday, Oct. 14, Dayutoglu was due to leave for Bosnia for a bid to pacify the warning Muslim groups there.