NATO has been an institution that has expanded its sphere of influence towards the east, while NATO’s southern flank poses a complex threat that requires multi-dimensional strategies for territorial defense, cooperative security and crisis management. For the last 25 years of NATO’s history, the Alliance has constantly committed itself to provide security for the Middle East and Mediterranean Energy fields.
Regarding counter terrorism and stabilization in the energy fields, the Warsaw Summit of 2016 underlined the importance of the Middle East. To this end, NATO’s Incirlik Airbase is a crucial point for Middle East energy security and providing military and strategic capability for Turkey, the United States and NATO’s Mediterranean partner Israel.
For NATO’s southern flank, Israel and Turkey have reached an agreement to normalize relations. Therefore, Ambassador Eitan Naeh who is considered among the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s finest and most successful career diplomats, has been appointed by Jerusalem to Ankara. The arrival of Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey has marked one of the final steps in the restoration of the relations between the former close regional allies in which the Turkish-Israeli alliance has allowed both countries greater influence in NATO’s southern flank.
Yuval Steinitz became the first Israeli Minister to visit Turkey since 2010 for talks about a gas pipeline that would carry offshore Israeli gas from the Mediterranean Sea to Turkey and to Europe. According to Steinitz, Turkey was the first priority for the Leviathan gas pipeline to be constructed starting from the Israeli offshore and ending in the Adana Ceyhan Sea port, in southern Turkey.
Israel has been described by the international military coalition as a “very active partner,” notably through its membership in the Mediterranean Dialogue group on NATO’s southern flank. Normalization between both sides allowed the first meeting between senior military officials to occur between IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj-Gen. Yair Golan and his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, on the sidelines of the NATO conference for defense heads in January 2017 in Brussels.
Thus, military-security ties have became one of the closest in the Middle East and Israel can even provide military assistance to Turkey in its ongoing fight against PKK-PYD terrorism. For its part, Ankara can cooperate with Israel against Iran’s expansion by focusing on arms deals with the Gulf Cooperation Council and Saudi Arabia where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited on a four day Gulf tour, during which he visited important countries in the region. Political and military relations, as well as Iranian expansion — particularly the conflict in Syria — were on Erdoğan’s agenda.
Israeli Foreign Minister Director-General Yuval Rotem flew to Ankara in January 2017 for the first high level political consultations between the two countries in six years. The discussion on both sides involved various issues, including security and energy issues on NATO’s southern flank in terms of the Leviathan gas field.
Right after the Israeli delegation visited Ankara, US Chief of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford held a meting on Feb. 17 with Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar at the NATO’s Incirlik air base to discuss the PYD presence in northern Syria. In this vein, Turkey will consider preventing the Kurdish reach to the Mediterranean sea to protect the Leviathan gas field..
*Mehmet Bildik is a political scientist and Research Fellow on Military and Strategic Affairs. He is research assistant at the military and strategic affairs cyber security program of the The Institute for National Security Studies under the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He received his MA degree at Bucharest National School of Political Science and Public Administrative Studies, Security and Diplomacy Scholarship holder under the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This article appeared at Foreign Policy News, and has been slightly edited.