By Mehmet Bildik*
NATO has been designing the military and strategic process in the Middle East since its establishment in 1949. Dwight David Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Alliance Force in Europe, supported Turkish and Greece membership to NATO in order to enforce the alliance’s southeastern flank. Eisenhower’s military and strategic approach contemplated the creation of an “advanced defense front” against the Soviet Union coming up through the southern wing with Turkey. Another important reason for the creation of the southern wing was preservation of the oil resources in the Middle East against Soviet threat.
The Turkish membership to NATO has pushed the alliance front further east, and because of that Britain has been considered insufficient security to protect the Middle East. Considering this point, right after Israel gained independence from Britain, the Alliance of the Periphery was formulated by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, and by Eliahu Sasson, one of Israel’s leading Middle East experts and one of the first Israeli diplomatic representatives in Ankara. The alliance called for Israel to develop a close strategic alliance with non-Arab states in order to counteract against pro-Soviet Arab regimes for the existence of the state of Israel.
The fact that, like Israel, Turkey, as member of NATO, maintained friendly ties with Washington and the west and had a long-standing conflict with Arab states helped to strengthen relations with Israel in the Middle East. The Israeli-Turkish strategic alliance, which was established in the post-Cold War dynamic and was aided by American-oriented domination, opened the way for the pro-American governments like Jordan and Egypt to create a new strategic block against Israel’s enemies .
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and American intervention in Iraq to fight against terrorism changed the whole international relations dynamics, and thereafter the Turkish-Israeli Peripheral Alliance has been transformed on a military level. Since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, NATO has been setting up a balance between Turkey and Israel by protecting the Middle East from its “Airspace and Sea” on a military level through PATRIOT Missiles-Mediterranean exercise. The Mavi Marmara episode remains to be a political standoff between Turkey and Israel and has been preventing NATO from using a ground coalition force, which has opened the way for DEASH terrorism in conjunction with YPG dominance in Northern Syria. This strategic limbo enhanced Iranian influence in the Middle East in terms of what is called an “ Iranian backed terrorism act” in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem.
Nowadays, Russia and Iran staunchly support the Assad regime in Syria against other sectarian alliances, namely, Saudi Arabia promoting radical salafism as well as Qatar aiding through financial assistance. The growing power of the jihadist idea based on extremism in the region is influencing Turkish foreign policy negatively. The Allepo Battle and Russian violation of Turkish airspace led to a huge influx of refugees to exodus to Europe through Turkey. On this point, the Russian presence in Syria changed regional geopolitics, and ISIS terrorism acts in Ankara have handed over the Kurdish issue to the Russian sphere of influence.
In this regard, NATO deployed aircrafts and airmen from the American Incirlik Airbase to the Turkish Diyarbakır Airbase in order to help the support the personnel recovery operations in Syria and Iraq. NATO’s Mediterranean exercise. Trident Juncture 2015 acted as a counterbalance to Russian presence, which suspended creating a “no-fly zone” for Arabs and Kurds.
The United States has deployed a dozen new warplanes to NATO’s Incirlik Airfield as a part of its ongoing fight against ISIS. A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack planes have arrived in Incirlik to replace F-16 jets as part of a regular rotation mentioned by Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. The deployment of the A-10 Thunderbolt planes to Incirlik Airbase to fight against DEASH underscores the vital role of the aircraft.
On the other hand, Turkey started to lose its upper hand on Arab rebellion in terms of the fight against PKK terrorism after the suspension of the “no-fly zone,” which was put in place by NATO and the USA. Quickly following, the terrorist group PKK declared canton independence from the terrorist YPG groups and opened a party offices in Moscow. Therefore, Turkey started to its lose advantage against Assad regime and Turkey has accepted the “transitional process” with Assad, which was agreed upon during the Vienna Talks
As of November 20, the Russian military has launched a cruise missiles attack against DEASH positions in Syria from both the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. In addition to that, Russian-backed Syrian regime forces started an air operation targeting Turkmen villages where Bayır-Bucak Turkmens, live an area close to Turkey’s Yayladağ border gate.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a plan on November 23 to begin the transfer of the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran when he attended talks with leaders in Tehran. Thereupon, Turkish F-16’s shot down a Russian military jet along the Syrian border on November 24, sparking fury in Moscow. The Turkish strike marked the first time since 1952 that a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member has shot down a Russian warplane.
As an important actor in the region, the State of Israel can play mediator role between Turkey and Russia in regard to NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue and Peripheral Alliance. Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told the press on November 29 that “a Russian warplane had violated the Israeli border over Golan Hieghts, Russian planes do not intend to attack us, which is why we must not automatically react and shoot them down when an error occurs.” The Russian S-400 missiles deployment in Syria will create strategic depth for Israel against Iranian threats, as did NATO’s deployment of five PATRIOT batteries to augment Turkey’s air defenses on 4 December 2012 in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey against threats posed by missiles from across its border with Syria. Hereby, Israel and Turkey have protected military gains of NATO’s supplements to Turkish airspace.
France and Germany are strategically using strategic the Incirlik Airbase to deploy Tornado war planes, focusing on a surveillance mission with a total of 1,200 troops. The U.S. and NATO have given full support to NATO member Turkey not only in words, but also in practice by reinforcing their military presence close to Syria and in Turkey’s strategic Incirlik Air Base near the Syrian border.
Consequently, military cooperation within NATO countries fighting against DEASH by boosting up NATO force near Turkey’s border would strengthened relations between Israel and Turkey on the way of protecting the Leviathan and Mosul energy fields and will give maneuver room for Turkey to solve the Cyprus Issue in regards to Cyprus’ European Union bid.
Finally, Russian roulette in the Middle East will create an opportunity for Turkey and Israel to export Leviathan as over the Cyprus to Europe. The Turkish army, as a strong and powerful army of NATO, has already entered the Mosul province, and exporting gas from here will change all strategic calculations in the Middle East. Therefore, Turkey will get the upper hand against PKK terrorism by providing security for the Mosul petrols while developing diplomatic relations with Israel on Leviathan gas deals.
*Mehmet Bildik,Research Fellow on Military and Strategic Affairs by Minisitry 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.