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Winning: Behind The Turkish Miracle
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December 26, 2012:  For the last few years the Turkish media has been full of stories about how Turkey is well on its way to being nearly self-sufficient in building the weapons it needs, particularly a lot of the most cutting edge stuff. The government has been pushing (and financing) this effort and is even more effusive in its claims. This sort of thing is political gold in Turkey, where Turks love to reminisce about over a thousand years of history as mighty warriors and conquerors.

But a lot of that weapons talk is misleading or outright lies. You expect that sort of thing from politicians but many Turkish journalists should know better. The truth of the matter is that Turkey has made a lot of progress in building modern weapons but has done so largely via joint efforts with other nations. Moreover, Turkish attempts at creating high-tech stuff by themselves have often tripped over the reality of limited Turkish capabilities in this area. Electronics and specialized types of construction (for warplanes or warships) show that Turkish firms still have a lot to learn. Saying otherwise does not make it so.

Despite, or because of all this, Turkey is increasing its efforts to become self-reliant when it comes to weapons needs. To that end, more and more military equipment is being purchased from Turkish manufacturers. Two years ago, for the first time since the republic was established in the 1920s, half of their military equipment came from Turkish firms. Ten years ago it was 25 percent. This rapid progress has come partly from co-production deals for tanks (with South Korea and others) and for smaller items with several other countries. Then there was the government decision to pay more for Turkish made stuff than for imported gear. It's more expensive to develop new designs than to just buy something similar from a foreign nation that has been producing it for years.

One casualty of all this has been the Turkish military relationship with Israel. The push for less dependence on foreign suppliers put the hurt on Israel in a big way. Another reason for this is that the Islamic party running Turkey wants to be more hostile to Israel (to gain more popularity in the Moslem world). This brought to a halt much of the success Israeli arms manufacturers have had in Turkey. Until a few years ago, over a billion dollars’ worth of Israeli military equipment was imported by Turkey each year. Despite the fact that Turkey is a Moslem country, and the current ruling party considers itself "Islamic" (in the Turkish, not the Arab, sense), Israel continues to get contracts with the Turkish military. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, Jews have been residents of what is now Turkey for over 2,500 years. They were, in effect, there before the Turks showed up, although always as a minority. For that reason the Turks never considered them a threat. And when Spain expelled all its Jews five hundred years ago, the Turkish Sultan invited them in. When the Nazis began persecuting Jews in the 1930s, Turkey again offered sanctuary. Many Turkish Jews went to Israel in the 1940s and 50s but over 20,000 remain. The Turkish Jews in Israel provide a pool of businessmen and agents who speak Turkish, understand Turkish customs, and often still have kin in Turkey. This makes it easier to do business in Turkey (which buys a lot of non-military goods from Israel and sells a lot south as well).

Then there's the fact that, despite being Moslem, the Turks look back on their centuries of ruling the Middle East as one long headache. Israelis and Turks can trade stories about how difficult it is to deal with the Arabs. This is not something that is admitted publicly, but it is often discussed over coffee. Finally, the Turks get good equipment, and excellent service, from the Israelis. The Turks are not just another customer but a valued ally in a very rough neighborhood. The Turks also like the idea of having someone down south they can depend on, especially with Turkey's eastern neighbor, Iran, working to acquire nuclear weapons. But much of this is being tossed aside to increase Turkey's stature in the Islamic world and the sales of Turkish weapons manufacturers.

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