Turkey's Suspension of Trade With Israel Is a Double-edged Sword

The deterioration in military ties between the two former close allies began well before the public fallout following Operation Cast Lead.

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan's announcement of suspension of defense industry ties with Israel mostly endangers the prospering trade relations between the two countries and less affects their military-defense-intelligence ties.This is simply because the defense ties between the two countries have already been suspended, or are at least in the advanced stages of suspension.

By contrast, Israel-Turkey trade relations have actually been prospering over the past year, increasing by almost 20 percent. If Erdogan does indeed put his threat into action – and as we have seen, he usually does make good on his warnings – his announcement is a double-edged sword, since the Turkish economy will also suffer.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference at the international airport in Santiago, Monday May 31, 2010. Credit: AP

As stated, defense relations with Turkey are already at such a low point that it is hard to imagine a lower one. The military exercises between the countries' navies and air forces, which were once a routine matter, were stopped several years ago, and all military ties were suspended.

In the last year, Turkey was even put on the Defense Ministry's black list of countries, restricting any exports of military equipment or defense assistance. In the heyday of Israeli-Turkish relations, Turkey was the third or fourth most important country to the Israeli defense industry, after the U.S., India and the EU, totaling more than three billion dollars worth of equipment in the last decade.

But the drop in arms trade began even before the breakdown in relations between the two countries that was triggered by Operation Cast Lead in December 2009. The drop in trade actually began when Erdogan decided to alter Turkeys orientation after he understood that the EU, which Turkey wishes to join, would not accept a Muslim nation of 80 million people.

Since entering office, Erdogan has eroded the power of the military, defenders of Turkish democracy, according to its constitution. Turkey will no longer require Israel to vouch for its pro-Western orientation and open doors in Washington with the help of the pro-Israel lobby there.

Ankaras decision will also affect intelligence ties between the two countries, which go back more than 40 years to 1957 when Israel and Turkey struck a trilateral alliance with the intelligence services of Irans Shah. Turkeys geopolitical location explains its importance; it borders Syria and Iran, two of Israels enemies, and could serve as an early-warning lookout.

Of course, it is important to note that relations between the countries are not one-way; the Turks will also suffer from this downgrade in relations. For example, recently Turkish analysts have predicted that the cooling between the countries will inhibit Turkeys ability to battle Kurdish rebels, which relies in part on Heron predator drones manufactured by Israeli arms manufacturers.

But there is a limit to the distance that turkey can continue down this particular path. Turkey may be a Sunni nation, but it is not an Arab one, and therefore it can never serve as the leader of the Arab world, though it may want to. It will always be considered with suspicion by its neighbors Syria, Iraq and Iran.

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