Turkey Forbids Israeli Military Overflights

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday in Toronto in the wake of the G20 conference that Turkey will no longer routinely give Israeli military aircraft permission to fly in Turkish airspace. The announcement came as Turkey forbade an Israeli military airplane (taking officers on a visit to the sites of Nazi death camps for Jews in Poland) to fly over its territory. The Turkish press denies that the destination of the plane influenced the decision.

Future Israeli military overflight permissions will be granted on an ad hoc basis.

From the Guardian: ‘Israel’s Ynet news website reported that other military flights had also been quietly cancelled. “Turkey is continuing to downgrade its relations with Israel,” an unnamed official told Ynet. “This is a long-term process and not something that began just after the flotilla incident. We are very concerned.” ‘

Israel should be very concerned, since it is significantly more isolated in the Mediterranean than it has ever been in its history. And this isolation derives from Israeli policies, of illegal blockades of, and systematic land theft and displacement of occupied civilians under its control, along with aggressive wars on neighbors, which target infrastructure and civilians and are clearly intended to keep neighbors poor and backward.

I do not know if the Turkish air force has “identify friend or foe” codes. But it is possible that it does, and that it gives the code to regional military allies. Thus, US planes flying out of Incirlik air force base in Turkey to Iraq could be putting out IFF codes that reassure Turkish fighter jets on patrol that they are friendly. US aircraft certainly use this system to reassure each other. Erdogan’s announcement may mean that the Israeli air force used to have the Turkish IFF codes, but that they have now been changed and have not been shared with Tel Aviv. As a result, every overflight would have to be individually authorized or risk being suspected of being hostile and shot down.

The change in policy is significant because the Israeli air force in the past has flown over Turkey without permission for military purposes. Thus, when Israel bombed a Syrian facility it claimed was a budding nuclear reactor in October, 2007, its fighter jets flew over Turkish territory. Erdogan is said to have been surprised when it was reported to him that jettisoned Israeli fuel tanks from the raid had been found inside Turkey. But if the Israeli air force had Turkey’s IFF codes, they would not have needed prior permission for that overflight and would not have needed to worry about being mistaken for hostiles by the Turkish air force. And, Israeli officers could have been confident that the Turkish generals or “pashas” in Ankara would hardly complain very much about a potential nuclear reactor in Syria having been taken out. Turkey and Syria for decades had bad relations.

But now things have changed radically. Erdogan has a policy of pursuing good relations with immediate neighbors. He takes this policy so seriously that he has just removed Iran and Greece from Ankara’s “Red Book” or classified list of security threats. Erdogan has also made friends with Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. In fact, he offered Ankara’s good offices for indirect Israeli-Syrian talks that may have been going somewhere when the Israeli leadership suddenly brutally attacked Gaza in December-January 2008-2009, shocking and dismaying Erdogan and so angering Damascus that the talks collapsed, perhaps for the long term.

The political culture of the Israeli elite, which tends to treat allies as patsies, has left Erdogan scarred and grouchy. After the Israeli commando attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara aid ship on May 31, which left 8 Turkish citizens and one American dead, Erdogan demanded an apology from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He has received none. He demanded an international investigatory commission. Israel rejected that request. He wants an end to Israel’s blockade of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The Israelis announced they would let in a third more trucks, but even with that change only a fourth of the goods would go into Gaza this year as went in before the blockade.

Erdogan appears to have spent a lot of time at the G20 meeting in Toronto showing other leaders, such as Dimitry Medvedev of Russia and Barack Obama, the forensics reports on the Israeli commandos’ killing of humanitarian workers on the Mavi Marmara. He pressed on Obama the need for an Israeli apology, and Erdogan says that Obama agreed with him, and pledged to convey the message to Netanyahu when they meet in Washington on July 7.

Erdogan has been repeatedly sandbagged and played by Israeli decision-makers, presumably on the theory that with Turkey’s candidacy for the EU going nowhere fast, and Turkey’s relations with the Arab world and Iran traditionally poor, Ankara had nowhere to go for friends but Tel Aviv and Washington.

What the Israeli politicians do not seem to have realized is that with the repeated election of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey and the consolidation of power in Erdogan’s hands, Ankara has a new and robust foreign and commercial policy with several planks.

Turkey’s candidacy for the European Union gives it excellent access to European markets even while it waits for a decision. It does $20 billion a year in business with Germany, $5 billion a year with Holland, etc. This access to Europe from the late 1990s has helped spur a Turkish economic miracle. (In some ways, it matters less if Turkey is admitted to Europe than if it just manages to remain a candidate for decades). Turkey has already undergone a demographic transition, so ever-increasing population growth no longer blunts gains in economic growth. The country, now 72 million, will likely level off at 90 million. Even as Turkey maintains and strengthens its European links, it has been since the late 1940s a member of NATO and its troops fight in Afghanistan.

But Europe (to which the Islamically tinged Justice and Development Party is especially committed) is only one wing of Turkey’s foreign policy. It has two others– the United States, and the Middle East. Turkish exports to Iran in 2009 amounted to $2 billion, up from only $320 million in 2002. Turkey does $3 billion a year in trade with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, more than the $2.5 billion it does with Israel. And the total Turkish trade with the Arab world is now a whopping $30 billion per annum–12 times its trade volume with Israel. Some 20 percent of Turkey’s exports go to the Arab world (up from 12% in 2004), while 50% of its exports go to Europe. And Ankara’s flag is following its trade.

Some Western observers misunderstand Erdogan’s foreign and trade policies as increasingly oriented to the Middle East rather than to the West. That interpretation is incorrect. Erdogan does not want to substitute the Middle East for Europe. He wants to add the Middle East to Europe as spokes in Turkish diplomacy and commerce. A Turkey nearly as big as Germany, with a rapidly growing economy, which can offer itself as a bridge between Europe, the Middle East, and the US, could emerge as an indispensable country in the 21st century.

Israel is therefore not, as Tel Aviv appears to have earlier imagined, the only regional game in town for Turkey. It is a source of military technology and tourism and a way of cultivating good relations with Washington. But if Israel is going to keep embarrassing Erdogan with one SNAFU after another, it just isn’t that important and can be jettisoned.

And one dimension of Israel-Turkish military relations has just been jettisoned.

33 Responses

  1. And so Israel’s stabbing-itself-in-the-foot process continues.

    What stinks is that this is probably going to just make them even more needy and dependent on the US to cover them and help prop up the remaining alliances they have in the region. It’s like having some needy, constantly insecure girlfriend or child.

  2. Although it’s a serious matter, the following is mirth-provoking: ‘…tends to treat allies as patsies’ — it works as far as the USA goes.

  3. On the other hand if Turks can now make love with Greeks in good conscience why can’t they make love with Kurds in good conscience? People generally do not risk their lives by taking part in an armed uprising against a more powerful foe unless they have some pretty strong grievances.
    Of course my solution to the problems do not make any sense to anyone with political power anywhere therefore I can claim with a large amount of certainty that it must be on the right track. That would be a Union between Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and maybe Kuwait. Under this union a Kurdistan would be created in the border region of Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Kurdistan like Iran, Turkey and Iraq would not be and independent country. It would be a region with some degree of autonomy just like Iran, Turkey and Iraq.
    Now if the leaders of these of these countries had more sense they would send ambassadors to ring my doorbell and receive copies of my proposed Constitution for the region. They just need to give me 72 hours notice so that I can make tea and clean the house to be ready for them. I will not even charge them for the copies.
    At some point the Afghans and Pakistanis may want to join too.

  4. Thank you Dr Cole. Once again you provide insight and nuance where the Western Media creates amorphous masses. Always Turkey in light of Israel, but this comparison has — as your description lays out clearly — always flattered Israel.

    Now the Israel elite of which you speak are sipping from their hubris laden punch and in the process cutting off their sound political ties to spite their best regional partner. Or, more figuratively, ‘cutting off their nose to spite their face.’

    Back to Turkey: I understand the EU membership is languishing; is this in part due to potential partners seeing Europe gravitate towards Turkey the way the EU presently does Germany (I am not up-to-date: Is Merkel still on the fence? I believe France is still ‘no’?)?

    Clearly they are not in the geographical center. Still, you mention the burgeoning population and daunting economic power.

  5. > But Europe… is only one wing of Turkey’s foreign policy. It has two others– the United States, and the Middle East.

    Make that “at least three others”. Erdogan was interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show, airing a few hours ago (in my local market, anyway), and at one point mentioned his plans for economic ties to China and the rest of the Far East. He seems to clearly understand that being a global economic powerhouse in the 21st century requires being an economic player in every corner of the globe, not just with your neighbors.

  6. That’s nice of Turkey, but as far as Iran is concerned, the horses are long gone from the stable. Turkey has already helped Israel with training for an attack on Iran, and has already helped get Israeli jets to Georgia and Azerbaijan, according to reports. Saudi Arabia appears to have granted overflight to Israel, as indicated not only reports, but also by the concentration of US missile defense on the western half of the Persian Gulf, presumably as a bulwark against Iranian retaliation, which presumably would be for overflight. The supposed rift between Turkey and Israel, like the supposed rift between the US and Israel, is all just posturing, to provide plausible deniability when Israel begins the attack on Iran.

    • That’s interesting. I was wandering why Erdogan would lobby the U.S. and Russia for just an apology. Would an apology let them kiss and make up? Or is Erdogan going to say the day Israel attacks Iran or Syria that Netanyahu called the night before, apologized and got permission to use his air space?

    • Eppie,
      That is an interesting hypothesis. I sent a longer reply yesterday but I must have forgotten to hit the send button and my reply disappeared in to cyberspace.
      But one question that I have is, do you know anyone personally in Georgia or Azerbaijan that could confirm that Israeli jets are in those countries?

    • I’m not sure that this theory holds. Do you think that this is coherent with the fact that
      1) Turkey along with Brasil tried to mediate a deal between the US and group of six and Iran concerning the nuclear enrichment. This shows that they don’t want a conflict at their border.
      2) Despite being a NATO ally of the US, Turkey didn’t allow the US troops to put a foot on their soil and attack Iraq from the north when they invaded Iraq, disturbing US army plans.

  7. BBC interview of Kenneth O’Keefe (passenger in Mavi Marmara).

    link to warincontext.org

    I am yet to see any western mainstream media journalist interview any Israeli, American or any western politician for than matter that aggressively. The double standard is appalling. But Kenneth did very well indeed.

    • I saw that on Hard Talk last week when it aired in the Middle East (NileSat). I don’t know who O’Keefe is but so much anger is not designed to win friends and supporters.

      There’s a reason it’s called Hard Talk and I have seen Israeli politicians on the show given the same or similar treatment. I just can’t recall now who.

  8. I don’t know a lot about IFF since it has been about 50 years since I worked on Air Defense, but I do know a little. It’s really a very old technology (50-60 years in its modern form) and it doesn’t change very quickly because changes need to be coordinated between allies and potential allies. Which means — when you think about it — means pretty much everybody except possibly North Korea. There are actually a number of modes to SIF. Some are secure and encrypted, others — intended for use by civilian and other non-hostile aircraft to send ID and altitude data are not. (It’s surprisingly hard to measure altitude with radar to the precision needed to keep aircraft clear of each other). The Wikipedia article link to en.wikipedia.org isn’t a bad place to learn a bit about it.

    What you probably know, but may not have really assimilated, is that radars can see a long way (Duh). Further they are often deliberately placed near borders and on/near the tops of mountains. As a result, Turkish radar can surely see and track most aircraft flying not only in their own airspace, but in Northern Syria, Cyprus, etc. The only way to avoid being seen/tracked is to turn off the SIF transponder and fly at very low altitude (i.e. “beneath the radar”). Because of the curvature of the earth, and topography, the detection altitude for a plane not using a transponder will be higher the further one gets from the radar.

  9. Prof. Cole said: “The political culture of the Israeli elite, which tends to treat allies as patsies”.
    This is so accurate and true! Two striking examples are:

    * The South Lebanese Army whose soldiers fought for years side by side of the Israeli army was not even warned when the IDF retreated overnight. SLA soldiers told me the IDF even shelled their outposts. When they came to Israel as refugees they were treated so badly (the officers was treated better) that almost all preferred to return to Lebanon and face trial and unpleasant jail. I was sent to be with them and was horrified to see the conditions of living, the open hostility of the Israelis and the General Security Service. They didn’t get citizenship and absorption grant like any Jew gets not even the right to live and work in Israel and were constantly pushed to ask asylum in other countries.

    * The Righteous among the Nations – these are non-Jews who saved Jews in the Holocaust, often at risk of death and torture to themselves. Some of them made the mistake of coming to live in Israel (when it was still easy to migrate). Many lived poorly until many years later when due to press outcry they got a tiny pension. There were very few left to get this pension and it was not given to those who stayed abroad.

    The people involved in these two cases were non-Jews so I thought at first that the reason was anti-Gentile feelings but then it became known that the state stole the compensation money of Holocaust survivors and seized control of lands bought by Jews who died in the Holocaust on a huge scale. The oldest Israeli bank is still refusing to return the money of people who died in the Holocaust and their inheritors don’t have account information.

    The explanation I find unavoidable is that a kind of pirate ethics is in work here.

  10. […] Juan Cole is suggesting that Israel will not be able to bully Turkey, and looks to be coming off second-best, which in due course may lead to a reconfiguration of policy in Israel, if not a change of heart and mind. […]

  11. The policies of the Israeli government are horrid:

    link to nytimes.com

    June 29, 2010

    Israel Rules Out Palestinian State by 2012
    By DINA KRAFT

    TEL AVIV — In remarks that could further strain peace efforts, Israel’s foreign minister said on Tuesday there was no chance a Palestinian state would be established in the next two years.

    “I’m an optimistic person, but there is absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012,” the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said. “One can dream and imagine, but we are far from reaching understandings and an agreement.” …

  12. I wonder if you saw this:
    link to news.yahoo.com
    Groups in Gaza even more radical than Hamas object to kids going to a camp where they don’t get introduced to terrorism as they do in the Hamas camp (“anti-Israeli doctrine and military-style marching”), so they trashed the UN camp. Also Hamas is “becoming more assertive in imposing its strict version of Islam on daily life in Gaza. It has ordered male coiffeurs out of women’s salons, and teenage girls are under intense pressure from teachers to wear headscarves and robes in government schools.”
    In addition, a Human Rights Watch last week criticized Hamas over its treatment of Gilad Shalit. If Hamas is at war with Israel, as it claims, then Shalit is a POW and Hamas must follow the Geneva conventions and allow visits by the International Red Cross, rather than holding him incommunicado as they have done for four years. (Recall that even Goldstone called for Shalit to be released outright, as has Dmitri Medvedev.)

    • “Hamas camps teach an anti-Israeli doctrine and military-style marching, along with horseback riding, swimming and Islam. U.N. camps try to instill hope in a better future, a message wrapped in fun and games.”

      “Time is against us,” warned local U.N. chief John Ging. “We are losing an entire generation.”

      I would caution you against tenuous interpretations of this Phud1. Gaza is a war zone and has been for years. In the late 80s I applied for a teaching job in Gaza with Oxfam. I attended an interview in Oxford and spoke to three people about it. They asked about my views on the Israeli occupation. I refused to state a position and told them that I believed foreigners should avoid involvement in local politics. I did not get the job.

      A few months later in Egypt I met a student from Gaza and told him this story. He said that he knew the Oxfam school and that it was widely regarded as an intelligence gathering operation. Even then, people were highly suspicious of foreign NGOs – most of which are, in fact, politically sponsored.

      I live in Saudi Arabia. Womens salons here are women only and girls in all schools wear an abaya and headscarf. This is not a sign of extremism. It is a local custom.

      No one appreciates paternalism and no one wants to be told how to live in their own house. This should not be difficult to understand.

  13. Those Israeli planes that appeared over Budapest in March without the Hungarian air authorities having been informed overflew Turkey on the way. That time, Turkey gave permission, or at least said it did. Turkey says Israeli planes allowed to overfly ‘on condition’:

    The Turkish Air Forces Command has confirmed that two Israeli Gulfstream fighter jets which flew over Turkey last Wednesday had been given official permission to do so after fulfilling certain conditions.

    In an announcement posted on its Web site on Saturday, the Air Forces Command referenced earlier news reports that two Israeli Air Force Gulfstream V-type jets, equipped with sophisticated intelligence equipment, flew over Hungary the same day a Syrian man was gunned down inside his luxury vehicle in Budapest.

    In a possible sequel to an assassination in Dubai, Israeli spy planes flew uninvited and unannounced over Budapest, the same day a Syrian man was shot to death in his car there, Hungarian media reported Thursday.

    The two Israeli jets flew more than 1,300 miles over Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania on Wednesday before flying over eastern Budapest and then disappearing, the reports said. With a letter from the Turkish Foreign Ministry dated March 4, the Turkish Air Forces had given the two Israeli warplanes permission to transit Turkish airspace with a route from Nevatim, Israel, through Budapest and Varna, and back to Nevatim, the announcement said.

  14. The main reason Hamas doesn’t let the Red Cross visit Gilad Shalit is they’re afraid Israel will find out from them where they are holding the Israeli soldier. Then, sure as shooting, the IDF will try to rescue him by force, probably killing him in the process.

    • I’m sure you didn’t hear that from Hamas, but just made it up yourself. Shalit is no doubt moved constantly–otherwise he would have been found during Operation Cast Lead–and would certainly be brought from wherever he is being held to a meeting place for the Red Cross, then taken back. Your excuse is no excuse whatever.
      BTW, is the Egypt/Gaza border still open?

    • I think strangefriend is right. I thought of the same idea about a year ago, way before the Hamas spoekesperson confirmed it. They are not moving Shalit constantly, it’s too much risk. Gaza is full with Abu-Mazen people and even Israeli spies. My opinion is that they have a very good hideout and keep the info on it compartmentalized very tightly.

  15. “I wonder if you saw this….”

    The idea is for fanatical supporters of Israeli oppression to always vilify Palestinians. I saw that and I see that.

  16. Turkish relations with Indonesia are also getting closer.

    Hurriyet Daily News of Ankara, Turkey is reporting that Turkish & Indonesian nationals will no longer require Visa to visit each other’s countries.

    I would love to see same kind of relations between many other Muslim countries. Most of all one voice & Unity among Muslim countries, 1.5 Billion strong.

  17. I notice that Dani Rodrik is accusing the present Turkish Govt. of a “dirty war” against its political opponents, described as the “secular old guard”. From one of Rodrik’s posts:

    “As long as it felt persecuted by hard-line secularists, the AKP did appear to advance the cause of democracy, rule of law, and human rights — most significantly in its efforts to join the European Union. But now that it has the upper hand, it is undermining that same agenda”.

    link to rodrik.typepad.com

    It’s hard to know how much weight to give to this, since Rodrik discloses that he is the son-in-law of one of the so-called victims of the Turkish Govt’s. “dirty war”. However I take Epppie’s comment above seriously, and together with Rodrik’s statements it may just be that the Turkish Govt. is putting some money on both horses (Israel/US, Iran/Syria/Palestinians) and awaiting the outcome.

  18. “Erdogan has been repeatedly sandbagged and played by Israeli decision-makers, presumably on the theory that with Turkey’s candidacy for the EU going nowhere fast, and Turkey’s relations with the Arab world and Iran traditionally poor, Ankara had nowhere to go for friends but Tel Aviv and Washington.”

    Talk about projection! WHO’S got nowhere to go for friends?

  19. This is a terrific piece on an ignored issue in Western press. As JC says, Turkey is not moving away but adding to its links to Europe, with the rapid addition of closer links with its immediate neighbours in the Middle East, Balkans, the Caucasus, Russia, former Turkic Republics, North Africa, East Asia and South East Asia and will match the German economy in the near future. Closer to home, Indonesia and Turkey yesterday signed 21 significant bilateral trade agreements. Trade and exports are booming with 85 % of export growth income coming from manufacturing. The country has little if any Government debt.

    Turkey’s economic growth for the first quarter of this year, just released today, is at 11.7% which is the fastest growth rate of its counterparts in the OECD and second only by a small margin to China in annualised overall growth terms for the year.

    As we now know, there have been “secret” talks in Brussels between Israel and Turkey initiated by Israel as they are in a jam as a result of the political, economic and military pressure is applied by Turkey to Israel who continues to disregard international law. The Israeli Prime Minister bypassed Lieberman over the existence of the meeting to try and repair relations with Turkey by sending his “special envoy” the Israel Trade Minister.

    It’s reported that Turkish demands were repeated at the meeting by the Turkish Foreign Minister and Israel is expected to provide the following if relations are not to deteriorate further. (It’s been reported that the US Government supported Turkey for the meeting and in her demands below – but who could know what the US does!)

    1. Israel to apologise to the families of those killed and the people of Turkey for the raid on the Mavi Marmara in international waters.
    2. Israel to pay compensation to the families of those killed.
    3. Israel to remove the blockade on Gaza.
    4. Israel to participate in an independent international commission to be set up by the UN which will investigate the Mavi Marmara incident
    5. Israel to return the illegally impounded and still held 3 aid ships to Turkey.

  20. Curt says :

    “Of course my solution to the problems do not make any sense to anyone with political power anywhere therefore I can claim with a large amount of certainty that it must be on the right track. That would be a Union between Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and maybe Kuwait. Under this union a Kurdistan would be created in the border region of Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Kurdistan like Iran, Turkey and Iraq would not be and independent country. It would be a region with some degree of autonomy just like Iran, Turkey and Iraq.
    Now if the leaders of these of these countries had more sense they would send ambassadors to ring my doorbell and receive copies of my proposed Constitution for the region. They just need to give me 72 hours notice so that I can make tea and clean the house to be ready for them. I will not even charge them for the copies.
    At some point the Afghans and Pakistanis may want to join too”.

    I cannot foresee any likelihood of that ever happening. Any possibility of Union of Turkey with any ARAB country is simply out of the question, primarily because Arabs are too arrogant a people to accept Turkish leadership ( and besides the Arab nationalism will never permit them, not to mention the historical baggage of Turkish subjugation). However, I strongly predict a NON-ARAB Central Asian block forming between Turkey, Iran , Pakistan , Afghanistan and the six former soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan).
    Such union is aided by the fact that Turkish is spoken by six of these ten nations. Another three ( Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan ) speak Farsi and Pakistan has Urdu as its national language which is quite close to Farsi.

    All of these countries will agree on Turkey assuming a leadership role and their common culture will cement the relationship. With their combined population of 400,000,000 people will provide a domestic market which will take full advantage of economies of scale and mineral resources of a huge piece of land will ensure prosperity for its citizens. It will also provide warm water ports to seven of those land-locked countries.

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