REGIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE ISRAELI-TURKISH STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP
In the1990s, relations between Israel and Turkey greatly expanded and reached anunprecedented degree of closeness. This Israel-Turkey entente has become animportant element in the politics of the Middle East and eastern Mediterraneanareas. Turkey and Israel are powerful actors but their status quo orientationlimits the impact of their cooperation.
Thisarticle evaluates the regional implications of the Israel-Turkey entente.First, it notes the strategic character of the bilateral relationship. Second,it assesses the potential consequences of Israeli-Turkish military cooperation.Third, it reviews the reactions in the region to the alignment and analyzes theSyrian attempt to organize a counter-alliance. Finally, the article considershow the Israel-Turkish partnership affects U.S. interests in the region.
THENATURE OF THE ENTENTE
The newclose cooperation between Ankara and Jerusalem began at the end of 1991, whenTurkey decided to upgrade its diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadoriallevel. Since then, the two states have exchanged many high-level state visitsand bilateral trade has grown significantly, with widespread expectations foradditional growth. This commercial economic benefit was an important cause forbetter relations. In addition, the volume of civilian exchanges (tourist,academic, professional, sporting and cultural) increased dramatically. Moststriking and indicative of the emergence of a special relationship, the twostates have also signed a series of military agreements that led to cooperationin many areas. There is also growing interaction between their respectivedefense industries.(1) This cooperation in the national security sphere lentthe relationship a strategic quality.
The ententebetween the two capitals is clearly not a military alliance in the traditionalsense; the two countries have not defined a casus foederis, the situation thatwill activate military action on behalf of the other. There is no commitment tomutual defense or formal military coordination for future contingencies. Theyboth fear entrapment in crises of limited relevance to their own nationalsecurity and neither expects the other to participate actively in its wars.
Nevertheless,the current relationship between Turkey and Israel can be called a strategicpartnership since it reflects a convergence of views on a wide range of globaland regional issues. The two countries share similar regional concernsregarding Syria, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, thechallenge of Islamic radicalism, concerns over potentially aggressive policiesfrom Iran or Iraq, and the geopolitical destiny of Central Asia.
At theglobal level, they display a strong pro-American orientation in their foreignpolicy, have a problematic relationship with Europe, and are suspicious ofRussian schemes.(2) The two states also publicize their high-level strategicdialogue. Moreover, the current level of military cooperation has created aninfrastructure for common action in the future. Joint exercises, mutual visits,staff-to-staff coordination, and intelligence exchanges increaseinter-operability. This potential enhances deterrence, facilitates coercivediplomacy and is the core for the entente’s strategic implications. So far,Turkey and Israel have reaped strategic dividends separately simply by beinggrouped together in the eyes of other regional players and by rendering limitedsecurity services to each other.
Theprevalent reading of inter-state relations in the region focuses on themilitary component in Israeli-Turkish ties. In both countries, as well as inthe rest of the Middle East, military prowess is largely perceived as a crucialelement of national power and the most important currency of regionalinfluence.(3) In the Middle East, the dominant prism for understandinginternational relations is power politics and informal alliances are at leastas important as formal-explicit coalitions.(4) Thus, the conceptual frameworkfor assessing Israeli-Turkish relations is alliance politics, especiallybecause each of the two states is involved in regional conflicts with apotential for armed confrontation.
Analternative paradigm for explaining regional dynamics, one stressing identityand culture, would still suggest that the Arabs would see Turkish-Israelicloseness as some sort of alliance since both are non-Arab states.(5) Moreover,the liberal vision of international politics, propagated by Shimon Peres, of aNew Middle East, which regards the use of force as no longer relevant andsuggests instead that economics become the dominant factor in internationalpolitics, was never accepted by other leaders in the region.(6) Therefore, thenumerous Turkish and Israeli declarations that their alignment was not directedagainst any third party were usually not accepted at face value.
Moreover,the statements of Israeli and Turkish officials indicate that the two partieshave ascribed regional significance to their entente. Upon his return from avisit to Israel in November 1993, Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin announced thatTurkish-Israeli relations would develop further in all fields and that the twostates will cooperate «in restructuring the Middle East.»(7) In August1997, Prime Minister Yilmaz said that the Turkish-Israeli cooperation «isnecessary to the balance of power» in the region.(8) Israel’s PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu, similarly concluded in 1998 that Turkey and Israelwere obliged to work together in view of the volatile international securitypicture emerging after the downfall of the Soviet empire. In his view, suchregional security arrangements were needed «to induce stability whereinstability prevails.»(9) Israel’s Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai,described the significance of the entente: «When we lock hands, we form apowerful fist…our relationship is a strategic one.»(10)
While not aformal alliance, the present level of Israeli-Turkish security and politicalcooperation and the sheer economic, political and military weight of the twostates combined, then, create a new alignment of power in the Middle East. Theseparate conventional military might of Turkey and Israel is unsurpassed by anycompetitor in the region and their defense expenditures are the highest amongthe main powers of the region. Israel is also considered to possess nuclearweapons and a way of delivering them.
Apart fromtheir conventional might, Israel and Turkey have the strongest and the mostadvanced economies in the region. Their combined GDP is much larger than thecombined GDP of all other major military powers in the region. Additionalcriteria for measuring the level of modernization, such as literacy, the use oftelephones and energy consumption also indicate that the two, with the highestscores in the region, have the largest potential for further growth in aglobalized economy (see Table 1).
Thestrategic partnership between Turkey and Israel is not a classic balance ofpower act as the two countries are militarily stronger than any combination ofregional states. This partnership is characteristic of two satisfied(non-revisionist) powers cooperating primarily to fend off common threats andto preserve the regional status quo.(11) The two countries are content withtheir borders and have no ambitions for expansion. In contrast, both facerevisionist states such as Syria and Iraq that make territorial claims on theirneighbors. Revolutionary Iran, despite a strong reformist movement and moremoderate rhetoric, is still revisionist in its advocacy of the replacement ofsecular regimes by Islamic ones and its territorial grievances in the Gulf.
and Iraq have attempted to produce the whole spectrum of WMD, chemical,biological and nuclear, while Syria concentrated on chemical and biologicalwarheads. The combination of missile and WMD capabilities with revisionistpolicies is very threatening to all in their vicinity. Israel also faces aPalestinian entity with a potential for irredentist claims and for becoming ahaven for terrorist organizations.(12) The common security prism oninternational relations in general, and on the Middle East, in particular,reinforces the balance of power perspective that brings Turkey and Israeltogether.
Major Powers in the Region (1998-99)
Def. Exp. (bn$)
Literacy (% of Population)
% of people with phones
Electricity consumption per capita (kwh)