Turkey is trying to play a multi-sided game with varying degrees of success. It agreed to host a NATO missile shield radar on its territory, thereby placating Western powers, and receiving in return some weaponry benefits from the West. But in its typically contrarian way, it is objecting to sharing any information from that radar system with Israel.
From the inception of Israel to the full normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations in the early 1990s, a look at five decades of relationships between the two countries tells us that contacts have continued despite Turkey’s condemnation of Israel at the United Nations and other official bodies. Turkey’s rhetoric regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue gave the impression that relations have been far more hostile than was actually the case. Throughout the years, political, commercial and especially military contacts have secretly been maintained at the expense of cultural/social interaction where visibility is unavoidable.
It seems that Turkish-Israeli relations will go from overt to covert once again. We will continue to see strong anti-Israeli rhetoric, yet contacts, even on strategic issues, will continue. But keeping them secret will be more difficult.
Turkey’s role in U.S./NATO missile defense plans is already proving to be a challenge to the secrecy in Turkish-Israeli ties.
Kadri Gürsel, who has been writing about the subject, suggests that Turkey needs to sign an agreement with the U.S. to prevent data-sharing with Israel. I doubt that Turkey will put this rhetorical demand on paper because data-sharing is a two-way street and the data collected by Israel could serve the interests of NATO members.
Ultimately, realities on the ground will not allow for a total breakup of bilateral ties with Israel; instead they will go underground.
Kadri Gürsel, in his two articles mentioned above in Hurriyet Daily on this same subject, explains the technicalities involved in the NATO radar system and the bind that Turkey finds itself in.
In “The Rights and Wrongs of the Missile Shield“, Gürsel explains how Turkey’s request to exclude Israel is neither practical nor realistic:
The issue that needs to be recognized is that one unit of the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar system that is to be set up in Kürecik was already deployed on Israeli soil a long time ago in accordance with a bilateral agreement signed between the U.S. and Israel in 2008. This radar constitutes an element of the U.S.-Israeli common defense system and is operated by American military personnel.
The range of this highly deft radar is estimated to be around 2,000 km. It is capable of scanning from a very wide angle of 260 degrees. Its function is to track an enemy missile on the run and to identify its class and target area.
The radar in Israel is capable of detecting all missiles launched from any part of Iran. Malatya’s relative advantage lies in its closer proximity to Iran in comparison to Israel. As such, when a missile is fired from Iran, the radar in Kürecik will be able to start tracking it from a much lower altitude. In other words, Iranian missiles will first be detected by the radar in Kürecik.
If Israel had been privy to the intelligence gathered by the radar in Kürecik, it would then have a bit more time to destroy Iranian missiles in the air. That Israel is not privy to information from the Kürecik radar, however, cannot be said to constitute a situation that is impossible to redress for Israel, as Israel itself has the same radar.
Nevertheless, Israel is indirectly a de facto partner to the missile defense system, if not to the Kürecik radar, and Ankara is not in possession of any tools that could hamper this partnership.
Because the system begins in space, the launching of an enemy missile is first detected by the heat sensors on a satellite, which then issues a warning.
Nonetheless, even though these systems have been integrated into NATO’s systems, they are, after all, U.S. satellites. And the “Missile Fired” warning obtained from a U.S. satellite first goes to the American command and control system as a principle, followed thereafter by NATO’s command systems. The radars then begin tracking the missile. All these happen within a matter of seconds.
That NATO is taking advantage of the same satellites does not prevent the transmission of the missile warning from space to Israel by virtue of bilateral agreements.
Satellites and radars comprise the system’s eyes. Command and control centers are its brains. And its arms are the anti-ballistic missiles.
The eyes, brains and arms within NATO’s system were integrated for the first time in last August. But there are two brains in the system: the American command and control center and NATO’s command and control center. These two “brains” will serve in the Ramstein Air Base in Germany side by side, but the American brain will become the “first among equals,” as all the signals transmitted by satellites and radars will first arrive into the American brain, followed by NATO’s.
To cut to the chase, the data would not be relayed to Israel from NATO of course, but it is entirely possible “technically speaking” for the American command and control center to relay that information to Israel.
As such, the trick of the trade for Turkey lies not in gaining assurances about Israel from NATO, but from the U.S. first.
Kadri Gürsel expands further in his next article: Where is NATO? Where is Turkey in NATO?
If those governing Turkey do not want to share with Israel the data to be obtained by the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar to be located near Kürecik in the Central Anatolian province of Malatya within the framework of NATO’s missile defense system, they should be negotiating this with the United States, not with NATO.
The system is entirely American, including its missile-detecting and early warning satellites, monitoring and target-detecting ground radars, command-control infrastructure and finally its missile-killing missiles. What the Obama administration did was to enable this already existing capability to integrate with NATO for the safety of European allies. Nevertheless, the radar at Kürecik, like its match in Israel, will be operated by American staff but dedicated to NATO. Consequently, Turkey has the right to demand that non-NATO Israel be excluded from the data to be provided by this radar.
Now, Turkey, at this stage, is in a position to negotiate with the U.S. for measures and assurances to prevent the data provided by the radar stationed in its own soil to be passed to Israel along with NATO.
In short, the situation is this: There is no ground for Turkey to prevent a warning such as “A missile has been launched from Iran” that is coming from the satellites to the American command-control system to be passed onto the X-band radar stationed in Israel while it is being transmitted to the NATO command-control center.
But Turkey has the right to demand that the data Kürecik will provide after a missile has been launched and NATO command demands that the radar in Kürecik starts tracking it will not be passed onto Israel.
But now we come to the crucial bothersome question:
It is only legitimate to ask this question at this point and time: Why would Turkey want, with such persistence, to protect that information from Israel, the one that would enable an earlier extinction while in air of a nuclear head that would cause immense civilian losses underneath it wherever it explodes?
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) diplomacy was not able to give a satisfactory answer to this question to this day. I assume this attitude stems from the efforts of the AKP government’s trying to establish an internal consistency in its Middle East policy: On the one hand it is trying to create political power and legitimacy in the Middle East by forming a relationship of contention with Israel, even daring a military conflict, at least in statements, while on the other hand it wishes not to have the image of supporting Israel’s strategic defense.
Prime Minister Erdoğan’s indirect announcement that he perceives Israel’s nuclear weapons as a threat against Turkey is also consistent with this position.
The new Turkey, while acting together with NATO against Iran, is trying to balance this togetherness by being anti-Israel. But looking at the negative statements issued by Iran about the missile shield, it is not a very successful move.
It is impossible for Turkey to convince the other 27 NATO countries of the Israeli (nuclear) threat, as it is equally impossible to receive any understanding on the matter.
Even though Turkey is the front-running country to be subject to new threats against NATO members, it has a lonely position at other fronts it has selected for itself.
So much for all those dire warnings that Israel is isolating itself. Perhaps those warnings should be addressed to Turkey instead.