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The Israel-Turkey Rift: Is The Future of NATO At Risk?

by Claude Salhani

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The end result of that operation, one which turned out to be a monumental public relations fiasco for Israel, was that it raised the level of animosity between Israel and Turkey, a level which was already dipping well into the red zone – pushing it another notch deeper into the danger zone.

One must not forget that Turkey is a full-fledged member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and that further schism between the Jewish state and a NATO country could have serious implications on the Alliance.

The North Atlantic treaty stipulates very clearly that an attack against one member of the Alliance is equal to an attack on all members. It is this unshakable tenet that has kept Western Europe – and Turkey – safe during the Cold War, acting as a strong deterrence and a reminder to the Warsaw Pact countries that any act of aggression against any member state would be regarded as an act of aggression against the entire Alliance. In essence NATO offered all its members the unwavering support military and political support of the United States of America.

So what would be the consequences in the unfortunate event that Israel found itself in an armed confrontation with Turkey? In which directions would the loyalty of the United States likely to turn? Will the United States respond to the obligations of the NATO charter, one which Washington was instrumental in establishing and rush to defend a country engaged in a military confrontation with a country which every administration has described as America’s staunchest ally in the region, or would the United States risk fracturing NATO and offer assistance to Israel?

This is the dilemma which the Obama administration today could very well face should the situation in the Middle East continue to deteriorate as it has been doing so gradually, ever since the start of this crisis some 60 years ago.

While Israel may have signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and at the same time established commercial relations with a few other Arab nations, the truth of the matter is that those agreements do not establish cordial relations with the people of those countries with which these agreements have been signed. Since Israel exchanged ambassadors with Cairo and Amman how many Egyptians and Jordanians have actually travelled as tourists to Israel?

The answer is a very, very few. Israel may have succeeded in appeasing governments of those two countries, but certainly not made any headway into bridging a huge schism that exists between its people and those of the Arab/Muslim world.  Indeed, if one takes a few steps back and looks at the overall Middle East situation, relations between Israel and other countries in the region have deteriorated. Two prime examples Iran and Turkey.

Before Iran became known as the Islamic Republic after the overthrow of the shah by a theocratic junta led by Ayatollah Khomeini, imperial Iran enjoyed extremely close and cordial relations with Israel. Iran and Israel cooperated on many fronts, not least of them in the military and intelligence fields. It all changed with the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of the shah. The consequences of the regime change in Iran have had serious repercussions on Israel and on its security.

Iran today is believed to be supporting, financing, training and equipping groups who are accused by the United States and Israel of engaging in terrorist activities. Under that heading one can place the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Additionally, Iran is believed to be in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons.

Ironically, Iran, a non-Arab country has turned out to be a greater headache for Israel and its security than any other Arab country since the October 1973 War.

Similarly, Turkey, another non-Arab country in the Middle East is on its way to emulate Iran’s militant position vis-à-vis Israel. In the absence of any real Arab political visionary in the Arab Middle East Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has emerged as a hero in much of the Arab Middle East for his defiant stance against Israel’s politics in the region. To summarize it is obvious that the Arab-Israeli conflict is expanding beyond its traditional borders to now include non-Arab countries.

Should the current trend continue – and there’s no reason to believe it will not, then there is good reason to fear that more countries in the Middle East will get dragged into this imbroglio. After Iran and Turkey will NATO be next?