Murphy's Law: Turkey And The Sword Of Israel

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January 7, 2009: There is a growing clamor among Turkish political and business leaders to create a larger Turkish arms industry, so that the country is not so dependent on foreign suppliers. Part of this dispute comes from the success Israeli arms manufacturers have had in Turkey. Over a billion dollars worth of Israeli military equipment goes to 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 the Spanish expelled all Jews five hundred years ago, the Turkish Sultan invited them to his lands. 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 26,000 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 lots 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.

 


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