Concerns arise in Tel Aviv sensitive know-how may have been transferred by Ankara to Syria and Iran.
Israeli defense officials are concerned that sophisticated defense know-how sold to Turkey has made its way to enemy states like Syria and Iran.Israel’s Ministry of Defense has begun a detailed review of all military sales from Israel to Turkey over the years to determine whether vital information, know-how and technology might have been transferred to third party states. Defense officials acknowledged that its Foreign Defense Assistance and Export Procurement department is conducting the review, but declined to give further details.
Even as the diplomatic relationship between the two nations has deteriorated -- particularly since the May 31 flotilla episode that set off a major crisis when Israeli commandos killed nine as they stopped a Gaza-bound aid ship -- military ties have apparently not collapsed at the same rate.
The IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.Gabi Ashkenazy told the parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that relations with Turkey are important and should be preserved.
“We must maintain them during turbulent times,” Ashkenazy was quoted as saying.
Ashkenazy reportedly said that the decisions being made by the Turkish political echelon are not in line with the Turkish military. He was referring to the recent cancellation of Turkey’s participation in the decades-old joint naval maneuvers dubbed Reliant Mermaid planned for next month.
Ashkenazy said that he has been in touch with his Turkish counterpart, General Ilker Basbug, even after the flotilla affair, according to Israel Radio.
In Toronto on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his nation is severing its military ties with Israel.
Despite this, Turkey has recently deployed some of the 10 of its fleet of advanced Israeli-designed-and-built pilotless drone aircraft to direct the current bloody Turkish assault on Kurdish rebels. Turkish forces have reportedly killed more than 300 insurgents in the past few days.
Even after the diplomatic tensions hit a nadir last month, Turkish personnel nevertheless traveled to Israel to receive training in operating the Heron unmanned aerial vehicle, built by Israel Aerospace Industries and using a ground control system developed by Elbit systems, an Israeli defense firm.
“Israel sold quite a lot of equipment and transferred lots of knowhow to Turkey during the period the two countries held special ties,” Yoav Limor, defense analyst for Israel’s Channel 1 TV, told The Media Line. “Because of the recent deterioration between the two countries, officials in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are very much concerned that such equipment and especially the knowhow will be transferred from Turkey, from Ankara, to countries like Syria and Iran.”
Limor said that both hardware and tactics were at issue. These include items like top-of-the-line programming for modern battle tanks that provide them with day/night scopes and targeting pods.
“And we are talking about tactics. I mean by that, the know-how. How you do things. How you control things. How you deal with things,” Limor said.
The 1990s and early part of this decade saw a flowering of defense ties with billions of dollars in arms deals signed between Turkey and Israel. These included upgrades of F-4 fighter jets, air defense systems, and M-60 battle tanks.
“Except for the USA, Turkey was the closest ally to Israel and we held the same concerns. For example,” Limor added. “I remind you that at that period Syria was an enemy of Turkey so you can imagine that both countries held the same worries and had talks about it and maybe thought of mutual ways to take care of those concerns.”
Limor said the review was aimed at making sure “the sky will not fall” if and when Turkey shares Israeli technology, weapons and tactics with Tehran and Damascus.
In conjunction with the review, the Israeli defense establishment is still aiming to salvage relations with the Turkish military. Ashkenazy even praised his Turkish counterpart, General Ilker Basbug, in an Israel Defense Force magazine published this week when he prologued a published speech Basbug made at a NATO conference they both attended.
“The IDF and the Turkish army maintain military and security ties managed by military attaches stationed in both countries, hold mutual visits, stage joint war games and have conducted a long-running dialogue in many fields. I participated in the Ankara conference at which the general delivered his remarks. I am certain his statements will enrich our knowledge and strengthen awareness of the importance,” Ashkenazy wrote in an introduction of Basbug’s essay published in Ma’arachot. “As a member of NATO and a large, important Muslim country that shares a border with Syria, Iraq and Iran, Turkey is a strategically pivotal country for regional security.”
Basbug’s essay said the primary goal of combating terrorism was to deny terrorist organizations and their supporters any hope of succeeding and to show them that terrorism leads to a dead end.
The alliance between Israel and Turkey, two major non-Arab military powers in the Middle East, dramatically altered the strategic landscape. Many saw Turkey as a launching pad for any Israeli strike against targets in Iran or Syria and for years Israeli bomber squadrons were stationed in its eastern frontiers. Israel also trained Turkish pilots.
“There are reasonable ties between the Israeli army and the Turkish army and between the defense administrations of both countries. The problem is deeply within the governments and diplomatic squadrons,” Limor said.
“In Israel, there are many concerns in the defense establishment because Turkey is a mini- power and it’s shifting from the West towards the East, toward Iran. But I think the Turkish army wants to preserve these ties” with Israel, Limor said. “I very much suspect they are being weakened by the Ergodan regime and administration.