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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Israel and Turkey: An intriguing alliance
Ariel Sharon and Bulent Ecevit
Ariel Sharon with his Turkish counterpart Bulent Ecevit
The Israeli-Turkish relationship is an alliance of military heavyweights who both suffer from a sense of regional isolation, says the BBC's Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The relationship between Israel and Turkey is one of the most intriguing factors to develop in the region since the end of the Cold War.

While neither country accepts that it is a military alliance as such, it undoubtedly has important security as well as political and economic aspects.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Ankara is all about bolstering bilateral ties at a time when there is growing dismay within the Turkish Government at the Palestinians' plight.

Israeli tank
Israel is negotiating to upgrade Turkey's tanks

And the fact that the relationship has survived, despite Middle East tensions, underlines its importance to both countries.

There is a public and a private face of this quasi-alliance and it is only possible to speculate on the intelligence sharing and contingency-planning that may be going on behind the scenes.

Shared security concerns

Israel and Turkey were drawn towards each other because of shared security concerns - both countries worry about potential developments in Syria, Iraq and Iran and both are aware of the threat from ballistic missiles.

Ankara is eager to get US approval to buy Israel's Arrow anti-missile system.

It is easy to see what Turkey is getting from the deal - Israeli arms and military know-how are an important element in Turkey's modernisation plans.

Poster criticising Ariel Sharon's visit
The relationship has survived despite Middle East tensions
Israel has upgraded Turkish warplanes, it is negotiating to upgrade Turkey's older US-supplied tanks, and this military dimension is only part of a much broader economic relationship linking the two countries.

Israel's arms industry, which is seen as essential in maintaining the country's qualitative military edge, has eagerly seized upon the Turkish contracts.

Joint exercises

Israeli warplanes have conducted training flights in Turkish air space and there have been joint naval exercises.

Israel and Turkey are the region's two military heavyweights and both can clearly benefit from these ties.

But the Israel-Turkey links must be seen in a wider geo-political context. Both countries see themselves as somewhat isolated in the region.

Turkey's efforts to join the EU have so far been rebuffed.

The intifada has undone much of Israel's sense of well-being in its relations with the outside world.

Triangular dynamic

Both Israel and Turkey are close allies of the United States, but both sometimes have their differences with Washington.

The Turks believe that the US is often unwilling to share advanced military technologies with Ankara.

Turkish protesters
There is growing Turkish dismay at the Palestinians' plight

And the current crisis in Gaza and the West Bank has clearly caused strains between Israel and Washington.

So there is a triangular dynamic, with both governments asserting their strong ties to the US but also emphasising their bilateral relationship as a means of diversifying their strategic contacts.

The Israel-Turkish relationship cannot supplant links with Washington for either government.

But it is nonetheless a mutually beneficial in an increasingly complex world.

With every sign that the Palestinian intifada will continue, it will be a priority for both Turkey and Israel to protect their relationship from disagreements over day-to-day events in Gaza and the West Bank.

See also:

02 Mar 01 | Middle East
Israel gets new defence chief
29 Apr 98 | ISRAEL TODAY
Israel sharpens its military strategy
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