Skip to main content


   •  SHARE

Don’t Let Turkey Veto Effective Missile Defense

Why Turkey might be the biggest challenge to U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation

by Gabriel Scheinmann
JINSA Visiting Fellow

This year, in a major breakthrough, Israeli Iron Dome batteries successfully intercepted scores of rockets and missiles fired from Gaza. Its 85% success rate has been a major deterrent of Gazan rocket fire and has propelled heated interest in the system by NATO countries and South Korea. These successes, moreover, could not have been possible without the U.S.-provided $235 million, which Israel is using to ramp up the deployment of batteries on its southern and, perhaps, northern borders. As Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said earlier this year, “We gave them $3 billion, they have to use 75 percent of it to buy our stuff, and then they give us improvements on all the stuff we sell them, plus all the intelligence network.” “Such a bargain [for the U.S.],” he added.

That “bargain,” however, is being challenged by Turkey’s opposition to cooperation with Israel under Washington’s missile defense umbrella. Turkey's regional realignment is threatening to insert itself directly into the deep and extensive defense cooperation between the U.S. and Israel. As the United States attempts to integrate its diverse missile defense programs into a single, regional network — called the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)—Ankara’s supposed refusal to liaise with Jerusalem could inhibit the protection of NATO countries and Israel from Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal.

In September 2008, the U.S. deployed to Israel a Raytheon AN/TPY-2 X-Band radar as part of Israel’s Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile defense system, designed to intercept Iranian missiles halfway into their eleven minute flight. The radar is linked to a U.S. Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS) in Europe, which acts as a data hub for all radar and interceptor sites. Accordingly, this past June, U.S. Missile Defense Agency director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly announced that the U.S. would integrate Israel’s fast-growing anti-missile capabilities into the U.S.’s regional network. “The U.S. missile defense relationship that is most mature is the one we have with Israel," O’Reilly said.[1] The Israeli systems are “not considered as adjuncts to U.S. missile defense, but part of the same network of systems,” he added. O’Reilly even explained that the U.S. had replicated an Israeli command-and-control center in the U.S. in order to optimize its success.[2] Respective visits by Principal Deputy to Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Heidi Shyu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro to Iron Dome and Arrow-2 sites reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the endeavor. Shapiro avowed that “the United States and Israel are working intensively on the development of the Arrow 3 defense system that we promise to complete as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, September also saw the announcement that the U.S. and Turkey had agreed to a late 2011 deployment of the same X-Band radar in eastern Turkey, less than 500 miles from the Iranian border. As part of the Obama’s administration’s EPAA—an agreement to base interceptors in Romania was also announced—the Turkish and Israeli radars would, theoretically, be linked to the same JTAGS and therefore be sharing information with each other instantaneously. As one senior White House official said, “This is probably the biggest strategic decision between the United States and Turkey in the past 15 or 20 years”.

However, in conjunction with its confrontational Israel approach, Turkey has both refused to identify Iran as the primary target of the missile shield and is threatening to prevent information gleaned from the radar from being shared in real time with Israel. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has stated that Turkey could annul the arrangement at will and could prohibit the conveyance of information to other countries, i.e. Israel. Although the Obama administration has affirmed that it, not Turkey, controls the radar and that it can use the data as it pleases, it also simultaneously assured Turkey that the U.S.-Israel missile defense relationship with Israel was “separate and robust” from the one with Turkey. How it intends to harmonize that tension has been left deliberately unclear.

A separate but equal policy has calamitous effects for missile defense. When success is measured by a matter of seconds and centimeters, Turkish obstruction could have severe human consequences were Tehran to launch Shahab-3 ballistic missiles at Israel, as it has threatened to do. Data from the Turkish radar is vital because it is best situated to track the course and velocity, and therefore exact location for intercept, of a missile targeting Israel. Moreover, even if Turkey tabled its objections, it could still theoretically share data collected by the Israeli radar with its Iranian counterpart, permitting Iranian adjustments. Ankara’s malevolent Israel policy is quickly having security consequences for the United States. Washington must not let Turkey hold a veto on its regional missile defense program.


[1] Barbara Opall-Rome, “Israel Integrating Upper, Lower-Tier, Missile Defense” Defense News June 20, 2011.

[2] Barbara Opall-Rome, “From Development to Delivery—and Beyond” Defense News July 11, 2011.

Gabriel Max Scheinmann, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is a Ph.D. candidate in Government at Georgetown University, focusing on international security, alliance architecture, and grand strategy. His publications have been featured in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Hudson Institute-New York.

Jewish Institute for National Security of America
1101 14th Street, NW, Suite 1030

Washington, D.C. 20005

(202) 667-3900 Office •