How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability

How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability
The blue-homeland doctrine envisions Turkey ignoring internationally recognized coastal rights of islands and laying claim to huge chunks of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas. (Getty Images/File)
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Updated 24 September 2020

How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability

How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability
  • Country now viewed as an unpredictable, dangerous force at odds with the interests of its NATO “allies”
  • Rich gas deposits in eastern Mediterranean believed to lie at the heart of its aggressive new naval doctrine

MISSOURI: Reflecting a new Turkish naval doctrine, the phrase “blue homeland” is widely used in Turkey today.

Developed by former Turkish Rear Admiral Cem Gurdeniz, the blue homeland doctrine envisions Turkey ignoring the internationally recognized coastal rights of islands and laying exclusive claim to huge chunks of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas.

The new Turkish territorial waters doctrine would leave nothing for Greek Cypriots and encircle most of the Greek islands in the Aegean.

Newly discovered rich gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean may lie at the heart of Ankara’s new naval doctrine, which pits Ankara against Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel.

France has sent some of its warships to the Mediterranean to back Greece and the others, as a dangerous dance of gunboat diplomacy and naval drills is played out adjacent to gas explorations vessels in contested waters.

France and Greece are members of NATO as well, of course, but this has not prevented a barrage of bellicose exchanges between them and Turkey over maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean.

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned France “not to mess with Turkey,” French President Emmanuel Macron has said the Turks “only respect actions rather than words” and that he has “set red lines for Turkey.”

Things were not always so bad between Turkey and its NATO allies. For 50 years after its admission into NATO in 1952, Turkey played a key and model role in the alliance.

Bordering the Soviet Union’s Georgia and Armenia and controlling the Bosporus straits to the Black Sea, the Turks offered the alliance unparalleled benefits and the second largest land army in NATO.

In return, the Turks received NATO’s protection against the Russians, who had since the 19th century been Turkey’s greatest external threat, as well as top-of-the-line NATO military hardware and expertise.

During those years a staunchly secular Turkey made significant sacrifices on behalf of the NATO alliance. A key NATO radar base was built in Kurecik in eastern Turkey, along with the very important shared NATO-Turkish airbases in Konya and Incirlik.

Turkey contributed troops to the war in the Korean Peninsula in the early 1950s, the 1991 Gulf War, NATO operations in the Balkans during the 1990s, and the 2002 war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In the case of the Gulf War, Turkey’s cooperation with its NATO allies cost the country a great deal economically.

Iraq had been a key Turkish trading partner and major source of oil imports, but Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal fell in line with the US and other NATO allies in applying sanctions on Saddam Hussein and ending this trade.

Since joining NATO in 1952, Turkish military officers trained at military academies in the US and developed a close working relationship with their NATO counterparts in Brussels.

INNUMBERS

639k Size of Turkish armed forces.

11 Rank in Global Firepower military strength.

$19bn Annual military budget.

The only real glitch during those first 50 years of Turkey’s NATO membership occurred over Cyprus, culminating in the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. During that conflict, Turkey and fellow NATO member Greece almost went to war against one another.

The blame for the 1974 episode resides more with Greece, however, which had just lost its civilian government to a military coup. Greek nationalists in Athens were busily trying to upset the status quo in the Mediterranean, supporting enosis (Cypriot union with Greece) and the persecution of Cyprus’ Turkish minority.

At the time, Greece stood out as the liability in the NATO alliance, violating the terms of Cyprus’ founding treaty of independence and simultaneously not contributing very much to the NATO alliance.

The Greek and Turkish roles in NATO look very much reversed today. Since 2003, Turkey has increasingly become a liability and even a danger to other NATO members. The irredentism in the region now comes from Ankara rather than Athens.




The catalogue of problems Erdogan’s Turkey has caused for NATO since 2002 is lengthy and complex. (AFP)

Whereas Turkey once pursued a prudent foreign policy and largely eschewed military adventurism in the region, the country under Erdogan’s leadership looks very different today.

Turkish forces occupy large swaths of northern Syria, engage in regular strikes in northern Iraq (despite Baghdad’s protests), lead thousands of mercenaries in Libya and advise and assist Muslim Brotherhood-linked politicians in Yemen.

In his speeches, Erdogan increasingly criticizes the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the borders it created, claiming that Mosul and the islands in the Aegean were stolen from Turkey.

Turkish media (which is overwhelmingly government-controlled these days) frequently show maps of Turkey that depict the Greek islands, all of Cyprus, parts of mainland Greece and Bulgaria, and most of northern Syria and Iraq as part of Turkey.

Besides Turkey’s dispute with Greece and France in the Mediterranean, Ankara and Paris back different sides in the civil wars in Libya and Syria, as well. France and Greece are not the only NATO allies at odds with Turkey.

While Washington, Paris and London backed Syrian Kurdish forces against the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, Ankara stood accused of backing both Daesh and other radical Islamist groups in Syria.

Turkey’s invasions of northern Syria in 2018 and 2019 were not welcomed by its NATO allies and threatened to unravel the Kurdish-led offensive against Daesh.

The catalogue of problems Erdogan’s Turkey has caused for NATO since 2002 is lengthy and complex. Besides its support for Islamist and radical groups in Syria, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere, Turkey for a long time denied NATO permission to use shared airbases in Turkey against Daesh.

Erdogan repeatedly threatened to unleash waves of refugees on Europe if the EU did not pay Turkey to host the refugees and even, on two occasions, if the EU dared to criticize Turkish invasions of Syria.

 




Turkey has become an unpredictable, dangerous force for instability in the region that seems very much at odds with the interests of its NATO. (AFP)

During the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey, the government accused the Americans of involvement in the coup attempt and even cut off electricity to the Incirlik base – where the US forces maintain several nuclear warheads. Erdogan’s government has repeatedly helped Iran to evade US sanctions.  

In 2015 Turkey shot down a Russian warplane flying along its border with Syria, which threatened to drag NATO into an unwanted war with Moscow. Just a few years later, however, Ankara not only repaired relations with Moscow but went on to purchase advanced Russian military hardware, including the S400 air defense systems.

Since the Russian equipment, operating in conjunction with the new American F-35 fighter aircraft, could potentially expose critical vulnerabilities in the latter (allowing the Russians to learn the F-35’s weaknesses), the Americans were forced to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter program.

The list goes on and could include Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism and Erdogan’s overt disdain for Europe, the Americans and the West in general, but the point is that Turkey has become an unpredictable, dangerous force for instability in the region that seems very much at odds with the interests of its NATO “allies.”
 




For 50 years after its admission into NATO in 1952, Turkey played a key and model role in the alliance. (AFP)

US officials began publicly questioning Turkey’s place in NATO several years ago. Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican chair of a House subcommittee on emerging threats, expressed serious doubts in 2016 when he said: “Ten years ago Turkey was a solid NATO ally and a staunch opponent of radical Islam and a friend of the United States, and today that’s all in question … Erdogan is purging pro-Western people throughout his country who are in positions of influence. He himself has become more aggressive in his Islamic beliefs, and there’s reason for us to be seriously concerned.”

The rupture between Erdogan and his NATO allies is so serious, in fact, that most of the Turkish military officers who trained with NATO in America and Belgium have come under suspicion in Ankara, with those abroad at the time of the 2016 attempted coup mostly requesting political asylum lest they be arrested in Turkey on trumped-up charges.
 




The blue homeland doctrine envisions Turkey ignoring the internationally recognized coastal rights of islands and laying exclusive claim to huge chunks of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas. (AFP)

In a world where Russian expansionism is no longer the threat it was in Soviet times, such developments put in question Turkey’s very place in NATO. There seems little doubt that today’s Turkey would not be admitted to the Western military alliance. The problem, however, is that with an increasingly hostile Turkey already a part of the alliance, NATO lacks any mechanism for expelling members.

American policymakers in particular also seem to reason that expelling Turkey from NATO would only exacerbate Ankara’s current tilt towards Russia and Islamist tendencies.

They instead hope to use NATO to smoothen out relations with the Turks, with NATO’s headquarters in Brussels this week serving as a venue for negotiations between Turkey and France and their dispute in the Mediterranean.

Only time will tell if it is right to treat Turkey as the ally the Americans and other NATO members wish they still had rather than the liability that Erdogan and his government have become.

• David Romano is Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University


Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival
Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

CAIRO: Egypt will require all visitors arriving from “countries where variants of the virus have appeared” to take a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival, its health ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The statement did not specify the countries from which passengers would take the 15-minute DNA test, called ID NOW.
Egypt’s new coronavirus cases have been steadily rising in recent weeks. On Saturday it reported 1,125 new cases and 65 deaths, although experts say that reflects only a fraction of total cases.
In a statement on Saturday, Egypt’s tourism ministry clarified that restaurants and coffee shops attached to hotels were exempt from a recent decree that such outlets as well as malls and stores would close at 9 p.m. local time (GMT +2) in order to not affect tourism.


Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
Updated 08 May 2021

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: A night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem left more than 200 Palestinians wounded, medics said Saturday, as the city braced for even more violence after weeks of unrest.
Nightly protests broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place and have reignited in recent days over threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old conflict.
It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.
Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement late Friday.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final midday Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
At the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, protests have grown over Israel's threatened eviction in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem of dozens of Palestinians embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions, and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the US State Department said in a statement. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
The European Union also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern," adding that such actions are "illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel's actions, as has the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.


Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
Updated 08 May 2021

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
  • The US accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD: A drone strike early on Saturday targeted a military base in Iraq that hosts US troops, causing only minor damage and no casualties, Iraq’s military and the US-led coalition said.
The pore-dawn attack damaged a hangar, tweeted coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto. He said the attack was under investigation. An Iraqi military statement also said no losses were reported.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The US has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rocket attacks that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq.
Drone strikes are less common. In mid-April, an explosive-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region, causing no casualties or damages. The base also hosts US troops.
The attacks have been frequent since a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under President Donald Trump, in which the future of US troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion.


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.