March 14 2012 BURAK BEKDİL
When Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, invented his extremely childish “low chair” diplomacy to punish Turkey through the person of the Turkish Ambassador, the Jewish state ridiculed itself, not Turkey.
Most recently, Israel has found a new instrument with which to chastise, and this new instrument is ostensibly more sophisticated and convincing than Mr. Ayalon’s award-winning method, but in reality it is not.
In December, the Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD) refused to allow Elbit and Elta, Israeli weapons systems makers, to complete deliveries of previously authorized long-range aerial photography systems to the Turkish Air Force (TuAF). This move cost Elta $55 million in lost revenue, and Elbit reported a $90 million loss.
In a second clampdown on defense technology transfers to Turkey, the Israeli MoD is now blocking the delivery of Elta’s subsystems for the high-profile U.S. Peace Eagle program for the TuAF. In this $1.6 billion contract for the Turkish acquisition of Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft, Elta, a subcontractor to Boeing, has been lobbying, since last autumn, to remove the MoD licensing block preventing the delivery of the last two of four Electronic Support Measures (ESM) systems.
Allow me to explain, for the outsiders of weapons systems. The ESM is a passive, purely defensive system that in no way enhances the attack capabilities (firepower) of the TuAF. This is the first time an Israeli government decision could force a U.S. weapons-maker to fail to fulfill its contractual commitments to a third country buyer.
Will this newfound instrument in the Turkish-Israeli cold war give the TuAF commanders sleepless nights? No. The Peace Eagle program has already faced major delays (about four years) due to technical faults not related to the Israeli work. The MoD’s hold could cause further (and unimportant) delays since Boeing may turn to the U.S., French or Italian manufacturers to acquire a similar ESM system for the Turkish aircraft. With some effort, even the Turkish company Aselsan could produce the system.
Technically speaking, the only problem would be a need to modify the entire AEW&C system’s software with new parameters which in no way would disrupt the program. The Israeli move looks like it may more hurt Boeing’s interests than Turkey’s, since payments to the U.S. company would be delayed along with the program.
What else could the “punishing” Israeli clampdown cause? It will cause reputational damage for Israel’s defense companies. And Boeing may simply declare force majeure and kick Elta out of a prestigious and lucrative contract.
Defense industry analysts agree that the Israeli quest may have longer-term implications for the future of U.S.-Israeli defense trade. Not only that. The MoD’s own “low chair” retaliation threatens to hamper a high-priority U.S.-Turkish program, with operational implications for NATO.
Naturally, Israeli politicians cannot remain blind to Turkish hostilities that look more “fundamental” than “seasonal.” But with “retaliatory action” like the ESM system hold, are they really punishing Turkey or the partnership between U.S. and Israeli companies?
When the MoD blocks the delivery of “uncritical technology,” it looks as funny as an ambassador seated on a low chair, especially when the technology in question has nothing to do with suspecting a potential covert Turkish intention to share that technology with Israel’s foes Iran or Hamas. Iran is a much broader threat to Israel than a simple ESM system, and Hamas is probably a century away from operating such sophisticated aircraft over the Palestinian skies.
When in doubt, the Israeli officials can always choose to remember that the X-band radar sitting on Turkish soil in Kürecik, Malatya, is a NATO radar, not an Iranian surveillance complex.