Turkey-Israel row a new headache for NATO?

Turkey-Israel row a new headache for NATO?

Turkey’s deeply strained ties with one-time ally Israel has found new venues for potential tension: NATO and the eastern Mediterranean. 

In mid-February, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen arrived in the Turkish capital to celebrate the only Muslim ally’s 60th anniversary as a member.

Instead, his Turkish hosts asked him to give assurances that any data and intelligence gathered from an X-band radar stationed last year on Turkish soil would not be shared with Israel. 

Speaking in Ankara at a joint press conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said “Turkey will never allow any third country, particularly Israel, to use intelligence obtained by the NATO radar system.” A reluctant Rasmussen said that any NATO defense shield aimed to protect the populations of the alliance. 

The dispute surfaced after reports that the United States and Israel had carried out a joint missile test by using intelligence gathered by that radar system based in eastern Turkey. Last year Ankara, after lengthy negotiations with NATO, decided to host in a military facility base near Malatya as part of NATO’s defense architecture. 

Ideally, in the event of a launch of a ballistic missile from a rogue state, it would be detected by the Turkish-deployed X-band radar, and U.S.-made SM-3 interceptors – based on U.S. Aegis destroyers to be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean and later possibly in Romania – would then be fired to hit the incoming missile mid-flight. 

Turkey and Israel boosted their cooperation to a strategic level in the mid-1990s, and Turkey began to use Israel as a weapons supplier, in cases where it was unable to get U.S. defense material. Israel used Turkey’s vast air space in exercises against Arab foes.

But this cooperation faltered after 2005 as Turkey defended Palestinians against Israeli persecution. After May 2010, when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish aid flotilla, killing nine Turks on board, their relations went to a nadir. Turks last year downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and cut all military relations. 

But despite NATO’s assurances, the Turks do not feel comfortable. “The U.S. is a NATO member and Israel’s major ally. We do not think there can be effective mechanisms to stop the Pentagon if it wished to share data with Israel privately,” a senior Turkish security official said. “And this possibility has the risk of straining both Turkish-U.S. and Turkish-NATO alliance especially at a time when Turkey’s ties with both are very good.” 

Another potential trouble zone is the eastern Mediterranean where Israel and Greek Cyprus are preparing to explore for hydrocarbons despite repeated Turkish threats to intervene, “militarily if necessary.” 

Turkey warned last September that it was ready to send warships to escort research vessels that would explore for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus, responding to what it said was a provocation by the island’s Greek Cypriot south. 

The Turkish move came as Texas-based Noble Energy began exploratory drilling farther south between Cyprus and Israel early this year. Noble was operating under license from the Republic of Cyprus, the island’s internationally recognized government in the Greek Cypriot south. The developments raised the stakes in a dispute over drilling rights around the divided island.

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