As Lebanon-Hezbollah Tensions Rise, Turkey's Pro-Iran Stance Is Trouble for Israel

The Israeli-Turkish “secrets” were part of a very deep military relationship between the two countries that included Israeli upgrades to Turkish tanks and planes and the supply of Israel’s latest technologies, including long-range unmanned aircraft. When a severe earthquake hit Turkey in 1999, the Israeli army was asked to send its crack search and rescue unit to the devastated Gölcük Naval Base to try to rescue hundreds of Turkish officers and their families trapped under the rubble. The Israel Air Force conducted its exercises in the wide expanse of Turkish air space, something they couldn’t do in tiny Israel. Secrets of combat tactics, often on display in such exercises, are among an air force’s most closely held secrets.

Today, Israel conducts its exercises in other countries such as Romania, Greece, and other locations closer to Iran.

In September 2007, a secret nuclear reactor nearing completion in Deir ez-Zor in northeast Syria was destroyed in a mysterious bombing raid. The attack was attributed to the Israeli air force, although Israel never claimed credit for the attack. The planes flew through Turkish air space during parts of their mission, even dropping their fuel pods over Turkish territory. It can be assumed that Turkey’s military was aware of at least part of the mission, while Turkey’s political leaders were clearly in the dark. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert felt compelled to send a message to his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan:

In my conversation with the Turkish prime minister, I told him that if Israeli planes indeed penetrated Turkish airspace, then there was no intention thereby, either in advance or in any case, to -- in any way -- violate or undermine Turkish sovereignty, which we respect.

By 2010, and particularly after Israel intercepted the Turkish-led flotilla to Gaza, Turkish-Israeli relations were hitting new lows. On July 30, an Israeli aircraft, returning the six bodies of airmen killed in a training exercise in Romania, was forced to fly via Greece in order to avoid the now forbidden Turkish airspace.

The United Nations condemns Israel periodically for conducting surveillance flights over Lebanon. Considering that the UN and its 11,500 UNIFIL troops (including 370 Turks) have done absolutely nothing to stop the Hezbollah rearming, and they actually deny the buildup’s existence, the surveillance flights are essential. The UN’s slaps on Israel’s wrist are bizarre and hypocritical, to say the least. Presumably, Israel's spy satellites are busy over Iran, and maybe over other countries between Iran and Lebanon. Israel needs those overflights.

Turkey and Iran announced on August 1, 2010, that they are coordinating counter-terrorism activity and intelligence to fight Kurdish terrorism plaguing both countries. Will that cooperation expand to Israel-Hezbollah issues, as well?