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


UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds
Updated 15 min 54 sec ago

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

The UAE has approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12-15, the government said on Thursday, having already permitted its use for 16 years and above.
The UAE's health ministry approved its use, the government's Twitter account said. The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the use of the vaccine in children as young as 12.


Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
Updated 44 min 54 sec ago

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”


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 13 May 2021

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.”


Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
  • An Egyptian delegation is negotiating a cease-fire with Israeli and Hamas officials
  • Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides

CAIRO: An Egyptian delegation is in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli officials as part of efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the escalating conflict with Gaza, Egyptian intelligence officials said Thursday.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media. The same delegation met with Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip first, they said, and crossed into Israel by land. Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides.
Late Wednesday, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukry, condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian territory in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. He said it was important for both sides to avoid escalation and resorting to military means, according to a readout of the call.


Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles
Updated 13 May 2021

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

DUBAI: Individuals and vehicles will no longer be subject to curfews starting on Saturday, after Oman’s COVID-19 Supreme Committee issued on Thursday a list of changes in restrictions.

The Committee also issued a ban on hosting any commercial activities inside stores between 8pm and 4am daily limiting the service to delivery. Groceries and supermarkets are exempt.

Moreover, the Supreme Committee maintained that within the hours of operation, stores, outlets, malls, restaurants and cafes will be permitted to accommodate up to 50 percent only.

The Committee also re-activated its decision to have only half of public sector employees reporting to work meanwhile the remaining will work remotely.