Turkey postpones S-400 missile activation date

Turkey postpones S-400 missile activation date
The $2.5 billion system was delivered to Turkey last July, but its acquisition has put Ankara under risk of falling foul of the US Countering America’s Adversaries. (File/Andrey Smirnov/AFP)
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Updated 22 April 2020

Turkey postpones S-400 missile activation date

Turkey postpones S-400 missile activation date
  • The potential economic sanctions under this law, especially in a time when Ankara is also willing to receive some external financing, would constrain the Turkish economy
  • The US alleges that the S-400s are incompatible with the NATO defense system and is concerned that they could endanger US-made F35 fighter jets

ANKARA: Turkey’s plans to activate the Russian-made S-400 air defense system have been postponed due the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, according to a new Reuters report, halting for now an emerging crisis between Ankara and Washington that could lead to sanctions.

However, this delay should not be understood as a change of Ankara’s priorities as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government has repeatedly reassured the public that he will stand by the plan to activate system.

“The S-400s are now our property. All parts have arrived, and (the systems) will become operational in April,” Erdogan recently told journalists on March 5 after he met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Reuters reported that a senior Turkish official said the delay could extend for several months due to some “technical issues.”

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, cast doubt on the claim that there is a technical delay.

“The Russian press indicates that Turkish crews have been trained and all the components have been shipped. My guess is that the technical delay is tied to Turkish economic concerns linked to COVID-19 and Ankara’s efforts to begin liquidity swaps with the US Federal Reserve,” he told Arab News.

The $2.5 billion system was delivered to Turkey last July, but its acquisition has put Ankara under risk of falling foul of the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a specific menu of 12 options to penalize countries buying defense equipment from Russia.

The potential economic sanctions under this law, especially in a time when Ankara is also willing to receive some external financing, would constrain the Turkish economy. The so-called “technical issues” could be a pretext for buying some time against US Congressional sanctions.

On Monday night, the US State Department spokeswoman said that Washington continues to object “strenuously” to Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defense systems and is “deeply concerned” by reports about Ankara’s continuing efforts to activate the weapons.

“We continue to stress at the highest levels that the S-400 transaction is the subject of ongoing CAATSA sanctions deliberations and it remains a major obstacle in the bilateral relationship and at NATO. We are confident that President Erdogan and his senior officials understand our position,” the spokeswoman said.

Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump held a phone call on Sunday, allegedly over their cooperation during the global pandemic crisis.

The US alleges that the S-400s are incompatible with the NATO defense system and is concerned that they could endanger US-made F35 fighter jets. Although Turkey was due to get new jets, Washington removed it from the jet program as a retaliation to the S-400 contract last year.

Another possible explanation for the delay concerns Turkey’s changing priorities and alliances in Syria, where it needs a strong support from NATO allies, such as the US, against Russia’s moves. Ankara is especially vexed by Russian activity in the rebel-held northern province of Idlib.

Turkey recently accused the Syrian Assad regime of violating the Idlib ceasefire and warned of potential major retaliations.

Amanda Sloat, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, said the Turkish decision to delay making the S-400s operational provides a window of opportunity for Ankara and Washington to find a way forward.

“If the systems had been activated in April as originally planned, Congressional pressure on the Trump Administration to sanction Turkey under the CAATSA legislation would have increased significantly,” she told Arab News, adding: “Sanctions would have placed financial pressure on Turkey’s economy, which was already struggling before the coronavirus emerged.”

The presumed backpedaling on the activation date came amid some new steps for rapprochement with Washington as Turkey approved an export permit to sell medical equipment and ventilators parts to the US to help the combat against COVID-19.

Dr. Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank, said that the term “activation” is militarily vague.

“It was first voiced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to allow some diplomatic maneuvering for Turkey. The CAATSA wording itself does not include such a clause, but only mentions significant transactions,” he told Arab News.

Kasapoglu added that Turkey has already radar-tested the system, and received the interceptor missiles.

“Technically, three is no reason to assume the system is not ‘activated’ yet given what we know. The only remaining step is a live fire exercise. But, for the time being, Turkey would not continue with the live fire exercises.”

Kasapoglu said that Turkey insisted on the working group as a show of good will.

“However, the mistrust is essentially emanating from the Russian technological dominance over the system,” he noted.

Caglar Kurc, an Ankara-based researcher on defence, approached the issue from another angle.

“Why would Russia care about S-400 activation anyway? Moscow sold the system and got its money. On top of that, they were able to create a rift, or deepen an existing rift, between Turkey and the US,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russian and Turkish forces conducted a joint military patrol on the Latakia-Aleppo M4 Highway on Tuesday.

Turkey recently asked the US to deploy two Patriot missile defense batteries on its southern border to deter Russia in Syria.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the Washington-based German Marshall Fund think tank, said the US could deploy the Patriot missiles in Turkey for a year if Ankara commits against activating the Russian system in the same period.

“If the time gained by Turkey’s delay to activate the S-400s is not used well by both Ankara and Washington it could amount to a pause before an even bigger crisis in the relationship,” he told Arab News.


Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
Updated 35 min 48 sec ago

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
  • German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days
  • Two synagogues were attacked and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since violence erupted in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

BERLIN: Germany’s leading Jewish group on Thursday sharply condemned protests in front of a synagogue in the western city of Gelsenkirchen as “pure antisemitism.”
Several other German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days.
At least two synagogues were attacked, and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since the latest eruption of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany tweeted a video of dozens of protesters in Gelsenkirchen waving Palestinian and Turkish flags and yelling expletives about Jews.
“Jew hatred in the middle of Gelsenkirchen in front of the synagogue. The times in which Jews were cursed in the middle of the street should have long been over. This is pure antisemitism, nothing else!” the group tweeted.
The German government repeatedly condemned anti-Israeli and antisemitic attacks earlier this week and said that “the perpetrators must be found and held responsible and Jewish institutions must be protected thoroughly.”
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Funke Media Group that “there must be zero tolerance for attacks on synagogues in our country.”
“All of us are called on to make it very clear that we do not accept if Jews in Germany are made responsible for the events in the Middle East — neither in the streets nor on social media,” Maas added.
The protests in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday were dispersed by police, German news agency DPA reported, but authorities reported further incidents in other parts of the country.
Some cities which had hoisted Israeli flags in front of their city halls on Wednesday in remembrance of the start of German-Israeli diplomatic relations on May 12, 1965, reported that the flags were torn down and sometimes burned.
An Israeli flag in front of a city hall in the western town of Solingen was torn and burnt and two Israeli flags in Berlin were also torn down late Wednesday night.
On Tuesday night, police stopped 13 suspects in the western city of Muenster near a synagogue after an Israeli flag was burned there. In the western city of Bonn, police said several people damaged the entrance of a synagogue with stones and investigators found a burned flag as well. In nearby Duesseldorf, somebody burned garbage on top of a memorial for a former synagogue.
Several cities and states in Germany have since upped their security and raised police presence in front of Jewish institutions, dpa reported.
In Berlin, some 100 people also assembled for a pro-Israel rally on Wednesday night in front of the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate waving Israeli flags and holding a banner saying “We stand with Israel — Now and Forever.”


Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
Updated 26 min 36 sec ago

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
  • Members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which numbers around 20,000, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea
  • Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases

ROME: Thousands of Muslims in Palermo gathered in the capital of Sicily’s waterfront to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr and pray for the victims in Palestine.

Several members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which counts around 20,000 members, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea.

Everyone was wearing a mask and carrying their own carpet. Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

Prayers were led by Mustafà Boulaalam, the imam of the mosque of Piazza Gran Cancelliere, which before 1998 was a Catholic church and was donated to the Islamic community by the late Cardinal of Palermo Salvatore Pappalardo. Imams from the city’s other mosques and Islamic centers also joined this moment of reflection.

The Mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando represented the city, and gave his best wishes to the Islamic community.

Orlando said: “In this moment we are all called to build fraternity in order to create peace and feel that we are children of one God. Unfortunately, this fraternity we all long for continues to be mortified by the deaths in the Mediterranean of migrants who try to reach Europe from North Africa but also from the bombs and blood that in these hours are tearing Palestine apart.”

He added: “We must all fight to defend life and pursue fraternity between individuals and peoples in the wake of peace.”

The mayor told Arab News: “Even this year Eid Al-Fitr is a feast for the entire city of Palermo and all of its citizens, not only for the Muslims who live and work here.”

Fr. Piero Magro read a message of participation from the Palermo Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, who was represented at the prayer by Biagio Conte, a lay missionary who since the late 1990s has run the “Missione di Speranza e Carità,” a charity in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Palermo.

“In our mission we have every day hundreds of Muslim brothers coming to seek for help. We try to do whatever we can to help them, especially in this particularly difficult time of the pandemic. Because we are all brothers and only if we are together we will overcome the hardship,” Conte told Arab News.

In Rome, only 1,000 were admitted for prayers in the grounds of the Great Mosque in the north of the Italian capital. 

The Islamic Cultural Center advised those over 70 and children to not attend. The center ordered everyone to bring their own disinfected Sajjada and to practice ablutions at home before reaching the mosque.

“It is so nice to be here again, all together, to pray in respect of the precautions. This Ramadan has been more normal than the one we had last year, when the pandemic reached its peak. At least we can go to the Islamic centers, and now we can celebrate,” Hussein Garoub, 20, a student at the La Sapienza University in Rome, told Arab News after the prayer.


OIC to hold emergency meeting to discuss Jerusalem and Gaza, at request of Saudi Arabia

Palestinians react in front of the remains of destroyed building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP)
Palestinians react in front of the remains of destroyed building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP)
Updated 1 min 3 sec ago

OIC to hold emergency meeting to discuss Jerusalem and Gaza, at request of Saudi Arabia

Palestinians react in front of the remains of destroyed building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP)
  • The meeting between foreign ministers of member nations will address continuing Israeli attacks in the Palestinian territories

RIYADH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza, at the request of Saudi Arabia, it was reported on Thursday.

The meeting between foreign ministers of OIC member nations will address continuing Israeli attacks in the Palestinian territories, which have escalated since Monday.

Israeli troops were massing at the Gaza border on Thursday, while Hamas hit Israel with rockets in intense hostilities that have caused international concern and touched off clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

As concern grows that violence could spiral out of control into a full-blown war, the US announced Wednesday it was sending an envoy, Hady Amr, to the region.


Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Updated 55 min 2 sec ago

Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Tehran should ‘release all jailed journalists immediately’
  • Minority activists and journalists in Iran regularly face arbitrary detention and torture 

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has spoken out against Iran’s use of “vague, trumped-up” charges to crack down on Kurdish journalists, and urged authorities to release three who remain in detention.

Since May 2020, Tehran’s security forces have arrested dozens of activists and students in a crackdown on perceived pro-Kurdish movements in the country, according to reports cited by the CPJ.

They have arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists, three of whom remain behind bars.

“Iranian authorities’ targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country’s already dire campaign to imprison members of the press,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. 

“Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately,” he added.

On condition of anonymity, a lawyer representing several detained journalists told the CPJ that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about the unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds.”

Iran’s ethnically diverse population — including Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and other minorities — has long been a source of insecurity for the regime, which at various times in its history has been confronted with secessionist movements.

For this reason, the lawyer explained, Tehran is “sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Erbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists’ assembly.”

Jafar Osafi, who is one of three journalists who remain in detention after the 2020 crackdown, ran a religious commentary and discussion channel on Telegram called “QandA with Sunnis.” He was arrested in his own home in June 2020, and has since been moved to Urmia prison, where the CPJ said he remains.

The committee said: “Iranian authorities must stop imprisoning and harassing Kurdish and other minority journalists, and should allow all members of the press to cover the news freely.”

According to Amnesty International, Iran’s ethnic minorities face “entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office.

“Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.”


Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year

Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year
Updated 48 min 48 sec ago

Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year

Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year
  • ADB arrears paid with $425 million loan from U.K., Sweden and Ireland
  • The Paris Club of major creditors make up around 38 percent of foreign debt

Khartoum: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hopes Sudan can wipe out its staggering $60 billion foreign debt bill this year by securing relief and deals at an upcoming Paris conference that could bring much-needed investment.
The seasoned UN economist-turned-premier took office at the head of a transitional government shortly after the 2019 ouster of president Omar Al-Bashir whose three-decade iron-fisted rule was marked by economic hardship, deep internal conflicts, and biting international sanctions.
In the past two years, Hamdok and his government have pushed to rebuild the crippled economy and end Sudan’s international isolation.
“We have already settled the World Bank arrears, those of the African Development Bank, and in Paris, we will be settling the International Monetary Fund arrears,” Hamdok told AFP at his office in Khartoum.
Arrears due to the African Development Bank were cleared through a bridging loan worth $425 million from Sweden, Britain and Ireland, while debts to the World Bank were paid off with a $1.1 billion bridging loan from the US.
“Paris also is home to the Paris Club, our biggest creditors... and we will be discussing debt relief with them,” Hamdok said.
Sudan’s debts to the Paris Club, which includes major creditor countries, is estimated to make up around 38 percent of its total $60 billion foreign debt.
Hamdok and top Sudanese officials will be attending Monday’s Paris conference along with by French President Emmanuel Macron, and World Bank and IMF representatives.
The aim is to draw investments to Sudan including in the energy, infrastructure, agriculture and telecommunications sectors.
“We are going to the Paris conference to let foreign investors explore the opportunities for investing in Sudan,” Hamdok said.
“We are not looking for grants or donations.”
Sudan was taken off Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism in December, removing a major hurdle to foreign investment.
The government has also embarked on tough measures including subsidy cuts and introducing a managed currency float to qualify for an IMF debt relief program.
Though widely unpopular, the premier says the measures were necessary to move toward debt relief “by the end of the year.”
But many challenges still lie ahead.
His government has been pushing to forge peace with rebel groups to end conflicts in far-flung regions.
In October, it signed a landmark peace deal with rebels from the western region of Darfur as well the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Only two groups including one which wields substantial power in Darfur refused to sign the deal.
To Hamdok, the peace deal represents “50 percent on the road to peace.”
Efforts are underway to sign deals with the remaining groups, and talks with a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) are slated for later this month.
Hamdok acknowledged the slow pace of implementing the peace deal, but said Sudan is “steadily moving forward.”
In February, Sudan appointed three ex-rebels to the ruling sovereign council and announced a new transitional cabinet including seven ex-rebels.
“We have come a long way... and in my view the second stage of talks will go much faster.”
Simmering tensions with neighboring Ethiopia over a fertile border region and a gigantic dam on the Blue Nile pose another challenge.