Importance Of NATO’s Incirlik Airbase For Turkish-American And Israel Relations – Analysis


Constructed in 1955 with US assistance, the facility was NATO’s most important “southest wing” airbase during the Cold War. For over 60 years, NATO’s Incirlik Airbase served as a deterrent to possible Soviet expansion and proved valuable in handling various crisis in the Middle East. According to the World Island theory of Mackinder “ who controls the rimland rules Eurasia, who rules Eurasia controls the destines of World.” To that end, the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine on March 12,1947 led to the expansion of U.S defense ties to Turkey and laid the ground work for Turkey’s eventual incorporation in NATO. Turkey’s strategic importance to the United States provided a bridge to the Arab world and served as a stabilizing force in the Middle East; hence, the continued access to Incirlik Airbase remains important factor for preserving U.S national interest in the Greater Middle East.

NATO’s Incirlik Airbase has important factor for Turkish-American and Israel relations to manage geopolitical developments in Middle East. On 21 February 1955, the airbase was officially named Adana Air base, with 7216th Air Base Squadron as the host unit. This base was renamed “ Incirlik Air Base” on 28 February 1958. Establishing Incirlik Airbase created an “advanced defense front” against the threat of potential Soviet incursion through the southern wing of Turkey. Another important reason for the creation of the southern wing was preservation of oil resources in Middle East and paving way for the Alliance of Periphery to expand its sphere of influence by which the Turkish membership to NATO has pushed the alliance front further east and right after Israel gained independence from Britain, the Alliance of Periphery was formulated by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. The alliance called Israel-as secular democratic state in the Middle East- to develope a close strategic alliance with Turkey and the United States in order to counteract against pro-Soviet Arab regime. From the military and strategic point of view, military operations from NATO’s Incirlik Airbase are representing Pax-Americana or American super power to protect democracy, stability and oil resources in the Middle East.

The civil wars raging in recent years in some of the Arab states in the Middle East and the emergence of the movements, motivated mostly by ISIS –ISIL sponsored terrorism, challange the current political configuration of the region and supremacy of the central arab governments. It is difficult to imagine that the old order of Sykes- Picot can be restored. Rather, in light of the different religious and ethnic realities in the region, Middle East is requesting new order creating political and economic viability. A combination of creating new order by using of new political formations such as federation/confederation may be requested in region. It may be premature to discuss “new Sykes-Picot system” will break out but it will also be futile to assume that some of the indigenous forces battling in the Middle East will be satisfied with simply returning to the status quo ante bellum. To this end, Turkey is powerful NATO country in region fighting against PKK terrorism to settle stability in region is important factor for civil war in arab countries and will determine fate of the Middle East.

On 24 July 2015, Turkey officially launched its two-front campaign against PKK terrorism and Islamic State jihadist group in Syria, marking Turkey’s first military involvement in the US-led campaign against ISIL. Ankara decision days to open the Incirlik Airbase to US jets was reportedly described as “ game changer” in Middle East geopolitics. A surge in Islamic State activity in Middle East caused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to agree but he said the use of the base by the USA would be “within a certain framework”. Incirlik has grown more more important in the US-led campaign of Operation Inherent Resolve through which Germany aircrafts have been refueling, gathering intelligence and conducting air strikes fron NATO’s strategic base. The fact that Turkish F-16’s shooting down a Russian military jet along the Syrian border on 24 November 2015, which sparked fury in Moscow and resulted in the Russian decision to deploy advanced S-400 missiles in Syria. Therefore Germany strategically responded by deploying tornado war planes to NATO’s Incirlik Airbase, focusing on a surveillance mission with a total of 1,200 troops.

The nuclear deal reached between between Iran and Obama Administration formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was predicted on a basic give-and-take. In exchange for Iran agreeing to intrusive international inspections and monitoring and limits on its enrichment and heavy water capacity for a confidence-building period, the P5+1 would respect Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment and remove all-nuclear-related sanctions. This agreement definitely put Israel’s security under the threat and deepened rift between Obama administration and Israel. Secondly, Israel has maintained good bilateral relations with Russia, but Israel and Russian interest in the Middle East differ. Israel has said that while it will not take sides in the Syrian civil war, it will act to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, a long time enemy of Israel that is supporting Assad regime in fighting. In this concept, On September 2015, Binyamin Netenyahu, Israel’s prime minister has met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin to discuss security concerns along Israel’s northern border and how to avoid accidental clashes between Israel and Russian forces in which Israel was trying to understant what Russians’ plan are, how far they will go and how it will affect Israel’s interest. At this point, while Germany troops were launched in NATO Incirlik Airbase and Turkish jets taken off from Incirlik Airbase shooting down a Russian military jet was percieved as mistake by Israel and this event deteriorated relations between Israel, Germany and United States.

Political standoff between Israel, Germany and United States had huge impact on civil-military relations in Turkish political system and determimed the fate of Germany military presence in NATO Incirlik Airbase in terms of Middle East geopolitics. At this point, a suicide bomber killed three innocent Israeli citizens on March 2016 in busy shopping district in the hearth of Istanbul and attack carried out by terorist ISIS member. This event proved once again that Germany military presence in Incrilik Air base was incapable on fighting against ISIS and would have led to Turkish foreign policy change toward to Germany. Furthermore; The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu who was the succesfull politican and able to speak deutch language fleuntly and having good relations with Germany has announced his resignation consolidating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan position as Turkey’s unrivalled political leader on the way of the presidentail system. Therefore Turkish political system have been evolved in itself through removing of Germany influence on Turkish execution system which affected civil-army relations and triggered failed coup attempt in Turkey in july 2016.

Political standoff between Obama administration and Israel paved the way for Turkish-Israeli normalization talks in respons to that United States accelerated liberation of Mosul which does mean that ISIS will loose ground in Middle East where United States had to get upper hand against China on the world geopolitical chessboard. At this point, Turkey, Syria and Mosul formed the Middle Eastern section of China’s Silk Road and Mosul is in the middle of it. This led to infrastructure investments in Turkey which makes up a vital part of world geostrategy: numerous mega infrastructure projects are at the construction or design stage, such as the third airport in Istanbul, the third Bosphorus Bridge, the bridge over the Dardanelles, and under-the-sea passages for trains and other cargo across the Marmara Sea. At this point, it should be noted that during the failed coup in Turkey on July 15 of 2016, the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul which connects Europe and Asia became the scene of a confrontation between soldiers and people, the struggles for this symbolic landmark on Silk Road Economic Belt. This confrontation between soldiers and people on Bosphorus Bridge was also reflection of struggle on the mirror between Israel and Germany and reflection of struggle on the mirror between Iran and Saudi Arabia and finally was the reflection of the struggle on the mirror between United States and China in terms of world geopolitics. Right after coup failed in Turkey, German lawmakers were not permitted to visit German soldiers at NATO Incirlik Airbase ultimately led to Berlin begin relocating its troops stationed in Turkey to Jordan. It does mean that Germany losed influence on geopolitical game in Middle East.

Failed coup attempt of July 2016 in Turkey changed Turkish domestic policy with regard to the presidentail system on NATO’s southern flank. To this end, 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. 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. In this concept, 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. Therefore 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 terrorist group PYD presence in northern Syria and liberation of Mosul from ISIS. In this vein, Turkey has prevented the Kurdish reach to the Mediterranean sea to protect the Leviathan gas field through Euphrates Shield military operation.

Liberation of Mosul from ISIS and Germany’s withdrawal from NATO’s Incirlik Airbase both had huge impact on ISIS to lose power which led to extraordinary important geopolitical developmets in Middle East. First one is political and diplomatic crisis emerged between Qatar and Saudi Arabia those were the countries providing army support to rebel groups in Syria. Second one was the Northern Iraqi kurds hold cession referendum after araps divided in two camps which was posing threat for Turkish National security. At this point, eventhough Turkey and Saudi Arabia found themselves in different camp on Qatar crisis , Turkish Army presence in Qatar is providing upper hand for Israel and Saudi Kingdom over Iran. In addition to that, Eventhough Northern Iraqi kurdish held cession referandum posing national security threat for Turkey, İt led to Turkish Goverment to strenghten ties with Iran and Russia over the Syria which pushed Northern Iraqi Kurds to become more depent on Israel. To this end, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened his historic four day visit to Moscow by signalling a new era of cooperation with Russia, demanding that Iran, an ally of Kremlin, end its interference in Middle East geopolitics. King Salman called for any peace settlement in Syria to ensure that country remained integrated. Therefore Turkey did find opportunity to start huge scale operation to Idlib in Syria by colloborating with Russia under the auspices of Astana process.

After Idlib Operation succesfully will be completed by Turkey, Middle East will need American leadership to create balance against Iran and Russia. At this point , Turkish –American relations have to be restored profoundly. To this end, Trump Administration should strenghten relations with Israel as soon as possible. In addition to that; Northern Iraqi regional government become more depen to Israel due to they are under the landlocked circumstances and Turkey will not allow them for maneuver room and Turkey should strenghten to ties with Israel to make geopolitical formulations over the Northen Iraq. İt should be noted that, Iran is covertly benefited from Kurds’referendum behind the scene that Iran is seeking to preserve its influence in Iraq and do not want to work with Haider al Abadi government in Baghdad Moreover after Idlip operation will have been finished succesfully by Turkey, Turkish and American Generall Chief of Staff shall come together in NATO’s Incirlik Airbase to discuss and overwiev about PYD-YPG terorrist group in Syria.

*Mehmet Bildik is a political scientist 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 is special interpreter and political assistant to Council on Foreign Relations and The American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee Delegations in INSS-Israel.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 was published by Foreign Policy News

Mehmet Bildik

Mehmet Bildik is a political scientist and an expert on military and strategic affairs.

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