Turkey’s NATO membership ‘unraveling’ as leaders meet in London

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Buckingham Palace on Tuesday ahead of the main leaders’ meeting. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2019

Turkey’s NATO membership ‘unraveling’ as leaders meet in London

  • Turkey's military operation against Kurds in Syria and purchase of Russian missile system has escalated tensions within the alliance
  • Ankara hosts a US airbase and American nuclear bombs as part of its membership

LONDON: NATO leaders meet on Wednesday in the UK for crunch talks amid concerns that Turkey’s membership of the organization is “unraveling.”

High on the agenda will be Ankara’s aggressive policies in the region, particularly in Syria, and its decision to purchase a Russian missile system both politically and operationally out of sync with the alliance.

Turkey joined NATO, an alliance of countries serving as a bulwark to the Soviet Union, in 1952. As part of its membership, Turkey hosts a US airbase where dozens of American nuclear bombs are stored.

But Ankara’s relations with other NATO members and particularly the US have become increasingly strained, leading to some experts suggesting its place in the alliance is under threat.

“What we can see so far is Turkey’s relationship with NATO is slowly unraveling, even prior to the Turkish military incursion in northern Syria,” Fadi Hakura, manager of the Turkey Project at Chatham House, told Arab News.

Ankara launched an offensive into north-eastern Syria on Oct. 6, which, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is meant to expel Kurdish militias.

Also, ties between allies Ankara and Berlin deteriorated sharply in the run-up to Turkey’s April 16 referendum that handed Erdogan stronger presidential powers.

One of the first signs that the alliance’s relationship with Turkey was in serious trouble came in July 2017, when Germany began to pull its troops out of the Incirlik air base where they had supported international operations against Daesh following a row with Ankara over access.

Turkey prevented German lawmakers to visit roughly 250 troops stationed there, saying that Berlin needs to improve its attitude first.

Germany has expressed concern about the widespread security crackdown that followed a failed coup in Turkey in 2016. “It’s quite remarkable that a NATO member, like Germany, had to move its pilots and fighter jets from a NATO partner, namely Turkey, to a non-NATO member, and that is Jordan,” Hakura said.

Meanwhile, NATO members, led by the US, are expected to discuss Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system bought from Russia.

Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the   system, which Washington says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to its F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing.

Infuriating many members of Congress, Turkey shrugged off the threat of US sanctions and began receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July. In response, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 program.

Tensions escalated when Turkey tested its S-400s up against US-made F-16 jets last week, following months of warnings from allies.

“So far, the Senate Republicans, in particular Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have followed the wishes of President Trump and avoided any congressional sanctions against Turkey. But I think, should Turkey proceed with the activation of the S-400 Russian anti-missile defense system, which looks extremely likely to happen, the Congress well enact some tough financial and economic sanctions against Turkey,” he said.

He added the sanctions are quite “serious and, according to the draft bills, may include financial sanctions against senior members of the Turkish government, sanctions preventing the US financial system, financial institutions or individuals dealing with certain ministries in Turkey, such as the ministry of defense, from purchasing Turkish debt.

Hakura also said Turkey is importing its bilateral and multilateral disputes with Europe and in the Middle East into the NATO summit. 

“Turkey has so far vetoed or prevented NATO from approving a military plan to defend the Baltic region against the perceived Russian military threat, because in return, Turkey is demanding NATO endorsement of its military incursion into northern Syria, and that is not going to happen. NATO to will not provide any cover for Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria.”

Moreover, Greece’s prime minister will meet Erdogan on Wednesday in an attempt to ease frictions over energy exploration and Ankara’s deal with Libya’s Tripoli-based government on Mediterranean maritime zones, in another issue that Turkey has “imported” into the summit.

Libya and Turkey signed an agreement on boundaries in the Mediterranean last week that could complicate Ankara’s disputes over offshore energy exploration with nations including Greece.

Athens says the accord is geographically absurd because it ignores the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya.

“I think that Greece in particular wants NATO to take a stand against Turkey over its maritime agreement withLibya,” Hakura added.

*With Reuters


Middle East health authorities on alert amid coronavirus outbreak

Updated 26 January 2020

Middle East health authorities on alert amid coronavirus outbreak

  • King Abdullah II ordered an aircraft to be sent to evacuate Jordanian nationals from Wuhan
  • WHO representative in Egypt commends efforts taken by officials to screen incoming travelers for infection

DUBAI: Countries across the Middle East have taken swift steps to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus 2019-nCoV following an outbreak that began in China’s Hubei province.

From Jordan and Lebanon all the way to Egypt, governments are on high alert to ensure the safety of their citizens.

The infection with pneumonia-like symptoms was first detected on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan city in Hubei.

Wuhan is one of at least 10 cities placed under lockdown by Chinese authorities to control the outbreak.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II has ordered an aircraft to be sent to evacuate Jordanian nationals from the Wuhan “as soon as possible,” according to a statement.

The statement said the government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, had obtained the consent of Chinese authorities for the evacuation from Wuhan.

The Jordanian embassy in Beijing said it was in contact with Chinese authorities and Jordanian nationals to complete the evacuation as soon as possible.

Earlier, John Jabbour, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Egypt, confirmed that no cases had been reported in the country.

“The Egyptian Health Ministry has taken all necessary preventive measures,” he told the state news agency on Thursday.

“We are keeping daily contact with Health Minister Hala Zayed and the ministry’s preventive-medicine sector to follow up on any developments.”

Jabbour commended the ministry’s efforts to deal with the situation by screening incoming travelers at all harbors and airports.

He said advisory preventive guidance measures have been issued to all health directorates for educating citizens about the outbreak.

The Egyptian Embassy in Beijing said on Saturday night that there were no infections among the Egyptian community in China, adding that it was monitoring conditions in Wuhan city, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s Minister of Public Health, said on Friday no 2019-nCoV cases had been reported in the country. “(There was some) concern over the spread of the H1N1 flu,” he said, adding that “there is no need to panic over the spread of this or any other disease.”

He said patients with suspected coronavirus infection will be offered treatment immediately after diagnosis free of charge, adding that the ministry’s epidemiological surveillance unit would be deployed in the field.

In neighboring Syria, the Health Ministry also said no 2019-nCoV infections had been detected in the country, although strict measures were being taken at border crossings.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the ministry said that strict measures were being taken at harbors, land border crossings and at Damascus International Airport to detect suspected coronavirus infections.

Turkish authorities have not reported any 2019-nCoV cases during screenings of aircraft passengers from China using thermal cameras, according to news agencies.

Announcing on Friday that thermal cameras had been installed at all airports in the country, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca disclosed that one suspected infection had been detected and action taken.

“A Chinese national, who had a complaint of nausea, headache and uneasiness in Istanbul’s Buyuk Cekmece district, was isolated from other patients as a precaution on Wednesday night after (we learnt) she came from Wuhan,” he said.

“Although the general condition of the patient was good, her case was considered as suspicious due to her travel history. We sent her back to China this morning upon her request.”

Although no cases have been proven or confirmed yet in the Middle East, the WHO wants travelers with symptoms to seek medical attention and share travel history with their healthcare provider.

The WHO wants public health authorities to provide travelers with information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via health practitioners, travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry. 

“Coronavirus infections are highly contagious, and symptoms are usually similar to that of the flu,” Dr Ali Mohammad, specialist pulmonologist at Aster Clinics in Dubai, told Arab News.

“Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands, as well as, rarely, fecal contamination.”