Turkey uses air base as a leverage against Washington 

Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if US sanctions are imposed. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Turkey uses air base as a leverage against Washington 

  • The Incirlik issue has long been a focal point between the nations

ANKARA: Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base and Kurecik Radar Station if the US imposes sanctions, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in an interview to pro-government channel A-Haber.

This bombshell statement has come on Wednesday amid widespread claims that the US’ long-awaited Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) may be on their way toward Turkey before the end of the year.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said one of the core principles of Turkish foreign policy is reciprocity and Turkey will definitely seek ways to retaliate if the US imposes the CAATSA sanctions.

The Incirlik issue has long been a focal point between the nations. It is regularly used as a bargaining chip at times of tension because the air base symbolizes Turkey’s anchorage to the West. 

But despite all the previous threats over Incirlik’s use, it has always remained open, even at times of heightened tension.

“Turkey is not the place to host US nuclear arms,” Steven Pifer, from the American Brookings Institution research group, recently wrote in a report following US President Donald Trump’s public confirmation of the weapons’ presence on Turkish soil.

The critical military air base, which is located in the southern province of Adana close to the Syrian border, was used regularly for anti-Daesh airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

Two years ago, Ankara allegedly warned US officials that it could close its airspace to American jets and deny the US’ decades-long access to Incirlik if the Syrian Kurdish YPG participated in the Raqqa operation against Daesh. 

In June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly played the Incirlik card as a leverage in his meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

However, for Unluhisarcikli, Incirlik is currently one of the few cards Turkey is holding and perhaps the only consequential one.

“The US has alternatives to Incirlik, but they are more costly and less efficient,” he told Arab News.

Section 13 of the Countering Turkish Aggression Act of 2019, a bill which was introduced on Oct. 16, requires “the president within 30 days of enactment to submit an interagency report assessing viable alternative military installations or other locations to host US forces personnel or assets currently stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.” 

The bill, which was sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, has not been enacted.

In the meantime, Italy has begun withdrawing its SAMP/T anti-missile battery and 130 soldiers it has deployed in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras for 30 months as part of a NATO operation.

Unluhisarcikli said that closing down the Kurecik Radar Station, a key NATO base in the eastern Malatya province, may not be an appropriate response as it serves NATO’s missile defense system, not the US’.

“If Turkey shuts down Kurecik, it will face a strong reaction from European allies who have nothing to do with the sanctions the US will likely impose on Turkey,” he said.

Ankara is considering Russian warplanes as an alternative to the US-made F-35 jets if Washington does not deliver them over the concern that the operation of the S-400s missile systems could expose some of the jet’s classified features to Russian intelligence gathering.

Turkey and Britain have also agreed to accelerate their joint project on building fighter jets.

Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the immediate repercussions of closing Incirlik and Kurecik is moving beyond rhetoric and taking tangible steps to disentangle the core of the strategic partnership between Washington and Ankara.

“The US priority should be having contingency plans to secure withdrawing the US nuclear weapons storage in the Incirlik air base, if such a plan is not executed yet,” he told Arab News.

As a back-up plan, the US recently invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Airbase, although experts underline that no single base can substitute the strategic location of Incirlik.

“The operation to kill Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi took off from Iraq and there have been Turkish restrictions on US operations in Syria launching from Incirlik base,” Macaron said.

But, for Macaron, it is unlikely that Ankara will close the Incirlik base for US operations.

“The Turkish government is once again exploiting the divide between the White House and Congress over US sanctions on Turkey, hence hoping that Trump would veto the congressional bill on Turkey. If Ankara gives Incirlik to Moscow, which is not anticipated in the foreseeable future, Turkey will have gone too far in its alliance with Russia and that will have far-reaching implications on regional and global politics,” he said.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 45 min 33 sec ago

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”