Cablegate: Israelis Mull Response to Turkish "Humiliations"

DE RUEHTV #2245/01 2861558
O 131558Z OCT 09

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002245


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/13/2019

Classified By: Ambassador James B. Cunningham, Reason 1.4 (b) (d)

1. (S) Summary. Turkey's decision to cancel Israel's
participation in the joint Turkey-U.S.-Italy-NATO-Israel
Anatolian Eagle air exercise received heavy media coverage
here October 11-13. Although the IDF adhered to agreed
language on the international portion of the exercise being
postponed and not cancelled, the Turkish decision to exclude
Israel was the source of wide-ranging commentary. Some
sources suggested that Israel should not put up with Turkey's
"humiliating" treatment of Israel, while others, including
Defense Minister Barak and Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon,
made public statements stressing the ongoing strategic
importance to Turkey to Israel. Sources in the Israeli NSC
and IDF have told us that while discussions of how to handle
the deteriorating relationship with Turkey are ongoing, no
decisions have been made thus far either to retaliate or to
make gestures toward Ankara. Our IDF source stressed that
the Turkish military appeared to have been embarrassed by
Prime Minister Erdogan's decision, but they believe that the
Turkish General Staff no longer has the power or the will to
challenge Erdogan. Israelis are carefully following the
development of Turkey's strategic cooperation with Syria and
are also wary of Turkey's attitude toward Iran. All of our
contacts, and most media reports, have stressed Israeli
appreciation for the U.S. decision to pull out of Anatolian
Eagle, noting that this was an important signal to Erdogan.
We doubt that in the present environment the GOI will be
inclined to make concessions to Turkey's desire to play a
larger humanitarian role in Gaza. End Summary.

2. (C) GOI contacts have been in touch with us since October
3 regarding Turkey's decision to exclude Israel from the
Anatolian Eagle joint exercise, but the issue stayed out of
the Israeli media until the end of the Succot holidays
October 11. It then became a matter of competing headlines,
with some media, especially the conservative,
English-language Jerusalem Post taking the lead in suggesting
ways that Israel could retaliate, while other media have
stressed the view that Israel continues to have a huge
investment in maintaining a strategic relationship with
Turkey, Erdogan's anti-Israeli posturing notwithstanding.
Among the retaliatory measures mentioned are cancelling the
sale of Israeli drone technology to Turkey and refusing to
respond to Turkey's annual requests for Israeli help in
blocking the Armenian Genocide bill in the Congress. The
liberal Ha'aretz newspaper reported October 12 that MFA
Director General Gal had convened a special MFA working group
to review Israeli policy toward Turkey, but in contrast to
the usual leaks about sensitive discussions here, MFA
contacts declined to reveal the content of these discussions,
one indication of the seriousness with which the MFA is
handling the Turkey discussions.

3. (S) IDF Deputy J-5 Brigadier General Yossi Heimann told
PolCouns October 12 that the MOD and IDF remain eager to
preserve the strategic relationship that they have developed
with the Turkish military over the past 15 years, but Heimann
admitted that Israel is also sensitive to repeated insults
and slights by Prime Minister Erdogan and is deeply worried
about Erdogan's inclinations to develop Turkey's relations
with Syria and Iran. Heimann assessed that the Turkish
General Staff no longer has the power or the inclination to
challenge unpalatable decisions by Turkey's civilian
political leadership, adding that to some extent, Israel's
image in Turkey is associated with the Turkish military,
making the Israeli-Turkish strategic relationship an easy
target for Erdogan. Heimann stressed that the Turkish J-3
had been embarrassed and apologetic when they initially
informed the Israeli defense attach in Ankara of the
decision to bar Israel from participating in Anatolian Eagle.
"We also have our pride," Heimann said, noting that there is
discussion of cancelling the drone project, but he stressed
that no decision has been made. The idea of transferring
advanced military technology to Turkey is now coming under
increased scrutiny due to Israeli uncertainty about the
direction of Turkish policy toward Israel's enemies. Heimann
said the entire IDF General Staff and the MOD leadership were
greatly appreciative of the U.S. decision to cancel
participation in Anatolian Eagle as well as to urge Italy and
NATO to follow suit. Heimann noted that Erdogan may have
misunderstood tensions between the Obama Administration and
the Netanyahu Government as an indication of reduced U.S.
support for Israel. It was therefore vitally important to
Israel that the U.S. send the signal that it sent regarding
Anatolian Eagle.

4. (S) Israeli NSC senior adviser Eitan Naeh, an expert on
Turkey and the Caucasus, provided PolCouns with a strategic
overview of Israeli-Turkish relations October 7. Naeh, who
served as DCM in the Israeli Embassy in Ankara in the late
1990s and was later Ambassador to Azerbaijan, said he has
concluded that even at the height of Israeli-Turkish
cooperation, Israel had overly high expectations of Turkey's
potential contributions to the regional stability. Naeh
suggested that Israel's ties to Turkey have gradually
deteriorated as the Turkish secular elite has gradually ceded
power to the Islamist Ak Party. Naeh said he considers
Foreign Minister Davutoglu to be as much of an opponent of
the relationship with Israel as PM Erdogan, though he
described Davutoglu as less emotional than Erdogan and more
cautious in his rhetoric.

5. (S) Naeh also indicated that the GOI is engaged in a
review of the long-term implications of the shift in Turkey's
regional policies. He said they see the new Turkish
strategic relationship with Syria as the mirror image of
strategic relations with Israel in the 1990s, and are very
concerned about GOT comments critical of the idea of imposing
harsher sanctions on Iran. Naeh expressed skepticism about
Turkish claims to the U.S. that they send tough messages to
the Iranians in private. He agreed that Turkish public
opinion wants good relations with all of Turkey's neighbors,
with the apparent exception of Israel, thus reinforcing
Erdogan and Davutoglu's regional policy inclinations.

6. (C) Yediot Aharonot columnist Alex Fishman, Israel's
leading defense and national security correspondent, lamented
to us October 13 that Israel had failed to see the signs of a
deteriorating relationship with Turkey for a number of years,
and thus missed possible opportunities to adjust Israeli
policies. Fishman said the Israeli Air Force stopped flying
joint exercises in Turkish air space in 2002, both because
the U.S. offered better exercise opportunities but also
because of Turkish political sensitivities since the Second
Intifada. Fishman said he had covered Turkey's deployment of
armored units to the Syrian border in 2006 in a successful
effort to pressure Damascus to expel PKK leader Abdullah
Ocalan. Fishman and Naeh separately both noted that for
years after this, Israeli commentators discussed the "Turkish
option" for dealing with Syria, but now Turkish border guards
are conducting joint exercises with their Syrian
counterparts. Fishman noted that Defense Minister Barak
continues to be a firm advocate of trying to preserve at
least the semblance of a strategic relationship with Turkey.

7. (S) Comment. Following Operation Cast Lead and Erdogan's
rhetorical attack on Shimon Peres at the Davos conference,
the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv repeatedly mentioned to us
the ongoing cooperation afforded by the Israeli MOD to the
Turkish Red Crescent Society's humanitarian assistance
programs in Gaza. Turkish diplomats also noted signs of
restored Israeli popular confidence in Turkey as a friendly
country, pointing to record-breaking levels of Israeli
tourism to Turkey last summer. The Israeli media October 13
has reported a statements by Davutoglu and other senior
officials playing down the tensions with Israel and
suggesting that relations remain on track. PM Erdogan,
however, continues to make headlines with his attacks on
Israel's Gaza policy as well as his suggestion to Turkish
university students that they learn from the Jews how to make
money from scientific research. In the current environment,
it strikes us as doubtful that the GOI will be interested in
offering gestures to the Turks in order to improve the
fraying bilateral relationship.


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