Turkey's need for Israel's UAVs may unite once close allies
Ankara censures Israel for its attacks on Gaza, but does not hesitate to bomb the Kurdish PKK movement in much the same manner.
Turkey's patience in the face of frequent attacks by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK ) ended last week, when it began a war targeted at areas with high concentrations of members of the movement, which is defined as a terrorist organization. On Thursday the Turkish army announced that it had killed 100 PKK members in areas along the Iraqi border and inside Iraq as well, a week after the PKK killed eight Turkish soldiers.
Turkey censured Israel for its activities in Gaza, but operates in a similar manner against the PKK: It penetrates Iraq's air space and bombs villages or sites suspected of housing PKK members, causing the deaths of innocent people, including women and children. And like Israeli diplomats, Turkey's ambassador was summoned to a reprimand: the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, demanded of the ambassador that his country cease its military activities on Iraqi soil immediately. Members of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament added the demand for an apology for Turkey's attacks in its country to this reprimand.
It appears that Ankara, which brought the term "apology" to the forefront of the new diplomatic discourse, will have to deal with this itself now.
According to Turkish sources, in this campaign the Turkish army is using unmanned aerial vehicles acquired from Israel, to which Turkish-made cameras are attached. It turns out that the amount of UAV's in Turkey's hands is insufficient, and it is seeking to purchase more, along with other military equipment, for immediate delivery. Turkey's policy until now has been to acquire Turkish-made equipment or that produced in cooperation with other countries; however, in light of the increasing attacks of the Kurdish movement and the decision to focus a military effort on it, Turkey has decided to make immediate purchases.
A senior Turkish source told Haaretz that it is possible that "the war against the PKK may actually be the factor that rehabilitates relations between Turkey and Israel. Turkey needs the UAV's and Israel is likely to be a good source, especially when the fact that Turkey already has a service platform for Israeli UAV's is taken into account."
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reports that the army intends to buy combat helicopters "off the shelf," in addition to those ordered from the Italian AgustaWestland firm, which were co-produced with Turkish Aerospace Industries.
The war against the PKK has been going on for a long time. Since 1984, more than 40,000 people have been killed. During the last two years, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to reach agreements with the leader of the group, to offer reconciliation, and even announced an effort to rebuild Kurdish areas of Turkey. Alongside these efforts, however, Ankara acted against the Kurdish activists who ran for parliament and some of them were arrested, which led to violent confrontations between Turkish Kurds and the police force.
The campaign against the PKK has also stirred up Turkish politics: This week a recording was leaked to the media in which the previous army chief of staff, Isik Kosaner, is apparently heard saying that the Turkish army is losing its fight against the Kurds due to failures in organization and coordination. Kosaner resigned his post in July, together with the heads of other army branches, in protest following the arrest of senior officers in the "Ergenekon Affair," in which they and other public figures were accused of instigating a military coup. In the recording, a person who appears to be Kosaner says that soldiers abandoned their weapons and deserted during the fighting. In the wake of the publicity that followed, families of soldiers who were killed are demanding compensation from the government for the death of their loved ones due to army negligence.
And this is not the only scandal. In the recording, Kosaner also warns senior commanders about the new law passed by the Turkish parliament which states that the army's civilian business will be under civilian control. "Be careful, financial matters will be much more serious from now on," he says.
The Turkish army, through its soldiers' aid center, owns many civilian factories, including the car assembly firm Renault Fluence, cement factories, hotels and residences that are intended to house soldiers but are sold on the free market. These businesses, worth billions of dollars, have enjoyed complete freedom until now, without any government oversight. The army pension fund will also be under government control now, and according to Kosaner, will be reduced by 15 percent following the introduction of new taxes.
While the Turkish army is beginning to feel government pressure on its pockets, the Turkish government intends to adopt a new fighting strategy against the PKK: Special police and gendarmerie forces will be put in charge, while the Turkish army will concentrate on defending borders. In this way Erdogan's government is in effect declaring that it no longer trusts the army's ability to conduct an effective war against Kurdish terror and plans to become directly involved in the operative side, which until now was free of oversight.
The war against the PKK is the pillar of the policy on which Turkey conditioned its diplomatic cooperation with Syria and Iran. But this policy is changing. Turkey is becoming Syria's biggest critic, while Iran attacks Turkey's policies toward Syria and even threatens to act against Turkey. The concern in Ankara is whether Iran will operate terror organizations in its territory, and also encourage the PKK to widen its attacks, if Turkey continues with its present approach toward Syria.