By Mehmet Bildik*
Cyberspace has a significant difference from the geographies of land, sea, and air; it was created not by nature, but is an artificial construct that has components which might be used for geopolitical interest. Cyberspace is composed of hundreds of thousands of interconnected computers, servers, routers and fiber optic cables that allow critical infrastructure to function. The National Cyber Security Framework Manual issued by NATO in 2012 states that “cyberspace is more than the internet, including not only hardware, software and information systems, but also people and social interaction within these networks”. NATO has protected its superiority over the rimland geopolitical area by augmenting the conventional defense capability of NATO’s Incirlik Airbase within the framework of Turkish-Israeli cooperation, and given Russia’s hybrid warfare in Ukraine and its instatement of no-fly zones in Syria, the rimland geopolitical area strongly requires NATO’s cyber protection. It’s clear that cyberspace is directly related to physical geography, which together with politics is a key element of the science of geopolitics.
The world is divided into zones: the “heartland geopolitical area”, comprising much of Central Asia, and the “rimland geopolitical area”, which extends from Western Europe through the Arabian Peninsula to the Asian coasts. In the rimland, the most important waterways are located in the Middle East. According to rimland geopolitical theory “who controls the rimland rules Eurasia, who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world”. On that point, the Alliance of the Periphery or the Periphery Doctrine is a foreign policy strategy that has called for the State of Israel to develop a close strategic alliance with NATO member Turkey.
In the case of the Suez Crisis in 1956, a massive retaliation strategy provided the upper hand to United States and other European NATO allies in terms of “rimland geopolitics”, thus preventing the Soviet Union from securing a foothold in Egypt. The Suez Crisis enhanced Israel’s military capability while guaranteeing the United States’ position as the major Western power broker in the Middle East. All of this has also increased the importance of NATO’s Incirlik Airbase in Adana Turkey .With the start of the Lebanon Crisis in 1958, the U.S. Tactical Air Command Composite Strike Force, and the U.S. Air Force in Europe and supporting personnel were deployed to Incirlik Airbase. The base was used by U.S. Forces during the intervention into Lebanon later that summer.
In 1997 “Operation Northern Watch”, once again based out of NATO’s Incirlik Airbase and operating within the “rimland geopolitical area”, eased the burden of the United States in the Middle East, protecting the oil pipeline route between northern Iraq and the Adana Ceyhan seaport in Turkey. This impacted NATO’s New Strategic Concept with regard to Central Europe and Euro-Asia regarding the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo Albanians, which at that point had turned into an armed conflict, testing the Alliance’s credibility at its 50th anniversary. At this point, NATO launched an air campaign on 23 March 1999. As a result of the agreement between NATO and Yugoslavia on 10 June 1999, which proved NATO’s air supremacy within the realm of Euro-Asia geopolitics, NATO affirmed its commitment to promote peace, stability and freedom. Within this context, the Washington Summit contributed to the strengthening of NATO-Ukrainian relations. After the Summit meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, NATO issued a declaration, reaffirming its support for “Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, economic prosperity as key factors of stability and security in Europe and Euro-Asia”.
Since the development of a rift in Turkish-Israeli relations in 2008, NATO-Russia confrontation in the post-Soviet space has occured with greater frequency. While United States diplomacy has focused on creating a system of democratic governance within Eurasian geopolitics, Russia has cautiously tried to revive the integration of the former Soviet Union. The objective of NATO in this regard have always been opposite: to force Moscow to recognize democratic regimes in Eurasia. The result of this approach has manifested in two crises of varying degrees of intensity in Georgia and Ukraine. The Euro-Atlantic Area of the 21st century still maintains a mind-set geared towards bipolar confrontation. In this sense, Ukraine can bee seen as a center of Eurasia geopolitics in which NATO and Russia have entered a period of rivalry- or a “game without rules”. Tensions have built over Moscow’s involvement in the war playing out in east Ukraine as unfolding conflict has come to see an increased use of the cyber warfare. Russian hackers have long been a problem for NATO as their cyber-attacks have been far more aggressive and have occured in greater number since the end of the Cold War.
After the Mavi Marmara episode, Israeli-Turkish relations were dealt a deep wound which paved the way for Russia to support the Syrian regime. As Russia backed Syria’s interception of a Turkish F-4 jet in the summer of 2012, radical changes in the region later compelled Turkey and Israel to initiate talks. In this regard, talk of Israeli-Turkish cooperation on Syria was further fuelled with the creation the “Iron Dome” model with the deployment of PATRIOT missiles at NATO’s Incirlik Airbase. In the same year, the integration of cyber defense into the NATO Defense Planning Process began. Allied leaders reaffirmed their commitment to improve the Alliance’s cyber defences by bringing the entiretiy of NATO’s network under centralised protection and by implementing a series of upgrades to the NATO Computer Incident Response. In this way, it may be said that Turkish- Israeli talks at the strategic level helped NATO to protect its supremacy in Eurasian geopoltics by way of deploying PATRIOT missiles and boosting cyber defense.
Israel’s entrepreneuiral spirit and impressive security expertise have made the country a world leader in the sector of cyber security software. Israel is now the second largest exporter of cyber products and services after the United States. Israel also established a new national authority for Operative Cyber Defense which Israel is smart to focus on a collective and participatory approach to online security because the inter-connectedness of online systems and proliferation of mobile devices make every individual a potential for cyber-breach. Israel can play a central role in the creation of an operational alliance similar to that of NATO on which military type of coalition that will co-defend like-minded nations in a very coarse and indelicate comparison, like Article 5 of NATO namely like a Cyber Article 5. On that point, Israel Defense Force (IDF) Colonel Gabi Siboni, an expert on cyber security, says “ Iran is emerging as one of the most dangerous cyber threats”.
This development comes as a new military- strategic formation emerges between Turkey and the Gulf states of the “rimland geopoltical area”. While Turkey and Israel set out to normalize their relation, Turkey, as a secular country without involving in any sectrarian issue, may seek to protect all oil production plants in the Middle East by employing Israeli cyber technology against Iranian malware attacks. In this vein, Turkish-Israeli cooperation in the field of cyber technology could allow Turkey to protect the cyber system of oil production plants in northern Iraq from cyber-attacks; here it is of special note that Israel is also importing oil come from northern Iraq via the Adana-Ceyhan saport.
The fate of NATO’s superiority in the on Eurasian space will be determined by the success or failure of Operation Inherent Resolve that is led by the United States against DAESH from the Incirlik Airbase. Considering this, NATO’s Incirlik Airbase should be converted into an “Advanced Cyber Center” in the region to halt Russian air capabilities over Syria and Crimea, After Turkey downed the Russian bomber late last year downed by Turkey, Russia’s Caspian Sea fleet has engaged in dangerous missile testing while a radar station which can monitor Istanbul and the Bosporus Strait, has been set up in Crimea. Such activities aim to test the communications between the operations centers of warships and air and surface targets. In this context, Turkish-Israeli cyber cooperation is vital within the “rimland geopolitcal area” if NATO is to ensure its superiority over Eurasia .
*Mehmet Bildik is a research fellow studying military and strategic affairs at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 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 Administration, Security and Diplomacy Scholarship holder under the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.