SKOPJE, Macedonia, March 4 (UPI) -- It is ironic that relations between Turkey and Israel have never been better. The former is ruled by its first majority Islamic government -- though constrained by secular-minded generals. The latter is increasingly nationalistic -- Messianic and theocratic -- though its newly elected prime minister, a former army general, Ariel Sharon, has just put together a largely secular coalition government.
Each year, more than 300,000 Israelis spend their vacation -- and more than a quarter of a billion dollars -- in scenic and affordable Turkish resorts. A drought-stricken Israel revived a decade-old plan to buy up to 400 million cubic meters a year of water from Turkey, in place of desalinated sea water.
Israeli land use, hydrological and agricultural experts roam the Texas-sized country. The parties -- with a combined gross domestic product of $300 billion -- have inked close to 30 agreements and protocols since 1991. Everything, from double taxation to joint development and manufacturing of missiles, has been covered.
Buoyed by a free trade agreement in force since 1997, bilateral trade exceeded $1.5 billion last year, excluding clandestine sales of arms and weapons technologies. According to the Turkish ambassador to the United States, "Turkish exports to Israel consist mainly of manufactured goods, foodstuffs and grain, while Israel's main export items to Turkey are chemical products, plastics, computers and irrigation and telecommunications systems technologies."
A sizable portion of Turkey's $3 billion to $5 billion in annual spending on the modernization of its armed forces is rumored to end up in Israeli pockets. This is part of a 25-year plan launched in 1997 and estimated to be worth a total of $150 billion. Israeli contractors are refurbishing aging Turkish fighter planes and other weapons systems at a total cost exceeding $2 billion hitherto.
Last May, the Israeli Military Industries and Elbit secured a $688 million contract to upgrade 170 M-60A1 tanks. There are at least an additional 800 pieces in the pipeline. Small arms, unmanned aerial vehicles and rockets originating in Israel make only part of a long shopping list. Israeli pilots regularly train in Turkey. Joint military exercises and intelligence sharing are frequent. The Israeli backdoor allows friendly American administrations to circumvent a rarely Turkophile Congress.
The American-Israel Public Action Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and, more generally, the almighty Jewish lobby in Washington often support Turkish causes on the Hill. Three years ago, for example, Jews helped quash a resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkish forces during the first World War. This exercise in hypocrisy did not endear the Jewish community or Israel to either Armenians or to European Union cardholding Greeks who have long permitted Palestinian terrorists to operate from the Greek part of Cyprus with impunity. The friend of my enemy is my enemy, and Israel is clearly Turkey's Jewish friend.
But Israeli hopes that Turkey will reciprocate by serving as a conduit to Arab regimes in the Middle East proved to be ill-founded. Only one-tenth of Turkish trade is with its neighbors near and far. Turkey's leverage is further limited by its chronic economic distress and its offensive designs to monopolize waterways shared by adjacent countries.
Though Muslim, like the Iranians, Turkey is not an Arab nation. It counts Syria, Iraq and Iran as potential enemies and competitors for scarce water resources -- as does Israel. The recent rebuff by its parliament of America's request to station troops on Turkish soil notwithstanding, the country is defiantly pro-American against a backdrop of anti-Western virulence.
Turkey aspires to join the European Union because it regards itself as an island of civilization in an ocean of backwardness and destitution. This counter-regional orientation is another thing it has in common with the Jewish state. In an effort to differentiate themselves, both polities were early adopters of economic trends such as deregulation, equities, venture capital, entrepreneurship, privatization and high tech.
Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize an ominously isolated Israel in 1949. Both Israel and Turkey are democracies though they are implicated in systemic human rights violations on a massive scale. The political class of both is incestuously enmeshed with the military.
The two countries face terrorism on a daily basis and feel threatened by the rise of militant Islam, by the spread of weapons of mass destruction -- though Israel is hitherto the only regional nuclear power -- and by global networks like al Qaida.
(Part 2 will be published Wednesday. Send your comments to: [email protected])