Saturday, November 27, 2010

As Turkey front freezes, Israel looks to warming Balkan ties

Shared concerns about Turkey's radicalism leads to expanding ties and new opportunities for economic and security cooperation.

By Barak Ravid

Since its relations with Turkey crumbled over the past year, Israel has begun looking to the Balkan states for new friends and allies. The new initiatives extend to shared intelligence, joint military exercises and boosting tourism, officials say.

Anti-Israel protest in Turkey, AP, June 6, 2010

Pro-Palestinian Turks demonstrating against Israel in Ankara, Turkey on June 6, 2010

Photo by: AP

In the past year Israel has expanded relations with Greece and Bulgaria and upgraded its existing ties with Cyprus, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia. These states share concerns about Turkey's new radicalism and world jihad's growing influence there and see new opportunities for economic, technical and security cooperation with Israel.

"They realized a great danger was in store for them and the issue rose in the talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in January," a senior Israeli official said.

The botched Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla increased Bulgaria's motivation for intelligence and defense cooperation with Jerusalem. Borisov and Netanyahu had three conversations with each other within two weeks following the action, intended to facilitate the release of two Bulgarian journalists who had been on board one of the ships, the official said.

Borisov suggested increasing military cooperation by enabling the Israeli Air Force to use Bulgaria's bases and air space for training. The first training session is due to be held soon.

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