Savarona, the luxury state yacht of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was anchored in Istanbul's Golden Horn, with the army's Chief of Staff, Rustu Erdelhun, aboard. On that spring day in April 1959, no other Turkish general was more pro-West and anti-Arab than Erdelhun.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current prime minister of Turkey, is his polar opposite, from religion-state relations to Turkey-Israel relations.
In light of the uncompromising hostility toward Israel of Arab Muslims, David Ben-Gurion sought to forge ties with non-Muslim Arabs (such as Lebanese Christians ) and non-Arab Muslim states (such as Iran and Turkey ). Erdelhun's guests on the yacht were Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Haim Laskov and the heads of the operations divisions of the Operations Branch and of Military Intelligence research, Avraham "Abrasha" Tamir and David Carmon, respectively.
The yacht summit launched a joint protocol for the two armies. A second, lower-level, round was held at a Herzliya seaside hotel, with an excursion to view a joint training exercise in the sand dunes of Palmahim, south of Tel Aviv, involving an assault by an infantry company with aerial and artillery support.
Leading it all was the chief of the Operations Branch, Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin. Tamir's plan included provisions for Israel Navy commander Maj. Gen. Shmuel Tankus to command a joint Israeli-Turkish naval force in the event of an operation to surround and bisect Syria.
Wars require enemies, and coalition wars require common enemies. The Turkish-Israeli alliance was forged as a counterweight to the radical Arab alliance led by Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt, which merged with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, and against the background of tensions between the superpowers in which Turkey's big neighbor and traditional rival, the U.S.S.R., supported Egypt.
Within a year, however, it came to light that another secret plan was also in the works in the Turkish military. Junior officers at Istanbul's military academy were conspiring to revolt against the government of Adnan Menderes. They chose the retired four-star general Cemal Gursel as their leader and arrested not only Menderes and his cabinet ministers but also Erdelhun and the rest of the top brass.
Erdelhun, who at the time of the coup was also chairman of the NATO Military Committee, was spared the noose due to efforts by foreign figures who reminded the conspirators of Turkey's dependence on U.S. aid. Menderes and two of his party and cabinet colleagues were not so lucky.
Erdelhun's policies also did not survive the coup: Gursel preferred to court, not confront, the Arab states. The intelligence-operational briefings with the IDF continued, but the joint military plans remained locked away and unused.
The flourishing military cooperation between Israel and Turkey that began in the 1990s stemmed in part from the decline in Turkish-Syrian relations, after Damascus supported the Kurdish rebel group PKK; but it received a significant boost from the improvement in Israeli-Arab relations after the defeat of Iraq's Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War: the Madrid Peace Conference, the peace treaty with Jordan and the hopes for the phased-in peace arrangement with the Palestinians.
Throughout the continuum from Erdelhun to Erdogan, Israel has been in denial about the regional situation: No separate peace, no separate existence for a link apart from the chain. In the absence of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the basis of land for peace and the newly revised Obama version, any bilateral agreement will be at the mercy of temporary regimes. Leaders, however assertive they may appear, will hesitate to provoke the popular anti-Israel will.
Former MI chief Uri Saguy was right when he wrote in his book "Hayad Shekafa," that Israel, particularly during the administrations of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, missed an opportunity to reach an agreement with Syria that would have led to agreements with Lebanon and with the Palestinians and to a comprehensive regional agreement.
Ben-Gurion, Nasser and his successor Anwar Sadat, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Saddam and Erdogan were the most influential leaders in the region in the past six decades. The next stage of the crisis could be even worse: If Erdogan's Turkey and today's post-Mubarak Egypt were to develop nuclear weapons, in competition or in cooperation with Iran, Israel would not have a sufficient military or diplomatic response.
If it is the leader who decides, then the leader must be decided upon. Israel is desperate for a moved-up election, to be held no later than the spring of 2012, in order to throw the reigning bums out.
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