After signing a defense cooperation agreement in 1996, Turkey turned to Israel for the supply of advanced arms. As I outlined in this National Interest piece, Turkey borders three states known to have pursued dual-use nuclear-weapons capabilities and ballistic-missile technologies. Therefore, Ankara has opted to pursue a number of technologies to defend against the growing threat of missile proliferation in the Middle East. Ankara approached Israel for the supply of the Arrow missile defense system in 1997. Israel and Turkey held a series of meetings for the sale of the system and eventually secured the sign-off from a reluctant United States (The United States, as the primary funder, needs to sign off on Israel’s export of the Arrow). Talks broke down in 2001 when Turkey suffered a severe financial crisis and was forced to take a large loan from the International Monetary Fund.
While talks for the sale of missile defenses were halted in 2001, the two sides were able to conclude a number of defense deals totaling at least 2 billion US dollars. Israel provided Turkey with 54 EL/M 2032 combat aircraft radars for Turkey’s F-4s, combat modernization for the same 54 F-4s, 46 Popeye 1 cruise missiles, 108 HARPY unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), upgrades for 170 of Turkey’s M-60 battle tank, 10 Heron UAVs (not all were delivered), 3 Aerostar UAVs, and 1 Searcher UAV. The list is extensive, and also demonstrates just how dependent Turkey was on Israel for its UAVs. The United States, Turkey’s primary arms supplier, has supplied Turkey with 24 Gnat UAVs, but has steadfastly refused to sell Turkey the armed reaper drone. Turkey’s own effort at developing a UAV has been mixed and information about the use of the ANKA in combat has not been released. However, Turkey’s desire for the armed reaper, as well as its current reliance on the Heron, suggests that the armed forces are not relying on the ANKA for its ongoing operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Moreover, the weapons Israel has supplied would be of use in any Turkish unilateral intervention in Syria. The EL/M 2033 radar – which is in operation on Turkey’s F-4Es – is used for high level mapping and image capture. Differences withstanding, the radar produces photograph-like images and is generally used to capture images of enemy military forces. It is likely that this is what the F-4 that Syria shot down in June 2012 was doing off of the the Syrian coast. Therefore, the radar and the Israeli upgraded F-4s would be critical for keeping track of military targets inside of Syria. The radar does not look straight down, and instead produces the image as the plane flies by at long range. In general, the angle to the ground is less than ~30 degrees and works out to hundreds of kilometers.
The target data would be fed into the guidance of the Popeye cruise missiles, which would likely be used to target Syrian air defense sites (The Popeye has a 75 km range). The HARPY UAV, which is fired from a distance, loiters over the target waiting to identify enemy air defenses with its optical sensor and anti-radar homing system, before destroying the target. The Herons would be used to survey the damage done and to ensure that the targets are destroyed. They would also be used to find Syrian mobile air defense sites and, potentially, road mobile Scud missile launchers.
In any case, Brian Haggerty, a PhD student at MIT, wrote a brilliant report outlining the mission requirements for an intervention in Syria. Haggerty identified “450 targets, including at least 22 early warning radar sites and command-and-control facilities, 150 surface-to-air missile batteries, 27 surface-to-surface missile batteries, 12 anti-ship missile batteries, 32 airfield targets and more than 200 hardened aircraft shelters. This could require dropping more than 1,600 munitions over hundreds of sorties in the opening days of strikes.” This operation would include “about 200 strike aircraft and more than 100 support aircraft for only the first waves of strikes . . .” While Turkey could opt for a different strike scenario, any such intervention, would remain dependent on the use of Israeli supplied weapons. Moreover, Turkey’s supply of advanced weapons is limited, and the target list is vast, making it likely that Ankara would have to ask Israel for further supplies. During the air operation in Libya, Denmark quickly exhausted its supply of precision munitions and was forced to buy Israeli weapons to continue its participation in the air campaign. Turkey would likely face a similar predicament. Given the current tensions with Israel, it remains unlikely that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would ask Israel for an emergency supply of weapons.
Weapons supplied by the United States – most notably the 100 AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles and its ~500 JDAM kits – would also be used in a Turkish intervention. However, those supplies are also finite. While Turkey has other American supplied munitions that it would also use (as well as a very limited supply of locally produced weapons), its reserves would be quickly exhausted. Therefore, a Turkish intervention in Syria would likely be preceded by a Turkish – Israeli rapprochement. Israel seems to have sensed this, sending signals that it was willing to make amends if Turkey met them half way. Turkey has rejected the Israeli attempts at mending ties, arguing forcefully that Israel must first apologize, pay reparations to the 9 family members of those killed aboard the Mavi Marmara, and lift its blockade of the Gaza strip. While the first two demands could be resolved, Israel is not likely to adhere to the final Turkish demand.
While intervention was always unlikely, and the threat of conflict is subsiding, a clear signal that Ankara is considering intervening would likely be preceded by a Turkish effort to mend ties with Israelis. It remains far more likely that Ankara will continue to wait for movement by the United States on this issue. Therefore, Turkey is not likely to get involved in Syria, may not have enough munitions to actually enforce a no-fly-zone, and would be forced to import Israeli weapons before, or during, any future air campaign.