Turkey plays Israel-Egypt balance in NATO

Turkey plays Israel-Egypt balance in NATO

Yes, there is an Egypt story other than Mohammad Morsi’s victory in getting his Islamic law-based constitution approved through a referendum in Egypt; it is upgraded relations between Egypt and the Western defense alliance, NATO.

Egypt is not a member of NATO; nor is Israel. But a development last week hinted that both countries might have turned out to be parts of a political bargain in the greater NATO picture.

Yet Israel has been in a unique relationship with NATO, partly because of U.S. foreign policy preferences. The U.S. is the main driving force of NATO, after all, despite the need to have a unanimous vote on every decision in the organization. Israel takes part in a number of NATO programs, especially those in relation to the Mediterranean.

Turkey has decided to use that veto power in NATO to force Israel to make an open apology on the killing of nine Turks onboard the passenger ship Mavi Marmara during its voyage to break the embargo on Gaza in 2010, the most painful one concerning Israeli participation in a NATO Summit in Chicago in May 2012 (HDN, Feb 18, 2012). In return, Israel has put a hold on the sale of certain military devices to Turkey, which did nothing but push Turkey harder to work on its own unmanned aerial vehicle and satellite systems.

Turkish officials do not confirm Israeli claims that the conditional lift on Israeli vetoes are somehow linked with approving Turkey’s demand to deploy Patriot anti-missile weapons against the possibility of an attack from the civil-war hit Syria. Yet the news about Turkey’s lifting of vetoes on Israel’s participation in NATO projects other than military exercises came after a NATO decision – including Turkey’s vote, of course – to deploy six batteries to three southern Turkish cities near the Syrian borde: two German-operated batteries to Kahramanmaraş, two Dutch-operated ones to Adana and two U.S.-operated ones to Gaziantep. In return, according to Turkish sources, Turkey has convinced unnamed NATO members to lift their vetoes on NATO activities on a number of countries in the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans. Among those, it appears Egypt has a more important role to play than others.

Having had its regime changed through the Tahrir Revolution, Egypt is on a new path now. On the one hand, a free vote is an important step toward Western democratic standards. On the other hand, the first two outcomes of the free vote have been an Islamist President – is it possible to call Morsi a moderate? – and a constitution based on Islamic law.

Turkey’s move to put Egypt into the NATO picture more than before, as a counterbalance to Israel, might work as an anchor for Egypt to NATO, thus Western standards. So playing an Egypt-Israeli balance might result in holding Egypt in the Western camp instead of it falling under the influence of centrifugal forces of the Arab Spring.

It may also help Israel to apologize to Turkey over the flotilla tragedy, following the elections in January.

An interesting period worth watching closely is ahead of us.