Israel’s silent gesture
The Pentagon’s arms-selling body, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), notified the U.S. Congress on Oct. 28 of its intention to sell three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters to Turkey, whose Army uses these gun ships effectively against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey had acquired 10 such helicopters in the 1990s, but only six are operational now.
In recent years Ankara has been asking Washington to transfer a few more AH-1Ws, but the U.S. has been rejecting Turkish requests, saying its Marine Corps had around 170 AH-1Ws and was using them all in the Afghanistan War.
But this time Ankara’s decision to host a special X-band radar system on its soil as part of a planned NATO shield system to counter potential ballistic missile attacks from rogue states prompted a positive U.S. response.
Before notifying Congress officially, the DSCA makes informal “pre-consultations” in the Senate, the upper chamber in Congress, to see if any of the senators plan to veto an arms deal. It notifies Congress of a planned sale only after it becomes certain that the deal will face no obstacles. A single senator has the clout to halt an arms sale indefinitely. If no veto comes in the Senate against a planned arms transfer, the deal is approved automatically for NATO partners 15 days after the DSCA’s notification. That deadline is due to expire Nov. 13, and no obstacles are expected.
Now enter Israel, Turkey’s former regional ally and new adversary. The Jewish state has strong and numerous backers in both congressional chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. If Israel had wanted to halt the Turkish Super Cobra deal, it would have been enough to wink at a couple of senators who would be willing to stop the process. It did not do that. This was a silent gesture.
Israel’s move was pragmatic and reasonable. It would have won nothing by sabotaging a critical arms deal for Turkey’s security. In addition it denies claims by some Turkish pundits that the Jewish state is helping the PKK. There also were some earlier indications. Israel sent parts for five prefabricated homes for the earthquake survivors in Van, also saying it could send more.
Israeli leaders earlier publicly thanked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his role in the swap between Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Israel’s state establishment, including President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Kadima Party’s Shaul Mofaz and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently have made public calls for an improvement of ties between Turkey and Israel. Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Namık Tan, constantly advises against picking up new fights with Israel in recent messages to Ankara, Foreign Ministry sources and analysts say.
Would this be enough for the recovery of the Turkish-Israeli relationship? Of course not. Israel still has not apologized for the nine victims of the deadly commando raid on the Mavi Marmara ship and has not paid compensation to the victims’ families, two of Turkey’s preconditions for improved ties.
But the resumption of relations a la 1990s is not wanted in Ankara, anyway, because they had certain anti-Arab notes. It is impossible for the present Turkish government to back such notes.
In addition, Turkey’s developing defense industry does not need Israeli defense products as it did in the 1990s. The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Turkey’s defense procurement agency, sees no big role for Israeli weapons systems in Turkey’s future.
But Turkey’s acquisition of the three AH-1W Super Cobras, which would cost $111 million – including spare and repair parts, training, technical and logistical personnel support – very much would contribute to the country’s fight against the PKK. They will enter service before next summer. The PKK’s attacks usually intensify in the summer.
Probably more strategically, hostilities and tensions would diminish between Turkey and Israel, to the benefit of both nations, something that also would be appreciated by the U.S. and NATO. A reconciliation also would relieve Turkey’s ties with the top five Republican candidates for presidency, who all are staunch pro-Israel and one of whom will face the Democratic Barack Obama in next November’s presidential elections.
The question is this: Has the worst of the storms between Israel and Turkey passed? Will the ships sail not necessarily in harmony, but respectfully of each other?