Ankara defends S-400 purchase to Washington

Ankara defends S-400 purchase to Washington
An S-400 surface-to-air missile system after its stationing at a military base outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia, March 11, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 February 2021

Ankara defends S-400 purchase to Washington

Ankara defends S-400 purchase to Washington
  • Turkey plans to use controversial Russian missile defense system in same way Greece deployed its S-300 system in late 1990s
  • US kicked Turkey out of its F-35 fighter jet program, finding the S-400s were a significant threat to the stealth fighter jets

ANKARA: Turkey’s recent purchase of a Russian missile defense system has caught the attention of the US while Turkey is trying to justify its future aspirations by leaning toward an old rival. 

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar reiterated the country’s plans to use the controversial S-400 Russian missile defense system in the same way Greece deployed its S-300 system, within the NATO alliance, during a crisis between Turkey and Cyprus in the late 1990s.

According to Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw, this is not the first time the Turkish decision-makers have used a false parallel between Greece’s S-300 and Turkey's S-400 systems. 

“I think we should be very cautious here,” he told Arab News. “If minister Akar really means that Turkey would operate S-400s exactly like Greece and outside Turkey's territory, then we may interpret his words as an initial offer of compromise directed to the American administration.”

Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, draws attention to the timing differences between the purchase of S-400s by Turkey and the installment of the S-300s on the Greek island of Crete. 

“Russia was not such a big threat to the US and American-Russian relations were better in the 1990s,” Kurc told Arab News. “However, now they are considered main rivals. Therefore, the outcome varies depending on the changes of American interests.”

Akar was referring to Greece's two S-300 PMU-1 battalions in Crete that are kept as a standalone system within NATO and implied that Greece never received such criticism for its purchase of the older S-300 missile system from Moscow. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had criticized the possession of the S-300s by Athens and claimed it is an obvious double standard. 

Greece originally acquired the S-300s from Moscow to dissuade Turkish flights over its airspace. The crisis was temporarily resolved after Cyprus transferred the systems to Greece, which deployed them on Crete, where they remain today in storage. The S-300 missile system has been used only in NATO military drills without being integrated into the Greek air defense network.  

Now the question is whether the past procurement of the S-300s is comparable with the “new generation” S-400s.

Washington stands against its NATO ally Turkey and its acquisition and operationalization of the Russian air defense system on its soil. The US kicked Turkey out of its F-35 fighter jet program, finding the S-400s were a significant threat to the stealth fighter jets and would not be interoperable with the Western-built hardware.  

In response, Turkey offered a joint working group about the interoperability of the S-400s and F-35s.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, thinks this is the most tangible suggestion he has ever seen from the Turkish side on this issue. 

“It could be something that both sides discuss, but I think US officials will ask for more,” he told Arab News. “It is clearly a walk back from Ankara, so I guess that’s progress.”

Kurc also finds the Turkish offer as a good compromise. 

“If the US wants to continue its partnership with Turkey instead of further alienating it, the offer would be accepted,” he said. “However, it is still unclear whether Washington will endorse it absolutely without any pre-condition.”

Turkey received the first components of the S-400 in July 2019. In October 2020, Turkey tested the Russian system for the first time in the northern city of Sinop — a move that was harshly condemned by the US State Department. 

In December 2020, the US punished Ankara with sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), while the issue ranks top on the agenda of the Joe Biden administration.  

“The S-300 in Crete was meant for Cyprus. It ended up in Crete because Ankara objected so vociferously to its original deployment site. The US Air Force (USAF) does train against it,” Stein said. 

“However, the USAF has lots of air defense goodies in the continental US including high-end Russian systems. It is not absolutely necessary to train in Crete to familiarize pilots with the system, nor do I expect it vital to train against a Turkish S-400,” he added. 

Wasilewski instead suggests a solution in which the S-400s are kept in storage in, for example, Northern Cyprus. 

“It would require both Turkey's willingness to compromise and very skillful diplomacy on the US side,” he said. “It would also require solving the worries of Cyprus, yet I still see this as the best solution.” 

In this way, Wasilewski thinks that on one hand, the US would get rid of a problem with its ally, and on the other, Turkish decision-makers could sell such a deal to their nationalist electorate more easily.

Ankara, however, pledged to proceed with talks for the procurement of a second batch of the missiles from Moscow despite the US opposition. However, during his phone meeting with Erdogan’s top adviser Ibrahim Kalin last Tuesday, Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, expressed his country’s concern about Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400s that “undermines the alliance’s cohesion and effectiveness.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold a phone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday, and the S-400s top the US agenda this time.


Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
Updated 28 February 2021

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
  • He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”

ISTANBUL: Mujdat Gezen’s half-century career as an acclaimed Turkish writer and actor has included awards, a stint as a UN goodwill ambassador and a taste of prison after a 1980 putsch.
Now aged 77, the wry-witted comedian and poet with an easy smile and a bad back risks returning to jail on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”
“I am even banned from appearing in crossword puzzles,” Gezen quipped.
Gezen landed in court with fellow comedian Metin Akpinar, 79, over comments the pair made during a television show they starred in on opposition Halk TV in 2018.
In the broadcast, Gezen told Erdogan to “know your place.”
“Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place,” Gezen said on air.
His parter Akpinar went one step further, saying that “if we don’t become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar.”
These are risky comments to make in a country still reeling from a sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a failed coup in 2016.
Their trial is coming with Erdogan rattled by a burst of student protests that hint at Turks’ impatience with his commanding rule as prime minister and president since 2003.
Prosecutors want to put the two veteran celebrities behind bars for up to four years and eight months. The verdict is expected on Monday.

Jailed over book
Thousands of Turks, from a former Miss Turkey to school children, have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media and television.
Bristling at the jokes and comments, Erdogan warned in 2018 that his critics “will pay the price.”
“The next day,” Gezen told AFP in an interview by telephone, “police turned up and I was summoned to give a statement to prosecutors.”
The knock on the door reminded Gezen of how he ended up being dragged before the courts after spending 20 days in jail when a military junta overthrew Turkey’s civilian government at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Gezen’s book about Nazim Hikmet — perhaps Turkey’s most famous 20th century poet, who happened to be a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963 — was taken off the shelves after that coup.
“I was chained up while being taken from prison to court with a gang of 50 criminals, including murderers and smugglers,” he recalled.
He was freed by the court in 1980, and may yet be acquitted on Monday.
Still, Gezen is uncomfortable with the similarities, and with Turkey’s trajectory under Erdogan.
“There is a record number of journalists in jail — we have never seen this in the history of the republic. That’s what upsets me,” he said.

Irritable dictator
An author of more than 50 books and founder of his own art center in Istanbul, Gezen says he has “either criticized or parodied politicians to their faces” for decades without going to jail.
His popularity and resolve earned him a role in 2007 as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s relief fund.
But he fears that Turkey’s tradition of outspoken artists — “art is by its nature oppositional,” he remarked — is wilting under Erdogan.
“We now have self-censorship. But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical,” he said.
“The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It’s the artists who must decide.”
To be on the safe side, Gezen’s lawyers now read his books before publication to avoid legal problems.
“It is risky in Turkey,” he observed.
Many of the opposition media outlets that once flourished have been either closed or taken over by government allies, leaving independent voices with even fewer options.
But he remains doggedly optimistic, calling democracy in Turkey something tangible but just out of reach, like the shore for a stranded boat.
“And then someone up on the mast will cry: Land ahoy!“


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 30 min 4 sec ago

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by autumn 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.


Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
Updated 28 February 2021

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
  • Patriarch calls for UN-led forum to save nation ‘from those who harbor evil’

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s influential Christian Maronite church has warned that the country is facing the threat of a “full-fledged coup,” and called for an international conference to avert “chaos, hunger and oppression.”

In an emotional address to thousands of followers on Saturday, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he was “drawing red lines for anyone who harbors evil for Lebanon, regardless of their sect.”
His comments were widely seen as a veiled reference to Iran-backed Hezbollah along with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and its founder President Michel Aoun.
“We are facing a full-fledged coup attempt,” Al-Rai told Lebanese who traveled to the church’s headquarters in Bkerke to support his demand for a UN-sponsored international conference to save Lebanon.
In response to the patriarch’s speech, people chanted: “Hezbollah is terrorist,” “Get out, Iran” and “Michel Aoun, leave.”
Cries of “Revolution! Revolution!” were also heard.
The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

We want to provide support to the Lebanese Army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.

Patriarch Bechara, Boutros Al-Rai

The FPM, led by Gebran Bassil, did not attend, saying it feared that the gathering “would be used against it,” according to affiliated websites.
Sources at Bkerke told Arab News that Al-Rai decided to speak out “because Lebanon is facing an existential threat” following the failure of a string of initiatives, including his efforts to reconcile Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Banners unfurled on the dome of the Bkerke church read: “Neutrality, sovereignty, and stability,” “Lebanon comes first and last,” and “Bkerke for all of Lebanon.”
Al-Rai said at the outset of his address: “Long live a single, united and neutral Lebanon that is active, positive, sovereign, independent, free and strong.”
He said: “We are demanding this now because all other solutions have reached a dead end, and we have not been able to agree on the fate of our country, nor even to discuss our homeland’s affairs. We support finding a solution inside Lebanon.”

BACKGROUND

The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

He added: “To let hunger and oppression destroy the country is something we do not accept in any way. Rejecting the proposed solutions means chaos and seizing the levers of power.”
Al-Rai called for an international conference to ensure Lebanon’s neutrality, so that it “is no longer a victim of conflicts and wars, and a land of division.”
He added: “We want the state to extend its authority over the entire Lebanese territory. We want to provide support to the Lebanese army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.”
Al-Rai said the UN-sponsored conference also should agree on a plan “to prevent the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees to their homeland.”
He said: “We do not want armies and camps, nor do we want Lebanon to be undermined. Lebanon’s borders are not subject to amendment, its Christian-Muslim partnership is untouchable, and its democracy is not subject to veto.”
The patriarch called on protesters to continue to speak out, saying: “Do not remain silent in the face of corruption. Do not tolerate the theft of your money, the fluid borders, the failure of the political class, the chaos in the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, or the imprisonment of the innocent.
“Do not tolerate the failure in forming a government and implementing reforms.”
Participants in the rally, many from different sects, told Arab News that Al-Rai is their last hope.
“No politician cares for the collapsing state. Politicians have left us on our own,” said one.
A Muslim woman in her 50s said: “This is an opportunity to raise our voice. The patriarch’s stances are patriotic, and history will remember him. The country is collapsing.”
A man in his 40s said: “I have come to Bkerke to say that people suffer from hunger and despair, and there is nothing left to lose.”
Internal security forces personnel were deployed on the road to the church’s headquarters, and those entering the square were searched.
Before the gathering, Hezbollah and FPM supporters took to social media to share tweets opposing the event.


Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
Updated 28 February 2021

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
  • Iran-backed terror militia using trapped families ‘as human shield’
  • Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas

AL-MUKALLA: Hundreds of Yemeni families trapped inside their camps in Marib province by Iran-backed Houthis are being used as a human shield against government forces, a Yemen government unit has claimed.

In a report seen by Arab News on Saturday, the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDP Camps said that militia fighters had besieged camps and planted land mines on main roads to stop families escaping and hinder advancing troops.

“Houthis have prevented 470 families from fleeing, using them as human shields. Until today, many families in the camps are still trapped by the Houthis,” the report said.

Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas. 

The government unit has appealed to the rebels to stop using displaced families as hostages and allow them to leave the camps.

“The Executive Unit for IDP Camps calls on the Houthis to respect international humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians and displaced persons, and to open safe corridors in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

The Houthis earlier this month renewed a bloody offensive on Marib, an oil-rich city and the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country. For four weeks, the Houthis have faced stiff resistance from government forces backed by massive air and logistics support from the Arab coalition. 

Army commanders say that hundreds of Houthis have been killed, wounded or captured and their advance on Marib halted. 

Maj. Gen. Nasser Al-Thaybani, commander of the army’s Military Operation Authority, said that more than half the Houthi fighters sent to seize Marib have died or been wounded in the fighting, while army troops and allied tribesmen have pushed back all of the Houthi attacks on government-controlled areas. 

Yemeni government forces also suffered heavy casualties during fierce clashes.

Local officers and media said on Saturday that Brig. Gen. Abdul Ghani Sha’alan, commander of the Special Security Forces in Marib, was one of several government soldiers who died in fighting with the rebels near Balouq mountain in Serwah district, west of Marib city, on Friday. 

A local military officer, who declined to be named, told Arab News that Sha’alan was leading government troops pushing back a Houthi attack on the peak, which was claimed by government forces last week.

Several army commanders and tribal leaders have been killed since the beginning of the rebel offensive on Marib.

Yemen’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday criticized international rights groups over their failure to “name and shame” the Houthis for attacking residential areas after the densely populated city was targeted by 10 ballistic missiles in the previous 24 hours.

“Since the beginning of February, the province has come under the largest and fiercest Houthi attack in which the militia used all kinds of heavy weapons, including artillery, explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles,” the ministry said in a statement. 

On Friday, Yemen’s Prime Minister, Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, hailed military support from the Arab coalition to help tilt the war in the army’s favor, vowing to continue backing army troops and tribesmen until they push the Houthi out of areas under their control.