Turkish-Israeli Strategic Alliance For NATO’s Air Supremacy – Analysis


By Mehmet Bildik*

Terrorism is a threat of use of extra normal violence by subnational groups to obtain a political, religious, or ideological objective through intimidation of a huge audience. Terrorists are incapable of justifying their actions within nation-centric “Westphalian” system of rules and unable to lean on tradition and custom in their attempt to engage in political violence. Therefore, the apparent “chaotic” nature of terrorist violence may simply be endogenous to the illegitimate status of the activity in the international system. At this point, terrorism is a strategy that is used by separatist groups for different purposes, acting in guerrilla warfare in order to establish their own so-called authority. Since the 1980s, civilians have also been the targets of terrorist activities, as in the example of PKK terrorism.

The PKK – the outlawed terrorist organization – led by terrorist Abdullah Ocalan, who is currently in a life imprisonment, is an insurgent movement seeking to establish an independent Kurdish state in south-eastern Turkey. This terrorist organization claims to pursue the rights of Turkey’s Kurds. After the PKK was vanquished by the Turkish Army Force in the 1990s, the PKK suddenly changed its rhetoric from pursuit of independence to recognition of the Kurdish identity and limited autonomy. They made this decision despite the fact that there are no legal or other forms of discrimination against Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin, and these citizens have enjoyed full political rights under the Turkish constitution. Moreover, Kurds in Turkey have risen to high levels of government in both elected and appointed positions. After the PKK’s manipulations and provocations, the countermeasures of the Turkish Army were perceived as discrimination tools against them. The propaganda of the PKK was so effective that Turkey is misunderstood by many around the world. Furthermore, PKK terrorism mainly damages Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin this particularly describes those who live in south-eastern Turkey. To understand Turkey, one must keep in mind that it lives in a very problematic neighborhood. No other NATO ally faces as many threats, problems and challenges right across its doorstep. Turkey is a powerful nation located in the region where problematic neighbors namely Syria, Iraq and Iran, have created artificial problems to make Turkey unstable.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group internationally by several states and organizations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Turkey’s strategic role in the Middle East grew in prominence in the post-Cold War period. For NATO, Turkey was a “functional ally” that had a crucial geostrategic location and a powerfully large army. After the Cold War, NATO shifted its emphasis from “collective defense” to “collective security” . Turkey’s regional prominence grew, as Turkey transformed into a strategic importance for the west, The nation went from being a flank country to a frontline country for the Middle East, for which Turkey was a “functional” ally despite the fact that it was one of the most significant contributors to the alliance’s out-of-area operations through the 1990s. At this point, Turkey looked for partners in the Middle East that could help to meet the growing security challenges from Iran, Iraq and Syria. Israel was the perfect choice, as it shared Turkey’s threat assessment and Israel was a strong pro-western democratic country with considerable relations with U.S. Moreover, Jerusalem could provide military technology that the west was reluctant to sell to Turkey an important NATO ally to fight against PKK terrorism. As a result of the new perceptions in Ankara of the beneficial role of Israel, Turkey upgraded its diplomatic relations with State of Israel to the ambassadorial level in 1992. Turkey signed many bilateral agreements, among them many with strategic significance.

Defense trade during that time was worth several million dollars between Turkey and Israel. Major programs included a 700 million dollar deal to modernize Turkey’s aging fleet of F-4 Phantoms and a 688 million dollar deal to upgrade M-60 tanks and an array of other sophisticated weapon systems. The Israeli Air Force was allowed to use Turkish air space to practice complex air operations and there were synergies in the area of counter-terrorism and intelligence. A strategic partnership between Ankara and Jerusalem emerged, which was buttressed by a common strategic agenda and a similar outlook on global affairs. The turning point in Turkey’s fight against PKK terrorism came after launching the Mediterranean dialogue in January 1994 when the North Atlantic Council stated the alliance would “consider ways to promote dialogue, understanding and confidence building between the countries in the region”. The final communiqué of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels was the announcement of its decisions on the “ measures to promote dialogue” and “establish contacts on a case- by-case basis, between the alliance and Mediterranean non-member countries with a view to contributing to the strengthening of regional stability”. Finally, Israel and Turkey have found common ground to fight against terrorism in NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue. In this context, Israel and Turkey signed a Military Training and Cooperation agreement and a Defense Industrial Cooperation agreement in which joint exercises and training between the two countries paved the way for Turkey to overcome PKK terrorism.

Turkish-Israeli cooperation against terrorism has created maneuver room in favor of the U.S. in the Middle East. NATO’s Adana Incirlik Air Base was used for “The Operation Northern Watch” in January 1997 with the task to enforce the United Nations-sanctioned “no-fly zone” north of the 36th parallel in Iraq. On the other hand, close ties with the State of Israel have benefited Turkey in terms of PKK’- leader Ocalan’s 1998 expulsion from Syria and Damascus. During this time, a protocol was signed with Ankara in the southern Turkish city of Adana promising to cease its support for the PKK. In the protocol, pax-Adana was representing a regional balance characterized by the Syrian and Iranian promise not to support the PKK. Another success was Turkey’s convincing Cyprus not to deploy S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.

Currently, the PKK’s Syrian sister organization, PYD, has gained a measure of control over some swaths of Kurdish-populated territory near Syria’s border of Turkey. This development raised questions for Turkey about the possibility of another base of support for PKK training and operations. Terrorist group PYD has become the most dangerous entity in Syria and has consolidated its territorial control further in 2014 and 2015. Although the Turkish government called the PKK to lay down arms several times, the PKK has continued in violence by killing civilians and heinously attacking Turkish security forces. On this point, the Turkish government has agreed to open the Incirlik Air Base for the US-led coalition’s warplanes to hit DAESH locations. NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, has said that “NATO supports Turkey in its fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Turkey has a right to defend itself.”

In this context, Turkey should strengthen its army presence in Northern Iraq to provide security for Mosul and should increase the curfew on villages near the military operation zones while its army is fighting against PKK. On that point, Important news broke out about talks between Turkish and Israeli officials in a bid to accomplish the normalization process by sealing a long-negotiated deal. Another important aspect of these talks was whether the two parties have tried to secure a deal on the transportation of Israeli reserves to European markets via Turkey through a pipeline. Turkey has actually increased its trade with Israel in recent years and Turkey is still a major tourist destination for Israelis.Turkish-Israeli economic relations remained intact even after the flotilla episode.Trade between the two countries doubled in the past five years , and is now at $5.6 billion.

Turkey’s current desire to reconcile with Israel is essentially a strategic advancement to improve ties with the U.S. and NATO allies-Turkey and Israel should hammer out details to restore diplomatic ties on military cooperation and Turkey should immediately purchase an advanced intelligence system from Israel such as “Super Herons”, which has a heavy fuel 200 horse power engine that increases its rate of climb and performance. The sensitivity of the safety of civilians prevents Turkish special forces from conducting operations in the areas where PKK’s management headquarters are located inside the cities.

As long as the PKK’s headquarters remain operational, their terrorism will continue to be resilient. Purchasing “Super Herons” its range is 250 km and 1000 km by satellite control, will break down PKK’s resilient . A day after the Russian navy fired cruise missiles at targets in Syria and two days after Russian warplanes entered Turkey’s airspace, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance “ is able and ready to defend all allies, including Turkey, against any threat.” Russia is drawing the lines of its geopolitical sphere of influence in these regions against NATO and the west, and Russia is seeking an opportunity to take revenge for its jet that was downed by Turkey and is looking for opportunities for a tit-for-tat reprisal. Russia firing cruise missiles at targets in neighboring Syria rang alarm bells in Ankara, which has for some time been feeling uneasy over neighbor Iran acquisition of long-range missiles. Russia needs ground troops to achieve its military goals in Syria, and the Kurds are readily available for this task. Given the Russian promise to help YPG groups in Syria, which is strongly associated with the PKK, Turkey has to take measure to protect its air space by purchasing items like “Arrow 3” and “David’s Sling”. “David Sling’s” missiles systems is an advanced multi-mission interceptor designed for insertion into integrated air and missile defense systems. “David Sling’s” lethal hit- to- kill effects ensure a wide margin of tactical overmatch against a broad spectrum of air and missile defense threats.

Turkey will protect NATO’s air superiority against the Russian containment policy in the Middle East while frustrating Iran’s policy on Syria if launching an advanced “David Sling” and “Arrow-3” air defense system, which will pave the way for Israel to make more operations against Iranian backed militants in Syria. On September, 2015 meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu and President Viladimir Putin for preventing inadvertent clash on Syria, accordingly Israel have raised this issue during his meeting with Putin was the perception that “Russia’s increased involvement in Syria makes it more difficult for Israel to operation against Iranian backed Hezbollah.” This point has proven after the Russian jet downed by Turkey, strategic calculation changed in Middle East that on 20 December, 2015 Israeli Air strike made operations against Hezbollah field commander Samir Kuntar in Damascus. Finally, Turkey fighting against PKK terrorism while protecting NATO’s air superiority, will detract the trust between Iran and Russia therefore Israel will take care to maintain its freedom of action in countering Iran and Hezbollah.

*Mehmet Bildik is a Research Fellow on Military and Strategic Affairs by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Turkey. He received his MA degree from the Bucharest National School of Political Science and Public Administrative Studies, Security and Diplomacy as a scholarship holder of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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