Turkey’s Ties to Israel Bind Arabs in Fear


After being ruled over for centuries by the Ottoman Empire, the Arab countries of the Middle East have long been leery of Turkey. Lately, they are perceiving a new Turkish threat--and their fears are leading to shifts in regional alliances and a closing of Arab ranks.

Arabs have been alarmed by a series of Turkish-Israeli military cooperation agreements over the past year, culminating in Israeli use of Turkish airspace and joint naval maneuvers this week off the Syrian coast.

In addition, a massive Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, purportedly to root out Kurdish terrorists, has continued into its sixth week, while a “soft coup” by the Turkish military has brought down the country’s first modern Islamic-led government.


Taken together, these incidents are fueling Arab suspicions that Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is becoming a Western dagger pointed at the Arab world, analysts say.

“Most Arabs look at the cooperation between Turkey and Israel as being against the Arabs’ national security,” said Egyptian analyst Mamdouh Anis Fathy. “This means that NATO is extending its southern borders to the Arab world.”

A high level of concern was evident this week in Latakia, Syria, at a gathering of foreign ministers from eight Arab countries. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh took the lead, condemning the Israeli-Turkish naval maneuvers taking place in the Mediterranean nearby.

Speaking to a session of the Damascus Declaration states--which include Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and five small Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region--Shareh said Turkish-Israeli agreements are provocative, especially when the peace process is in such poor shape.

“While we as Arabs were searching seriously to reach a just and comprehensive peace, Israel and Turkey announced a military alliance,” he said. “There are now military warships moving only miles from this steadfast city--Turkish and Israeli warships. It is regrettable that Israel’s partner this time is a Muslim neighbor, with whom we had deep-rooted relations.”


Although Muslim, Turkey--led by Necmettin Erbakan, its staunch Islamist acting prime minister--is ethnically and linguistically separate from its neighbors. It is both closely allied with the United States and eager to be accepted in the European Union. To Arab eyes, at least, it has turned its back on its historic partners.


For Syria, a prospective Turkish-Israeli bloc is especially troubling, because Syria is caught between the two. Syria remains bitter that part of its territory was awarded to Turkey by France before World War II, while the Golan Heights was lost to Israel in 1967. Now Syria fears being caught between two hostile neighbors if war ever looms again.

Such anxieties explain President Hafez Assad’s recent diplomatic moves, including his decision to cautiously open up again to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Assad welcomed an Iraqi business delegation this month, and Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam has said political normalization is around the corner. Such a development would be a further blow to U.S. efforts to keep Hussein isolated from the world community.

At the Latakia meeting, the Arab foreign ministers agreed to take steps to form an Arab common market that would exclude Israel and condemned Turkey’s military incursion into northern Iraq.

The Iraqi regime may be a pariah, but it is still an Arab pariah--and Saudi Arabia has long been concerned about Iran and Turkey taking advantage of the Iraqi regime’s crippled state to make territorial gains.

But Turkish Defense Minister Turhan Tayan has said that his nation’s cooperation with Israel falls short of being a military alliance; Turkey, he insisted, has no territorial ambitions in Iraq.


“We are not going to enter any military arrangement that would harm the relations we have with other countries,” Tayan said.


Turkish Turnaround?

Several recent events--military cooperation agreements between Israel and Turkey, a Turkish incursion into Iraq to root out Kurdish terrorists, a “soft coup” that brought down Ankara’s first modern Islamic-led government--are fueling Arab suspicions that Turkey is turning its back on its historic partners in the Middle East.