Turkey ‘may stall NATO defense plan over Syria dispute’

Turkey ‘may stall NATO defense plan over Syria dispute’
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters sit atop an armored personnel carrier in the southwestern neighborhoods of the border Syrian town of Tal Abyad. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2019

Turkey ‘may stall NATO defense plan over Syria dispute’

Turkey ‘may stall NATO defense plan over Syria dispute’
  • Ankara asks for more political support in its fight against YPG militia in Syria in return for backing NATO’s defense plan

ANKARA: Ankara is reportedly blocking the approval of a NATO defense plan for the alliance’s eastern flank until it gets the green light over its security concerns in Syria.

Ahead of NATO’s 70th anniversary summit in London next week, Turkey has allegedly asked for more political support in its fight against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria in return for backing NATO’s latest defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, according to a Reuters report.

Turkey’s NATO envoy has reportedly been instructed to stall the plan until the alliance formally recognizes the YPG as terrorists. Ankara considers YPG an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — listed by the US, EU and Turkey as a terror group.

The military plan, aimed at defending Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland against aggression from Russia, can only be approved unanimously by all 29 member states. Turkey’s strategic location on the eastern flank of the alliance makes its approval even more critical because of its proximity to the Middle East and Russia.

According to NATO’s founding treaty, an attack against one ally is considered an attack against all, and will trigger the alliance’s military strategies for collective defense.

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, said that the move is unlikely to make Central European countries sympathetic toward Turkey.

“Secondly, this may be interpreted as a another sign that Turkey is unwilling to contribute to the deterrence policy against Russia and it wants to remain neutral, yet the stakes are located in a different sphere — Turkey wants to get help when it comes to the safe zone in Syria,” he told Arab News.

“Turkey will be less and less trusted in NATO and might be seen as Russia’s Trojan horse within the alliance,” Wasilewski said.

The latest move is seen as a tactic by the Turkish side to break its international isolation on its cross-border military operation into Syria. But it is unclear whether this will pay off or whether this is a new sign of division within NATO if no compromise is reached.

FASTFACT

The latest move is seen as a tactic by the Turkish side to break its international isolation on its cross-border military operation into Syria.

The alliance is going through a difficult period. NATO has been the focal point of criticism by US President Donald Trump due to the allies’ spending on defense, while French President Emmanuel Macron recently argued that the alliance was experiencing “brain death.”

According to Wasilewski, the matter is highly problematic in Poland since up till now Polish decision-makers could argue that Turkey had done nothing that ran counter to Polish interests. The two countries have diplomatic relations dating back more than 600 years.

“And now it wouldn’t stick anymore,” he said, adding that in Europe this will most probably be seen as Turkey’s endeavor to transfer domestic problems to NATO.

For Madalina Sisu Vicari, an expert on geopolitics and Turkey, if the report is true then by holding up the upgraded plan of defense for Poland and the Baltic states, Turkey is attempting to build leverage that could enable it to achieve two objectives. The first is noninterference in its Syrian military operation from other NATO members, especially from those who have criticized it (France, Germany); the second is legitimization of the operation as Ankara seeks to obtain NATO’s acknowledgement of the YPG as “terrorists.”

“Whether Ankara will achieve both objectives, and to what extent, is hard to say now, but nevertheless it may get minimization of the public criticism expressed so far by some NATO members, especially European ones, who are mostly concerned and affected by the Syrian operation,” she told Arab News.

Macron, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are expected to meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit next week to discuss the latest developments in Syria.


UK slams ‘illegal’ Israeli settlement plans 

The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank. (Reuters/File Photo)
The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 18 January 2021

UK slams ‘illegal’ Israeli settlement plans 

The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Britain ‘seriously concerned’ by decision to approve 780 new units in West Bank

LONDON: The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa on Monday slammed the Israeli government’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank.

In a statement issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), James Cleverly said the UK is “seriously concerned by Israel’s decision to approve 780 new settlement units in the West Bank. We urge Israel not to proceed with their construction.” 

He added: “Settlements are illegal under international law and risk undermining the physical viability of the two state solution.”

The new plans were announced on Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Sunday, a government committee moved to ratify the construction of some 365 homes while giving preliminary approval for another 415, according to Israeli anti-settlement campaign group Peace Now.

An FCDO spokesman called for the construction of settlements “in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank to cease immediately.”

In November, Cleverly criticized Israel’s decision to start proceedings for the construction of 1,257 settlement homes in Givat HaMatos.