Recently, in Assad’s Best Friend Attacks Syria, I claimed that Syria and Israel had been fruitfully collaborating for a generation. Two readers sent me emails claiming that I have a rich imagination. Yet, this is a basic characteristic of many situations studied by Game Theory. In small enough groups, let’s say oligarchies, opposing groups can collaborate fruitfully without having direct contact.
Since they have shared interests—in this case control over their respective civilian populations—they benefit from similar strategies, like the portrayal of each other as an archenemy while behaving like friends. The article linked above justifies that for Syria. Instead of giving lengthy answers by email, I decided to wait to the next similar event in the area; unsurprisingly, it was just a matter of days.
On February 18, 2013, the Israeli government ended a freeze on advanced electronic warfare systems for the Turkish Air Force and supplies Turkey with military equipment for the first time since the Gaza Freedom Flotilla event.
Boeing Airborne Warning and Control Systems Aircraft
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Prior to the current event, the most recent significant event in the relations between Turkey and Israel happened on November 6, 2012, when Turkey announced that a court in Istanbul will try in absentia four ex-Israeli military commanders over the IDF Freedom Flotilla raid in 2010. The Mavi Marmara was trying to break the blockade of Gaza and bring humanitarian aid to the refugees there.
Nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli naval commandos (Shayetet 13), who had boarded the ship. The event caused a sharp deterioration in the relations between Turkey and Israel, which until then had been close allies.
At the beginning of May 2012, Turkey’s Justice Ministry Sadullah Ergin finished his probe on the affair and requested information from the country’s Foreign Ministry on several IDF soldiers; a fact reported by the Turkish Today’s Zaman.
n May 24, it was made public that criminal charges had been laid by Turkey against four IDF officers, demanding life sentences. Among the indictments were “inciting murder through cruelty or torture” (see Turkey Begins Nuremberg Trials against Israel).
In parallel, the diplomatic relations between the two countries were lowered to a minimum, with mutual insults reported regularly by the media. Apparently, they were two former allies on the break of becoming enemies.
Moreover, the struggle for hegemony over the recently discovered gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean found Israel and Turkey on different alliances, with indirect threats of war being exchange between the parties.
The strangest event occurred recently, when Turkey invited a Palestinian refugee to a high-profile visit (see1.1. One Justice); considering the identity of the involved, this was a clear sign that the relations between the countries were not as portrayed by the media.
Boeing Airborne Warning and Control Systems Aircraft
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Following the deterioration in the relationship between the countries, Israel’s Ministry of Defense froze all its deals with Turkey in 2011. This included mainly a joint ELTA-Elbit project to develop aerial reconnaissance pods for Turkish F-16 fighter-jets and the supply of electronic warfare systems for the Boeing AWACS.
The end of the freeze was acknowledged by Israel’s Minister of Defense one day after a deal was reported in the Turkish newspaper Zaman. Israel claims that the deal was approved due to American and Boeing pressure. The latter signed in 2002 a contract with Turkey to supply its airforce with four Airborne Warning and Control System Aircraft (known as AWACS).
These are Boeing 737 airliners modified to carry large radar and other military electronic systems. Some of its electronic systems are made by ELTA, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries and were ordered for the Turkish aircraft by Boeing, the American aircraft manufacturer. The airplanes were supplied and are operational but are waiting to the Israeli additional components.
These contraptions also played a critical role in the normalization of the relations between China and Israel. Established in 1992, they were sweetened with the transfer of Lavi, Patriot and AWACS technologies (this one in 2000 after the USA vetoed the sale of the aircraft by Israel) to the emerging giant. This was superseded during the Hainan Island Incident, when China captured an intruding American AWACS.
Back to Game Theory
The events seem contradictory. Turkey placed criminal charges against four of the most senior Israeli army officers and shortly afterwards Israel unfreezed a strategic military deal between the countries. Moreover, officials from both countries were making belligerent declarations during this period.
Following the recent Israeli aerial bombing of a convoy of advanced ground-to-air missiles which were on the way from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared “if Israel were to attack any Muslim country, Turkey would respond;” a few days after that, he got the missing AWACS components.
Another interesting point in that interview was his claim that the Syrian president has made a secret deal with Israel, claiming that Syria should have retaliated against the Israeli attack.
Apparently he is one of my Turkish readers. Prime Minister Erdogan declared that the event was completely unacceptable, and was “another reflection of Israeli state terror.” South of there, Turks are portrayed in Israel as archetypal anti-Semites. It is getting truly boring.
The same logic generating the silent understanding between Syria and Israel applies to the Turkey-Israel relationship. The leaders of both countries benefit from portraying themselves as the protectors of their national interests against those ignorant barbarians on the north/south (choose your favorite). While the ignorant masses applaud the ultra-nationalistic discourses, new deals are signed.
Basic Game Theory, no imagination. Capisce?
Mr. Tov Roy is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.