A not-so-implausible claim involving Israel

A not-so-implausible claim involving Israel

At first glance it appears hard to believe. On second glance, though, it may not be such an outrageous claim. After all, things are developing at a head-spinning pace in the Middle East that makes much that may have seemed impossible a few years ago plausible today.

I am talking about the Sunday Times claim that Turkey, together with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, is working toward an agreement with Israel to implement an allied system of detection to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles.

Ankara will, of course, deny this vehemently. After NATO’s U.S.-controlled advanced anti-missile radar system was deployed in Kürecik, Malatya, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly said the intelligence gathered there would not be shared with Israel.

The government is afraid of its public image at home and the Middle East, of course, and has been coy to admit any kind of military cooperation with Israel. The fact that the Israeli ELTA Systems Ltd. completed the sale of electronic warfare systems in February worth 200 million dollars for Turkish Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWAC) was largely underreported by the government-controlled media.

It is also clear that the opposition will have a field day against the Erdoğan government if the Sunday Times claim were to be proven true. Collective notions of serving the “national interest” have long since flown out of the window in this country where political brinkmanship, no matter what the cost to the country, is the order of the day.

The big picture, however, indicates that the Sunday Times claim could very well be true. According to the paper, the plan was brokered by the U.S. to create a “moderate crescent” in the region against a “fundamentalist crescent” consisting of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.

It may come as a joke to some to say the hard-core Sunni Saudi establishment is “moderate.” But this country is not only Washington’s leading ally in the Gulf region, with whom it has concluded arms deals worth billions of dollars, but is seriously at odds with predominantly Shiite Iran.

Jordan – which also has close ties to the U.S. – has a working relationship with Israel such that King Abdullah can pick up the phone and speak to President Shimon Peres any time. As for the UAE, officially speaking it has no ties with Israel. It is nevertheless widely known that the two countries have economic and trade relations, and that Israeli security companies are guarding the Emirati oil fields.

As for Turkey, its historic military ties with Israel, even if these received serious blows under the Erdoğan government, have never been a secret, and Washington is clearly working hard today to restore them while Ankara appears to be going along with this. Turkey’s almost symbiotic military ties with the U.S., on the other hand, hardly have to be mentioned.

“But what about Turkey’s traditional ties with Iran that have angered the West?” some will ask.

“Traditional” as these may be, this did not prevent Ankara from allowing the deployment of NATO’s radar system in Kürecik. The government has repeatedly denied that this is against Iran, and it may have convinced some of its followers, but it certainly has not convinced Iran, whose highest-ranking officers have threatened Turkey over this deployment on a number of occasions.

On the surface, Turkey and Iran appear friends and important trading partners. In fact the strategic rivalry in the region between the two countries has increased following the Arab Spring and especially after the sectarian civil war broke out in Syria where Ankara and Tehran are backing opposite sides.

The backdrop to the Sunday Times claim is, of course, much broader than this. But even the simple facts mentioned here are enough to indicate why the paper’s claim may not be as outrageous as some will no doubt see it. At any rate, what is certain is that Tehran is taking such claims seriously.