US suspends F-35 deliveries to Turkey over Russian arms

A US soldier guards a US F35 stealth aircraft. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 02 April 2019

US suspends F-35 deliveries to Turkey over Russian arms

WASHINGTON: The United States has halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, sources familiar with the situation said, marking the first concrete US step to block delivery of the jet to the NATO ally in light of Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian missile defense system.
In recent days, US officials told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the stealthy jet, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters. The aircraft is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the next shipment of training equipment, and all subsequent shipments of F-35 related material, have been canceled.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft. Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.
The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.
A Pentagon official had told Reuters in March that the United States had a number of items it could withhold in order to send Turkey a signal that the United States was serious about Ankara dropping its ambition to own the S-400.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Turkish officials in Ankara were not immediately available for comment.
The US decision on the F-35s was expected to complicate Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s planned visit to Washington this week for a NATO summit. The latest development in the F-35 dispute came a day after Erdogan suffered one of his biggest electoral losses in decades in local elections.
Reuters reported last week that Washington was exploring whether it could remove Turkey from production of the F-35. Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays. Sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate worldwide production process and US thinking on the issue last week said Turkey’s role can be replaced.
The United States and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.
In an attempt to persuade Turkey to drop its plans to buy the S-400, the United States offered the pricier American-made Patriot anti-missile system in a discounted deal that expired at the end of March. Turkey has shown interest in the Patriot system, but not at the expense of abandoning the S-400.
Turkey has engaged with US negotiators in recent days about buying the Patriot system, a person familiar with the matter said. The system is made by Raytheon Co.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in March said that despite some issues, Turkish pilots were continuing their training at an air base in Arizona on the F-35, each of which costs $90 million, and that Ankara was expecting the aircraft to arrive in Turkey in November.
US lawmakers also have expressed alarm over Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian system. Four US senators last week introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the transfer of F-35s to Turkey until the US government certifies that Ankara will not take delivery of the S-400 system.


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 18 October 2019

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.