The war of words between Turkey and Israel has now translated into action that could potentially destabilize the Middle East with Turkey ordering new radars not under NATO specifications so that the Turkish Air Force can shoot down Israeli jets.
Since September 1 with the publication of the UN Palmer report which justified Israel’s actions aboard the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, Turkey has changed its policy towards Israel, taking an aggressive stance demanding an apology, downgrading diplomatic relations and interfering in Israeli trade agreements with Cyprus and Greece.
The latest move by Turkey involves replacing the IFF radar on its F-16 jets that identifies other jets as friend or foe. The IFF radar will not allow a pilot to shoot at a friendly jet without manually overriding the restrictions, something that is very inconvenient and time consuming. Currently, Turkish jets have radars that meet US and NATO specifications that mark Israeli planes as friendly rather than foe. In the wake of the Israel-Turkey dispute, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided to overhaul his air force’s planes to be in line with his new policies.
According to other reports, however, the retrofitting with new radars is political move that is designed to intimidate Greece and Cyprus, both of which have trade and military agreements with Israel. Greece recently signed a renewed military cooperation agreement with Israel and Cyprus has decided to collaborate with Israel in an off-shore oil drilling project that lies on their borders. Turkey maintains that the oil drilling is illegal because the oil belongs to Lebanon and prefers that Israel and Greece do not cooperate militarily because of the indigenous Greek presence on Cyprus and the dispute over its northern half.
Reactions to the latest move have been muted, although the EU and the US have told the Turkish government to calm down over the Israeli refusal to apologize over the Marmara incident. Israel, for its part, has refused to respond, saying they will act like mature adults and not overreact. In the coming days, however, it can be expected that NATO will have to make a decision regarding Turkey, especially with their stance towards Israel.