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Possibility of Turkish-Israeli military conflict still small

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 9/9/2011 12:00:00 AM | Ümit Enginsoy

Defense experts believe the chance of a physical confrontation between the militaries of the two countries is rather small.

With Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks that Turkish warships would protect humanitarian aid ships bound for Gaza, the paradigm between Turkey and Israel has changed, but several defense experts still believe the chance of a physical confrontation between the militaries of the two countries is rather small.

 “There are two exceptions: first, possible accidents in the form accidental firing, which I believe won’t happen, and second, a new group of pro-Palestinian activists potentially seeking the Turkish Navy’s help to sail in the eastern Mediterranean, a situation that would cause a crisis,” one defense analyst told Hürriyet Daily News on Thursday.

Hours later Erdoğan told Al Jazeera television: “Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.” The same analyst said Friday that obviously the paradigm had changed, but that he still believed the possibility of a clash was small.

 “As long as civilian trade remains strong, I wouldn’t worry much, and the trade volume still is strong,” the analyst said. “So people have real stakes to lose in the event of a war. This is a deterrent.” Despite rising tensions last year, the bilateral trade volume was $2.7 billion, with Turkey selling goods worth about $1.5 billion.

 A second defense analyst said: “The Mavi Marmara incident, in which eight Turks and one Turkish American were killed by Israeli commandos, was unprecedented and unexpected last year. So it happened. Now everyone is taking precautions in an alarmed way,” that analyst said. “The United States would not allow a new Turkish flotilla to approach Israel. It would seek to deter that kind of an aid flotilla from the start, before it sails.

“Even in the case of a crisis, the United States, which holds a major military force in the Mediterranean, would try to separate the navies of the two countries,” the first analyst said. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced last Friday that Turkey would ensure the safety and freedom of maritime navigation in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and that Turkey did not recognize Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

 Defense experts say the Israeli military, which apparently has nuclear weapons although Israel does not comment on this matter openly, is the strongest in its region not in quantitative but in qualitative terms. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has criticized Israel’s nuclear weapons on several occasions. 

[HH] Mediterranean forces 

Defense analysts also say that Turkey, Israel and the United States have the strongest militaries in the East Mediterranean region.

With around 48,600 personnel, the Turkish Navy has 19 frigates, 14 submarines, seven corvettes, 75 naval aircraft and 108 fast attack craft. In the Southern Sea Area Command, headquartered in İzmir, it has a naval infantry brigade and an amphibious group at Foca, a naval infantry battalion in İzmir and the Aksaz Naval Base Command at Aksaz, near Marmaris. At Aksaz, Turkey has special units for underwater defense and attacks. The base also hosts six naval helicopters. Also in the south, Turkey has its largest naval training center at İskenderun.

The Turkish Air Force has more than 250 F-16 and F-4E Phantom fighter aircraft. Over 50 of the latter were modernized by Israel in the 1990s and 2000s. Turkey also will buy around 100 next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II fighter jets. Known in Hebrew as Heil Hayam Hayisraeli, the Israeli Navy, the naval arm of the Israeli Defense Forces, operates primarily in the Mediterranean as well as the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea theaters.

The Israeli Navy has three corvettes, 10 missile boats, three submarines and 42 patrol boats, manned by around 19,500 personnel. It presently is tasked with the blockade of Gaza. It last fought in the 2006 Lebanon war and in the 2008-2009 Gaza war. Israel’s Air Force has hundreds of F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft and also will buy the F-35.

 The area of responsibility of the United States’ Italy-based Sixth Fleet is the Mediterranean Sea. It consists of up to 40 warships, 175 aircraft and 21,000 people. The Sixth Fleet took a major part in the blockade of Libya under the rule of Col. Moammar Gadhafi earlier this year. Compared to these forces, Egypt’s and Syria’s navies and air forces are much weaker.

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