Leadership: Lost Opportunities


September 14, 2010: The annual joint military exercise, Anatolian Eagle, has been canceled again for the second year in a row, for the same reasons. Anatolian Eagle is an annual naval and air warfare exercise consisting of the Turkish, US, and Israeli navies. Since a bilateral defense agreement was signed between Turkey and Israel in 1996, both Israeli and Turkish combat aircraft have participated in the exercise, which has been ongoing since 2001 and is intended to foster greater security in the Middle East and closer ties between regional superpowers. 

Unfortunately, the emergence of Islamist parties in Turkey has, in the last decade, caused the once-strong alliance between Israel and Turkey to deteriorate rapidly. Last year, the Turks withdrew Israel's invitation to the drills, and did the same thing this year, probably out of protest for Israel's Operation Cast Lead, the offensive into Gaza early in 2010. Unfortunately, this also means that the entire exercise has to be called off. This is because the US has made it clear, both last year and this year, that the Americans themselves will not participate if the Israel Defense Force is not invited to the party. 

With two of three participants backing out, and Turkey's increasingly anti-Israel government remaining stubborn, the exercise cannot take place. This is very unfortunate for the Turks for several reasons. Turkey, and before it the Ottoman Empire, has never been well-liked universally in the region. Worse, it faces multiple enemies both potential (Greece) and actual (Kurdish insurgents). The conflict with Greece over Cyprus is still not resolved and, despite the unlikely possibility of open war breaking, the specter of another Balkan conflict still lurks in the shadows. In the Kurdish parts of Turkey, an insurgency is still ongoing. In short, Turkey is a nation that needs as many friends as it can get.

Israel is in the same boat. It has peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, and Syria is backwards and weak militarily and economically. Still, that doesn't make Israel well-liked in the neighborhood, just formally tolerated. In many ways, cooperation between Turkey and Israel was largely symbiotic. 

That was part of the original idea behind the Anatolian Eagle exercises. But, as Turkey's leadership allows their country's relations with Israel to deteriorate, the Turks continue to lose an invaluable ally. 





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