WikiLeaks reveals depth of Israel's rift with Turkey
Until WikiLeaks revealed otherwise this week, Israeli officials had insisted that the two countries remained regional partners. Now they're speaking more openly about a shift toward Turkey's rival, Greece.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The cables, released by the WikiLeaks website, help set the context for a major shift by Israel, which for the past two years has quietly intensified its military cooperation with Turkey's neighbor and rival, Greece, and other Mediterranean countries.
The deterioration of once-close ties between Turkey, a secular Muslim country, and Israel, an avowedly Jewish nation – both close American allies – has significant implications for the US in the Middle East, and even on US efforts to press Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program.
In a secret cable sent Oct. 26, 2009, then-US Ambassador James F. Jeffrey relayed the assessment of Gabby Levy, Israel's ambassador to Turkey, that Erdogan is "a fundamentalist" and "hates us religiously." Jeffrey commented that US discussions with contacts inside and outside the Turkish government confirm the Israeli thesis that Erdogan "simply hates Israel."
Turkey's Erdogan demands an apology
Erdogan responded to the accusations in these and other cables – some of which raised questions about his sources of income and private overseas bank accounts – and demanded Wednesday that the US issue an apology.
"The US is responsible in first degree for the slanders its diplomats make with their incorrect interpretations," Erdogan said. "There are lies and incorrect information in those documents."
The cables tell only part of the story of the growing distance between Israel and Turkey.
Until now, Israeli officials have insisted in public that the two countries remain regional partners, especially in light of their military cooperation. Now they say that as early as 2008, Israel's military has pursued other partners for joint aerial and naval exercises. These include Greece, first and foremost, as well as other countries in the Mediterranean.
"It is true that we cannot hold the type of exercises with Turkey we once did," said a high-ranking official in Israel's navy, who spoke with McClatchy only on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the military's policy on news media interviews. "In the days of better relations we held a number of exercises in Turkish waters and in their airspace."
A 'boom' in Israel-Greece military relations
Because of its limited airspace, Israel has constantly sought close ties with countries with which it can hold training exercises. Israeli aerial exercises over Turkey have long been viewed as dry runs for a potential strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, and joint naval exercises off the coast of Turkey have allowed Israel to practice refueling and communication drills.
Israel is now turning to a number of countries, including Greece, to hold new joint drills.
A Greek training official, who described himself as "in charge of new purchases and new recruits" in Athens, told McClatchy last month that there has been a "boom" in military relations between Israel and Greece.
"We have similar goals, similar problems and similar enemies," he said. "We find ourselves working very well together."