The talks between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Reccep Erdogen in St. Petersburg scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 9, are causing trepidation among Israel’s policy-makers and military leaders. Their summit takes place on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, concluding nine months of hostility between the two capitals that was sparked by Turkish jets shooting down a Russian SU-24 warplane over the Syrian border on Nov. 24, 2015.
The feud was put to rest on July 17 – two days after Erdogan suppressed the attempted military coup against his rule. The Turkish ruler decided there and then to exploit the episode to expand his strength and use it not only for a massive settling of accounts with his critics, but also as a springboard for parlaying his reconciliation with Moscow for a strategic pact with Russia.
In Israel, the worry is that while turning his back on the United States and NATO, Erdogan will go all the way to bond with Russia to which Iran is also attached as a partner. Indeed, Erdogan has scheduled a trip to Tehran and a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani a few days after his talks with Putin.
The Turkish president’s latest moves look like spawning another new Middle East bloc that would consist of Turkey, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and indirectly the Lebanese Hizballah terrorist group.
This prospect would upend Israel’s key policies for Turkey and Syria.
The Israeli détente with Ankara in recent months hinged on Turkey’s continuing to maintain its close military and intelligence ties with the United States and its integration in an anti-Iran Sunni alliance in partnership with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
But the Putin-Erdogan meeting Tuesday threatens to throw American, Israeli and moderate Arab rulers’ plans to the four winds. Turkey appears to have opted to line up with a Russian-Shiite front led by Tehran in preference to an anti-Iran Sunni alliance.
Therefore, the expanded military and intelligence cooperation which the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement was to have heralded will be low key at best for two reasons:
1. Israel will beware of sharing its military technology with Turkey lest it find its way to Iran. During the talks with Ankara for patching up their quarrel Israel was constantly on the lookout for indications that Turkey was prepared to break off its ties with Iran.
2. For the sake of keeping Iran and Hizballah away from its borders, Israel entered into arrangements with Russia, some of them never published, at the start of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria last September. Those arrangements included coordination of their air force operations over Syria.
Now, Israel finds itself suddenly up against a Russian-Turkish partnership aimed at strengthening Iranian domination of Syria – the exact reverse of the Netanyahu government’s objective in resolving its dispute with Ankara and forging deals with Moscow.