Renewing Israeli Defence Sales to Turkey?

Israel Aerospace Industries "Heron" UAV, supplied to Turkey in happier days

There is  reportedly a stand-off between Israel’s Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister, Avigdor Leiberman.

The topic is whether Israel should renew defence sales to Turkey. Ehud Barak is reportedly arguing in favour, as it is part of his mandate to promote Israel’s defence industries; whereas Avigdor Leiberman is objecting, due to the continuing “strained” relations between Turkey and Israel.

Israel’s defence industries are a commercial powerhouse, accounting for over $5 Billion in annual export sales. Israel ranks fourth in the world in the defence sector export business. The defence sector directly employs over 20,000 Israelis.

Turkey was a booming market for Israel’s defence sector – with key contracts going to Israeli companies to supply Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), Tank Upgrades and Airframe Upgrades of Turkey’s aging F4 Phantom Jets. This business was estimated at $1.8 Billion.

All this came crashing down, as Islamist Prime Minister Recep Erdogan became vociferously anti-Israel in 2009. And went from bad to worse with the 2010 Flotilla mess.

Today, although Israeli commercial exports to Turkey have actually increased, even during the rocky patch in relations, Israel’s defence sales to Turkey are now effectively zero.

The thawing in Turkey/Israel ties in the past two months, as a consequence of the Syrian regime’s atrocities, exposing Turkey to the embarrassment of having betted on the wrong horse (Syria, rather than Israel), have practically resulted in behind-the-scene cooperation in stopping, or at least stalling, the 2011 Flotilla.  

I can understand why Ehud Barak is salivating over the prospect of renewal of Israel-Turkey defence cooperation and defence industry sales.

On the other hand, Lieberman is attempting to torpedo Barak’s ambitions.

I do not know of any Israeli politician who is AGAINST improving ties, if possible, with Turkey. We have very few friends in our neighborhood, and losing such a powerful regional allie as Turkey was a major blow to Israel strategically.

Lieberman’s justifications have not been publicized, but it reasonable to assume that the Foreign Office, being more cautious and conservative, by nature, than the Defence Ministry, will be lobbying for a “softly softly” approach to working on warming relations with Turkey.

I do not believe that there is a real and current threat that Israeli technology would migrate from Turkey to Iran or Syria. And if that is a problem, then it is a much bigger one for the USA, supplying F-35 Lightening aircraft and technology to Turkey, or to Europe, selling advanced attack helicopters.

However, a note of realism is to observe that the Turks no longer hanker after Israeli technology, the way they did ten years ago. Turkey have invested heavily in their own indigenous capabilities and technology, and the Israeli “edge” is no longer so sharp and enticing.

Therefore the Barak vs Lieberman squabble may not be substantive, as the Turks are not eager to buy, regardless of whether Israel’s Government chooses to sell.        


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