Biden signals stronger Ankara ties with push to ‘green light’ missile sales

Turkey and U.S. flags are seen in this picture illustration taken August 25, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Turkey and U.S. flags are seen in this picture illustration taken August 25, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 14 May 2022

Biden signals stronger Ankara ties with push to ‘green light’ missile sales

Biden signals stronger Ankara ties with push to ‘green light’ missile sales
  • $300m upgrade in the pipeline as Ukraine conflict shakes up regional strategic balance

ANKARA: US President Joe Biden’s administration has asked Congress to “green light” a proposed sale of missiles and equipment upgrades to Turkey, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

The deal, said to be worth about $300 million, is expected to further deepen defense ties between the NATO allies.

However, the proposed deal is not part of a $6 billion agreement that Turkey has been seeking since last year to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets and 80 kits to upgrade its existing fleet.

The US administration’s informal notification process allows members of Congress to review the transaction and provide feedback before the deal is finalized.

Turkey’s purchase and deployment of Russian-made S-400 defense missile systems in 2017 resulted in the country’s removal from the US F-35 fighter jet program in 2019 over concerns that the Russian radar system would spy on the aircraft.

This move pushed some US lawmakers to lobby against a weapons sale and equipment upgrade to Turkey. On Friday, seven advocacy groups focusing on US interests in the Caucasus, Mediterranean and Middle East also pressed Congress to “apply the strictest scrutiny to any potential sale” to Turkey.

However, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shaking up regional balances, NATO solidarity and consolidation of defense capabilities have become priorities.

Turkey’s support for Ukraine through exports of Bayraktar TB2 drones and its role as a facilitator of peace talks between the two sides have helped Ankara improve its frayed image on Capitol Hill.

“Turkey is proving itself to be a key, helpful and strategic ally of the US,” Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on Thursday.

Similarly, Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara’s office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, described Turkey as a key NATO ally, and said that the US has a direct interest in the maintenance and modernization of its existing F-16 fleet.

“This would be a confidence-building measure that could lead to new F-16 fighters (acquired) by Turkey and eventually to the resolution of the S-400 crisis through a mutually agreeable model,” he told Arab News.

“It should not be forgotten that the Turkish air force constitutes part of NATO’s deterrence at its southern flank, which has become very important in light of the geopolitical risks caused by Russian expansionism,” said Unluhisarcikli.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also raised the issue of the F-16 sale with his US counterpart in a phone call in March.

Top officials in Ankara confirmed that the talks on the F-16s and modernization kits were progressing positively.

The newly appointed US ambassador to Turkey, former US Sen. Jeff Flake, is also known for his favorable stance on the sale.

Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that foreign military sales to key US partners, such as Turkey, be accelerated by removing bureaucratic barriers.

Additionally, a March 17 letter from the State Department to Congressman Frank Pallone and more than 50 lawmakers who opposed Ankara’s purchase of F-16s also argued that “there are compelling, long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests, as well as US national security, economic and commercial interests, that are supported by appropriate US defense trade ties with Turkey.”

The letter highlighted Turkey’s contributions to NATO, and its support for “Ukraine’s territorial integrity and cooperative defense relations,” described as “an important deterrent to malign influence in the region.”

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Turkish think tank EDAM, said that the US and Turkish agreement in principle on the arms deal signals an improvement in the bilateral relationship, especially in defense industry areas.

“If this package goes through, it will create positive momentum and will be seen as a strong signal that there is now a willingness to improve the relationship. This environment will be shaped by the Ukrainian war and the role Turkey has played there,” he told Arab News.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, described the proposed deal as a positive step because Turkey-US relations are focused mainly on defense, but added that “there is a need to build other bridges to tie the two countries together.”

“It looks like most members of the Congress are agnostic about the sale. The gradual shift in Congress may be linked to the war in Ukraine because there is a growing sense of realism against Russia. Until the Ukrainian war, Turkey was thought of as not a good ally. Turkey’s complete alignment militarily with NATO in this war, however indirectly it is, helped eliminate some of these perceptions,” he said.

But one development on Friday may yield unexpected results, with Erdogan saying that Turkey did not support membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO.

The Turkish leader argued that both Scandinavian countries are “home to many terrorist organizations.”

According to Ulgen, Turkey has legitimate concerns about both countries, especially Sweden’s unwillingness to address grievances over fundraising by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party there.

“But Erdogan’s statement to threaten a veto on this accession will be viewed negatively in the US where there is political expediency to strengthen NATO and to back the alliance’s enlargement. This unexpected veto could potentially pose difficulty for Congressional approval in the US,” he said.

Cagaptay agrees: “The objections to these countries’ NATO membership may bring us back to the drawing board because whatever positive momentum was built regarding Turkey inside Washington, it will be quickly consumed now by the perception that Turkey is pro-Russia. This move, therefore, risks making Turkey look like the ‘Hungary inside the EU’ in terms of its membership in NATO,” he said.

Turkey’s position on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership is being reviewed in Washington as well. Donfried made a press statement on Friday, saying that the US is working to “clarify” Turkey’s position and adding that it will be discussed at the NATO meeting in Berlin on Sunday.


Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad

Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad
Updated 11 sec ago

Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad

Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad

DUBAI: A restaurant has collapsed in central Baghdad, state media said Sunday, with some people reportedly still trapped inside. 

Iraqi civil defense did not comment on any casualties.  

But it said initial information indicated that a gas leak at the restaurant led to the blast.  

“Civil Defense teams began a rescue operation into the accident of the collapse of a restaurant in the Jadriya area near the Ministers complex,” read a statement received by the Iraqi News Agency (INA).  

“There are people trapped inside the collapsed building.”


Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest

Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest
Updated 36 min 24 sec ago

Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest

Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest
  • The unrest erupted ahead of a mass ultranationalist Israeli march planned later Sunday
  • Sunday’s unrest took place in a contested hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims

JERUSALEM: A far-right Israeli lawmaker, joined by scores of ultranationalist supporters, entered Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site early Sunday, prompting a crowd of Palestinians to begin throwing rocks and fireworks toward nearby Israeli police.
The unrest erupted ahead of a mass ultranationalist Israeli march planned later Sunday through the heart of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Some 3,000 Israeli police were deployed throughout the city ahead of the march.
Israel says the march is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. But Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as their capital, see the march as a provocation. Last year, the parade helped trigger an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.
Sunday’s unrest took place in a contested hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims. The compound is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. It also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount and revere it as the home of the biblical Temples. The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered numerous rounds of violence.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of a small ultranationalist opposition party in party and a follower of the late racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, entered the compound early Sunday along with dozens of supporters.
Palestinians shouted “God is great” as Ben-Gvir, accompanied by Israeli police, shouted “the Jewish people live.” Later, a crowd of Palestinians barricaded inside the mosque threw fireworks and stones toward police, who did not immediately respond.
Sunday’s march comes at a time of heightened tensions. Israeli police have repeatedly confronted stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators in the disputed compound in recent months, often firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
At the same time, some 19 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attackers in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, while over 35 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank. Many of those killed were Palestinian militants, but several civilians were also among the dead, including Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite channel.
Jerusalem police were widely criticized for beating mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral two weeks ago.
Under longstanding arrangements known as the “status quo,” Jewish pilgrims are allowed to enter the hilltop compound but they are not allowed to pray. In recent years, however, the number of Jewish visitors has grown significantly, including some who have been spotted quietly praying.
Such scenes have sparked Palestinian fears that Israel is plotting to take over or divide the area. Israel denies such claims, saying it remains committed to the status quo.


Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts
Updated 29 May 2022

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts
  • Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group singled out for violating international law
  • 7 other armed groups accused of using unlawful detention to settle scores

 

UNITED NATIONS: Libya faces a serious security threat from foreign fighters and private military companies, especially Russia’s Wagner Group which has violated international law, UN experts said in a report obtained by The Associated Press.
The experts also accused seven Libyan armed groups of systematically using unlawful detention to punish perceived opponents, ignoring international and domestic civil rights laws, including laws prohibiting torture.
In particular, “migrants have been extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses and regularly subjected to acts of slavery, rape and torture,” the panel said in the report to the UN Security Council obtained late Friday by the AP.
The oil-rich North African nation plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. It then became divided between rival governments — one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
In April 2019, Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the UN-supported government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
An October 2020 cease-fire deal led to an agreement on a transitional government in early February 2021 and elections were scheduled for last Dec. 24 aimed at unifying the country. But they were canceled and the country now has rival governments with two Libyans claiming to be prime minister.
The cease-fire agreement called for the speedy withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries but the panel said “there has been little verifiable evidence of any large-scale withdrawals taking place to date.”
The report said Chadian opposition groups operate from Libya and Sudanese fighters have been recruited by Haftar. Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have been seen by the panel in government military camps in Tripoli while Haftar-affiliated Syrian fighters operate alongside the Wagner Group’s fighters in the strategic northern city of Sirte and nearby Jufra. At least 300 of these Syrians have returned home and not been replaced by Haftar, the report said.
The panel said it continues to investigate the deployment of Wagner fighters and the transfers of arms and related materiel to support its operations.
The Wagner Group passes itself off as a private military contractor and the Kremlin denies any connection to it. But the United States identifies Wagner’s financer as Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The panel said it considers a Samsung electronic tablet left on a Libyan battlefield by a Wagner mercenary and obtained by the BBC in early 2021 to be authentic. It contained maps of the locations of 35 unmarked anti-personnel mines in the Ain Zara area of south Tripoli that was then a frontline area under Haftar’s control, supported by Wagner.
Several mines had never been reported as being in Libya before and their transfer therefore violated the UN arms embargo, the panel said. It added that a booby-trapped mine exploded during a mine clearance operation killing two civilian mine clearers.
Experts also received information about the recovery of anti-tank mines from positions primarily occupied by Wagner in south Tripoli.
The panel said the failure to visibly mark the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines and issue warnings of their locations to civilians in the areas was a violation of international humanitarian law by Wagner.
The Wagner tablet also contained a list of requested items including drones and tanks that would violate the arms embargo if delivered, the panel said, but it didn’t know if any of it had.
The panel said it identified 18 arms transfers and four examples of military training between March 2021 and late April 2022 that violated the UN arms embargo. Among the examples it cited was the Luccello, a ship flying the Comoros flag that delivered 100 armored vehicles to Haftar in Benghazi.
The experts said four migrants suffered human rights abuses in secret detention facilities controlled by human traffickers in the areas of Tazirbu in the Libyan desert and Bani Walid near the northwest coast. They said victims were enslaved, severely beaten, deliberately starved and denied medical care.
“Two former female detainees, who were 14- and 15-year-old girls at the time, further testified to the panel that multiple perpetrators repeatedly raped them, subjected them to sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence during the period of over 18 months in a secret detention facility in Bani Walid,” the report said.
The panel said it also found that guards responsible for protecting the most vulnerable migrants in the government-run Shara Al-Zawiya detention center “took a direct part in or turned a blind eye to consistent acts of rape, sexual exploitation and threats of rape against women and girls” detained there between January and June 2021.

 


13 Albanians, others from Kosovo are repatriated from Syria

American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
Updated 29 May 2022

13 Albanians, others from Kosovo are repatriated from Syria

American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
  • Hundreds of people from Albania and Kosovo joined Daesh and other groups fighting in Syria and Iraq in the early 2010s

TIRANA: Albania’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday that four Albanian women and nine children, all related to Albanians who joined extremist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq, have been repatriated from a Syrian camp.
The group, which landed at the Pristina Adem Jashari Airport in neighboring Kosovo, was joined by “other Kosovar citizens leaving the hell camps,” the statement said, without disclosing the number. At least one man’s blurred face was seen in a video distributed by the ministry.
Speaking at the airport, Albanian Interior Minister Bledi Cuci thanked US authorities and Lebanese Gen. Abass Ibrahim, who has played a key role in the repatriation efforts.
Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Zvecla did not give details on the Kosovar citizens repatriated but assured that specialized institutions would take care to “rehabilitate” and “de-radicalize” them.

BACKGROUND

Albanian Interior Minister Bledi Cuci thanked US authorities and Lebanese Gen. Abass Ibrahim, who has played a key role in the repatriation efforts.

Cuci said 43 Albanian women and children whose husbands and fathers joined Daesh and most often have been killed in fighting have been brought back in four missions since 2018.
Cuci said Albania had a list of citizens still in the camps and would continue efforts to bring them back.
Kosovo has repatriated at least 121 people since 2019.
“I would like to assure Albanians that we are determined to bring back from those camps any Albanians who remained there, every child and every woman,” said Cuci.
Hundreds of people from Albania and Kosovo joined Daesh and other groups fighting in Syria and Iraq in the early 2010s.
Many were killed, and their widows and children are stuck in Syrian camps.


Turkey shows off drones at Azerbaijan air show

A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
Updated 29 May 2022

Turkey shows off drones at Azerbaijan air show

A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
  • Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli

BAKU: Looping in the air at lightning speed, Turkish drones like those used against Russian forces in Ukraine draw cheers from the crowd at an air show in Azerbaijan.
Turkey is showcasing its defense technology at the aerospace and technology festival “Teknofest” that started in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku this week.
Turkey’s TB2 drones are manufactured by aerospace company Baykar Defense, where  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly prominent son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar is chief technology officer.
On Wednesday, Bayraktar flew over Baku aboard an Azerbaijani air force Mikoyan MiG-29 plane. One of his combat drones, the “Akinci,” accompanied the flight.
A video showing Bayraktar in command of the warplane, dressed in a pilot’s uniform decorated with Turkish and Azerbaijani flag patches, went viral on social media.
“This has been a childhood dream for me,” Bayraktar told reporters after the flight.
Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli.
They were then again put into action the following year when Turkey-backed Azerbaijan in recapturing most of the land it lost to separatist Armenian forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Azerbaijani audience members at the aviation festival applauded during a display of TB2 drones, which are now playing a prominent role against invading Russian forces in Ukraine.
A senior official from the Turkish defense industry said his country was facing a wide spectrum of “threats,” including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Daesh.
The PKK is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
But with NATO allies — including the US — having imposed embargoes on Turkey, Ankara was forced to take matters into its own hands to build defense equipment, the official said. “The situation is changing now with the war in Ukraine,” the official said.
Turkey has been looking to modernize its air force after it was kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program because of its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.
But Ankara’s role in trying to mediate an end to the Ukraine conflict through direct negotiations may have helped improve its relations with Washington in the past months.
In April, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it now believed that supplying Turkey with F-16 fighter jets would serve Washington’s strategic interests.
Michael Boyle, of Rutgers University-Camden in the US, said Turkish drones such as Bayraktar TB2 drones were “increasingly important to modern conflicts because they have spread so widely.”