Experts: Israeli Air Forces likely to prefer Greek airspace than Turkish one

Politics Materials 17 April 2010 12:56 (UTC +04:00)
The airspace of Greece is likely to become a new battle ground for the Israeli air forces in the Mediterranean Sea instead of Turkey, experts say.
Experts: Israeli Air Forces likely to prefer Greek airspace than Turkish one

Azerbaijan, Baku, April 16 /Trend, U.Sadikhova/

The airspace of Greece is likely to become a new battle ground for the Israeli air forces in the Mediterranean Sea instead of Turkey, experts say. 

Because of Turkish government's refusal to give its airspace for use by the Israeli Air Forces for training and military exercises, the Israeli Air Force leadership has stated that they are looking for a new air space instead of Turkish, Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.

Before the Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Air Forces often used the Turkish sky for flights and participated in annual exercises with the Turkish counterparts.
However, after a military operation involving air force in Gaza last winter, which killed about 1,600 Palestinians, Ankara refused to provide Israeli bombers its airspace for exercises.

"Now we are looking for a new place to fly," the newspaper quoted the representative of the Israeli Air Force.

"Our relations with Turkey will never be as previous. It is unlikely that the current government of Ankara will allow us [Air Force] to fly there," said the representative of the Israeli defense ministry.

In autumn, Turkey refused the NATO military exercises code-named "Anatolian Eagle", which were to be held in the Turkish city of Konya. The reason for refusal was the unwillingness to conduct these exercises with the Israeli Air Force.

In search of alternatives, the choice of Israel can be Greece for political reasons, said the director of the Middle East Institute Yevgeny Satanovsky.

"This could be Greece, which is in difficult relations with Turkey, a NATO member-state and repeatedly requested the Israeli military-technical cooperation on a scale that would allow it to rebuild an army up to the level of the Turkish, Satanovsky told Trend by telephone from Moscow. Israel constantly refused it [Greece], saying that Turkey is a strategic partner".

However, according to Satanovsky, today, when the present Turkish leadership of de facto abandoned the strategic partnership with Israel, establishing relationship with Iran and attacking on Israel in all fronts - political and ideological, Greece is more likely to replace Turkish airspace.

Despite the diplomatic contacts, the relations between Turkey and Greece are still to be normalized. The stumbling block is still the division of Cyprus to the northern, Turkish, and the southern, Greek parts in 1974. Now the negotiations on the reunification of the island are underway. Cyprus's uncertain status and Turkey's refusal to open transport with Greek Cyprus is one of the main reasons of the deadlock, into which the negotiation process passed.

Ahron Bregman, analyst on Middle East security at the London Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), believes that if the Israeli Air Forces make a decision on military exercises in Greece, it will be a "gentle way for the Israelis to retaliate against the Turks".

"In the past the Israeli Air Force trained over the skies of Greece in preparations for a possible attack on Iran. Greece is an attractive potential training ground for the IAF not least because Turkey and Greece are not the best of friends [...]" - Bregman told Trend via e-mail.

Before the truce was signed with Egypt in 1979, the Israeli Air Forces has used the Sinai desert for military exercises and training. After returning the desert to Egypt the Israeli Air Forces faced a big problem, especially in preparing the long-range missions, and since that time it used the other airspace, including Turkish one, Bregman said.

"The Israeli Air Force is looking for new options. The current Turkish refusal to allow the IAF permission to fly in Turkish airspace is indicative in the sense that it also shows how Israel is politically isolated these days" - expert believes.

Israeli media reported that the Defence Ministry was considering using the Romanian airspace under the agreement of 2006, where the Israeli Air Forces has already conducted training three years ago. In 2009, the Air Forces also carried out military exercises over the Strait of Gibraltar (4,000 km of Israel). 

"Romania is also a strong candidate for the Israelis as the IAF deployed there in the past, so the rules of the games are clear to both sides, and the space is big enough for the IAF to allow preparations for long range missions [Iran again]" Bregman wrote.

However, it is unknown whether Greece will give its consent if Israel makes such a proposal. In mid-May Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a visit to Athens for talks on normalizing relations between the two countries.

Shlomo Brom, Israeli analyst on national security, the director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) believes that Israel will examine all possible alternatives to replace the Turkish airspace, but Greece may be preferred.

"Greece is located closer to Israel, but it is unknown whether the Greeks agree with Israel on this issue," Brom told Trend over phone from Tel Aviv.