Turkey’s opposition to NATO’s Nordic enlargement fuels row ahead of June summit

Special Turkey’s opposition to NATO’s Nordic enlargement fuels row ahead of June summit
NATO has repeatedly warned Turkey that the Russian S-400 missile defense system is incompatible with other NATO weapons systems, not least the F-35, a new generation multi-role stealth fighter jet. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2022

Turkey’s opposition to NATO’s Nordic enlargement fuels row ahead of June summit

Turkey’s opposition to NATO’s Nordic enlargement fuels row ahead of June summit
  • Ankara accuses Finland and Sweden of harboring terror groups
  • Erdogan’s personal concern is staying in power ahead of looming elections in 2023 amid a troubled economy, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkey’s opposition to NATO’s decision to open accession talks with Finland and Sweden has sparked debate about concessions Ankara might extract to greenlight membership for the two Scandinavian countries — the biggest change in European security architecture for decades. 

Any country seeking to join NATO requires consensus approval from its 30 members, with the next NATO summit in Madrid coming in late June. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that Ankara, a NATO member since 1952 and possessing the alliance’s second largest military, does not support membership for Finland and Sweden, accusing both countries of harboring terror groups.  

Turkey has told allies that it will say no to Sweden and Finland’s NATO applications, Erdogan said in a video posted on his Twitter account on Thursday.

“This move, which has poured cold water on expectations about Finland and Sweden’s ‘historic’ accession to the military alliance, was not really a surprise,” said Paul Levin, director of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies.

Turkey has long criticized Sweden’s policy of turning a blind eye to the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party on its soil despite being classified as terrorist group by the US and EU.  

However, for Levin, what Erdogan wants in return has a number of possible interpretations. 

“Sweden’s policy against the PKK and its Syrian Kurdish YPG offshoot in northern Syria was an issue of concern not only for the ruling government in Turkey, but also for the national security establishment for a long time. In that respect, the disagreement over this critical issue has been a widely-shared sentiment,” he told Arab News. 

Finland and Sweden have imposed arms embargoes since 2019 over Turkey’s cross-border operation into Syria against Syrian Kurdish militants. Contacts between top Swedish officials and YPG leaders have been condemned by Ankara.

But, for Levin, there is always a domestic political dimension behind such decisions in Turkey. 

“Erdogan’s personal concern is staying in power ahead of the looming elections in 2023 amid a troubled economy,” he said. 

“Playing hardball with the West is likely to appeal (to a) domestic audience and consolidate stronger public support that needs nationalistic motivations.”

However, Levin is not convinced Turkey’s opposition to NATO enlargement will persuade Washington to approve Turkey’s request in October to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters, and approximately 80 modernization kits for its current warplanes, which the US has so far refrained from doing.

“The presence of (the) Russian-made S-400 defense system on Turkish soil renders the acquisition of the F-35 aircraft impossible because of the interoperability problems. I’m not sure that the US Congress can approve the sale of other modernization kits as well because it can be considered as a concession against Turkey’s blackmail,” he said.  

On Wednesday, Swedish Minister for Defense Peter Hultqvist held meetings with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington, while Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his US counterpart Antony Blinken in New York. 

Cavusoglu also held recent talks with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts in Berlin. 

“Negotiations are going on to reach a diplomatic resolution,” Levin said. 

“But, I don’t expect that Sweden (will) give some kind of public concessions on human rights that could drive the ruling Social Democrats into (a) corner ahead of the parliamentary elections in September.”

Sweden currently has six sitting Kurdish members of parliament.

“Giving up the Kurdish cause by extraditing 33 people accused of terrorism charges in Turkey will not play well with the Swedish government, as the country hosts a wide Kurdish diaspora,” Levin added.  

Turkey wants the Nordic duo to stop supporting Kurdish militant groups on their soil, to refrain from having contact with PKK members, and to lift bans on arms sales to Turkey.   

For Karol Wasilewski, director of actionable analytics at Warsaw-based agency NEOŚwiat, Turkey wants to show its NATO allies that it is dead serious when it says that its security interests, particularly its sensitivity about PKK and YPG issues, should be respected. 

“For a long time, and not without reason, Turkey has had a feeling that the approach of its allies to its security interests does not correspond to the country’s contribution to the alliance’s security,” he told Arab News.

But Wasilewski thinks that the problem will be solved with negotiations between Turkey, Sweden and Finland, with the support of the US and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. 

“Perhaps Erdogan’s statement that Turkey can’t agree on membership for countries that sanction Turkey was a signal of area where the compromise could be made,” he said.

“Turkey would definitely drive a hard bargain, but I find it very difficult to imagine that this would translate to a hard veto.

“Turkey is well aware of the benefits that Finish and Swedish membership to NATO would bring, and that blocking the enlargement would result in immense pressure from the rest of (the) member countries. And Turkey simply can’t afford a strong backlash from the West.”  

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, thinks that Turkey’s main objection to the Nordic expansion of NATO is rooted in existing PKK fundraising networks in Sweden, and Sweden’s public ties with YPG officials.  

“Following closed-door conversations, Sweden could take measures to satisfy Turkey’s sensitivities,” he told Arab News. 

Stoltenberg also made it clear that Turkey’s concerns will be addressed in a way that does not delay the membership process. 

Cagaptay thinks that there are several explanations about Erdogan’s hardline rhetoric on NATO enlargement. 

“He decided to up the ante to publicly embarrass Stockholm to get concrete steps,” Cagaptay said.  

“There is also a Russian angle, where one veto inside NATO against Nordic expansion would make Russian President Vladimir Putin extremely happy.

“On the US side, Erdogan also signals that his objection to the NATO enlargement may be lifted if Biden convinces Sen. Bob Menendez in lifting his objections against Turkish defense exports,” Cagaptay added.

The US continues its active diplomacy addressing Turkey’s objections, as US national security advisor Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday.

“Turkey’s concerns can be addressed. Finland and Sweden are working directly with Turkey. But we’re also talking to the Turks to try to help facilitate,” he said.

According to Cagaptay, this latest crisis, besides showing Turkey to be akin to a Russian ally inside NATO, has helped Erdogan to again project his global strongman image domestically. 

“At the end of the day, he will write a narrative of the political war he has waged against Europe, and will be emerging a winner of this fight,” he said.

Israel human rights group targets West Bank settlements expansion

Israeli security forces deploy as settlers try to take control of a water spring in the Palestinian village of Qaryut
Israeli security forces deploy as settlers try to take control of a water spring in the Palestinian village of Qaryut
Updated 25 June 2022

Israel human rights group targets West Bank settlements expansion

Israeli security forces deploy as settlers try to take control of a water spring in the Palestinian village of Qaryut
  • The report indicated a 26 percent increase in planning housing units in settlements — 7,292 compared with an annual average of 5,784 housing units under the Netanyahu government

RAMALLAH: Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land in the West Bank has increased dramatically under the recently dissolved coalition government, a report by an Israeli human rights organization reveals.

In a survey published on June 25, the Israeli Peace Now movement said that since the current government took office in June 2021, the building of new settlement units in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, has risen by 62 percent compared with the previous Benjamin Netanyahu leadership.

Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on June 20 announced a deal to dissolve the parliament, appointing Lapid as prime minister of an interim government, and triggering early elections.

The decision follows “exhausting attempts to stabilize the coalition,” a joint statement said.

The Peace Now report shows that despite its commitment to a status quo regarding the occupation, a year after the government took office, it not only continued the policies of previous governments, but also stepped up the settlement project and the oppression of Palestinians.

The report indicated a 26 percent increase in planning housing units in settlements — 7,292 compared with an annual average of 5,784 housing units under the Netanyahu government.

Six new outposts and a new settlement in Hebron, the first in 40 years, were among the government’s approvals.

The Bennett-Lapid government deepened the expulsion policy of Palestinians and their restriction to the constrained enclaves in Areas A and B.

As of June 6, the Israeli civil administration had demolished 639 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C, causing 604 people to lose their homes.

In East Jerusalem, 189 structures were demolished and 450 Palestinians left homeless.

According to the Peace Now report, only 10 building permits were granted for Palestinians, compared with 1,448 housing units whose construction began in the settlements in the second half of 2021 and 2,526 in the entire year.

Under the Bennett-Lapid government, 86 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank alone compared with 41 under the Netanyahu governments.

Khalil Al-Tafkaji, a Palestinian expert specializing in settlement affairs and director of the map department at the Arab Studies Association in Jerusalem, told Arab News: “The Israeli right is in agreement on two things: Settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and it was a fierce competition between the two governments as to who accelerates the increase in settlements.”

The Israeli settlements program in the Palestinian territories has been “green lighted” by all Israeli governments as they seek to raise the number of settlers to 1 million in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by 2025, Al-Tafkaji said.

“All Israeli parties, without exception, do not think of giving the Palestinians a state, but rather see them living in cantons surrounded by settlements and their streets on all sides,” he said.

“The settlers are now leading an intifada of physical attacks against the Palestinians and their property in the West Bank because of their high number and sense of absolute power.”

The Bennett-Lapid government declared 22,000 dunams of land as a nature reserve in the Nachal Og area, south of Jericho. It continued the trend of the Netanyahu government in changing the reality in the Temple Mount (the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound) and the erosion of the status quo.

The supporters of a two-state solution in the Israeli government have failed to stop these actions and left the policies regarding the occupation to those who support the settlement project.

Settlement activity across the West Bank flourished during former US President Donald Trump’s time in power, even though it was considered illegal under international law and threatened the two-state solution.

Palestinians see it as one of the main obstacles to establishing an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.


Jordanian university nursing student killed on campus laid to rest

Jordanian police stand guard in downtown Amman, Jordan. (REUTERS)
Jordanian police stand guard in downtown Amman, Jordan. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 June 2022

Jordanian university nursing student killed on campus laid to rest

Jordanian police stand guard in downtown Amman, Jordan. (REUTERS)
  • Social media users launch hashtag demanding justice

AMMAN: Jordanian university student Iman Ersheid, who was reportedly gunned down on campus, was laid to rest on Friday in the northern city of Irbid.

Ersheid, 18, was killed by an unidentified assailant on Thursday. Police said the suspect was wearing a cap.

She was a nursing student at the Applied Science University in Amman’s Shafa Badran neighborhood.

Police spokesperson Lt. Col. Amer Sartawi said criminal investigation personnel had identified the shooting suspect, who was still at large.

The police raided his house on Friday but he was not there. “But the search is underway for the suspect.”

He said official statements would be issued, and he urged people to adhere to the gag order issued by the attorney general banning the publication of any news about the case.

Police said the victim was shot over five times by the suspect, who fled the scene after committing the crime.

An eyewitness, who is a colleague of Ersheid, spoke on condition of anonymity and said the assailant had entered the university from its main gate brandishing a weapon.

She told Arab News that Ersheid was shot right after she left the exam hall at around 10 a.m.

Asked how a man could enter the university with a gun, the eyewitness replied: “I don’t know because the norm is that only students can enter and are sometimes asked to show their student ID to security. The university is now investigating the issue.”

She said the suspect fled the campus firing shots into the air. “I didn’t see that but was told about it by those who were present at the crime scene.”

The victim’s father said his last contact with his daughter was on the phone at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

“My daughter told me that she finished her exam and I told her to wait at the university until her brother comes and picks her up. He was on the way with the car to her,” the father told journalists.

But, two hours later, the father said he received a call from the police saying his daughter was being treated at a hospital.

Social media users launched a hashtag demanding justice for Ersheid and the severest punishment for the killer. The hashtag - “capital punishment for Iman’s killer” - was trending on social media.

The university offered condolences to her family in a Facebook post.

Zakaria Mubasher, the university’s student affairs dean, said the suspected killer was not a university student.

Mubasher told the government-owned Al-Mamlaka TV: “The security personnel at the university first thought the gunshots were firecrackers, but later realized that a student was shot.”

He said there were 800 surveillance cameras installed in different places in the university and that cameras had captured images of the killer. “The footage is now in the hands of the police.”

Mubasher added that the university’s security personnel had attempted to stop the suspect, but “he fired several rounds in the air so that he could escape, which he did.”

Following the incident, a group of MPs from the National Guidance Committee said they would meet with the government to discuss arm possession laws in Jordan.

Sociologist Kamal Mirza said the shooting must only be examined from a “criminal perspective.”

“Campus shooting and shooting incidents, in general, have not reached the alarming phenomenon level. Taking into consideration the low level of such crimes in Jordan, sociology should still not be used as an analytical tool.”

Mirza told Arab News that from a “statistical point of view” murder as a crime in Jordan was not a social practice yet, but a behavior.

“Maybe psychology could be applied to analyzing this crime. It is possible that the killer suffers from behavioral disorders.”

According to the latest official statistics, the country's crime rate decreased by 5.39 percent in 2021.

The Public Security Directorate report said 20,991 crimes were committed in Jordan in 2021, 1,196 down from the 22,187 registered in 2020.

There were 5,237 murders recorded in 2021.

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres
Updated 25 June 2022

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres
  • Aircraft from both sides of Cyprus, as well as British military and Israeli personnel, had responded to calls for help to fight the fire
  • The fire has been extinguished to a large extent with the effect of the rain that fell last night

KANTARA, Cyprus: In the end, it was Mother Nature that extinguished a wildfire that scorched thousands of acres and forced the evacuation of villages in the north of divided Cyprus, officials said Saturday.
Aircraft from both sides of Cyprus, as well as British military and Israeli personnel, had responded to calls for help to fight the fire which began Tuesday in the Kantara area of the Kyrenia mountain range.
“The fire... has been extinguished to a large extent with the effect of the rain that fell last night,” said Unal Ustel, prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Ankara.
“We have survived a great disaster.”
There have been no reports of casualties but Turkish Cypriot authorities said more than 6,500 acres (2,600 hectares) had been burned.
Helicopters were still dropping water onto the burning ridge lines on Friday, before intense rains fell overnight.
Forestry department head Cemil Karzaoglu said the fire was completely under control and mopping up operations were continuing where smoke was still visible.
Ustel expressed gratitude to “the British Base Areas, Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration for their support in extinguishing the fire from the air.”
The United Nations peacekeeping force said it coordinated the firefighting response.
According to Cypriot media reports earlier, at least four villages were evacuated.
Emergency services from Israel and Britain’s Sovereign Base Areas on the eastern Mediterranean island often help fight Cyprus’s frequent wildfires.
In July last year, blazes that broke out in the Larnaca and Limassol districts claimed the lives of four Egyptian farmworkers and destroyed more than 12,000 acres.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces occupied the northern part of the island in response to a military coup sponsored by the junta in power in Greece at the time.

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
Updated 25 June 2022

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
  • Agency subject to smear campaign that ignores pioneering achievements, its chief tells Arab News
  • UN Relief and Works Agency supports millions of Palestinian refugees in Middle East

UNITED NATIONS: The solution to the chronic underfunding of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees lies in a “political will” that matches declarations of support for its work, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency told Arab News.

Philippe Lazzarini’s comments came at a press briefing a day after a pledging conference that raised $160 million from international donors.

This leaves the agency short of $100 million needed to support education for more than half a million Palestinian children, health care services for over 2 million people, and cash assistance for the poorest among them.

The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade.

This year, however, skyrocketing costs mean the agency will not be able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost-control measures as “there’s very little left to cut without cutting services,” Lazzarini said, adding that the money should tide UNRWA over until September, but things are up in the air after that.

“We’re in an early warning mode,” he said. “Right now, I’m drawing attention that we’re in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers can’t be paid.”

He added that UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe, and last year the Biden administration restored funding, reversing former US President Donald Trump’s aid freeze.

But Lazzarini said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.

“What’s also true is that the Arab world and the Gulf countries have always shown great solidarity with Palestinian refugees, and have always been involved in financing the construction of schools and clinics, and whenever there was a humanitarian emergency, to contribute to the humanitarian response,” he added. “This is very important to keep.”

He said the Arab League has been discussing for two years that its contribution to UNRWA should at least amount to 7-8 percent of the agency’s core budget.

“There’s room for increased solidarity, and having the region committed means a lot to the Palestinians,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine cast a shadow over the donor conference, where some admitted to financial difficulties and donor fatigue.

“Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” Lazzarini said. “We’ll know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency.”

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he added.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following a resolution by the UN General Assembly to carry out relief efforts for the 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.

There are now about 6 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” Lazzarini said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who can’t spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

UNRWA’s problem is that “we’re expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we’re funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions,” he added.

Ahead of Thursday’s donor conference, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent UN representative, had urged countries to stop contributions until UNRWA fires teachers that his country claims support terrorism and killing Jews.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission on Friday that he had not read, but all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct, “we’ll take measures in line with UN policies.”

He added that UNRWA’s detractors are usually civil society organizations that “seek to undermine the agency, usually target lawmakers, and talk about (UNRWA’s) textbooks and education in schools without acknowledging the extraordinary efforts exerted by the agency to ensure quality education in line with UNESCO standards.

“I keep reminding we’re the only ones having reached gender equality, having a proper human rights curriculum in the region, that we’re regularly assessed by third parties.

“The World Bank assessed that we’re high value for money when it comes to education. Children are one year ahead compared to public education in the region.

“We have extraordinary human success stories of kids who have gone to our schools and succeeded at international level.”

He said UNRWA’s operations are among the most heavily scrutinized but “despite that, there’s smear campaign on issues — which sometimes need indeed to be addressed — but which never acknowledge the efforts being put by the agency.”

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises
Updated 25 June 2022

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

BEIRUT: On Saturday, 60,933 Lebanese students took their intermediate certificate exams (Brevet) amid severe power cuts, water shortages and inflated transport costs.
However, the security forces provided a peaceful environment inside the exam centers while the Lebanese Army was deployed outside.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education organized exams around where invigilators live to reduce transport costs. It also ensured that exams were only taken in centers that students and teachers could efficiently access.
Lebanon’s worsening financial crisis and the local currency’s depreciation meant that the ministry faced several challenges for holding the exams.
The ministry canceled the exams last year during the pandemic and struggled to organize them this year amid a teachers’ strike and parents grappling with the high costs of driving their children to centers.
Making matters worse for the students, an unusual end-of-June thunderstorm hit Lebanon on Saturday morning. Given the cloudy weather, the ministry had to plead with private generator owners to provide exam centers with power so students can clearly see their exam sheets.
In some centers in Diniyeh, northern Lebanon, exams were delayed for over two hours due to the power outage and the storm.
The second part of the Brevet exams will be held on Monday; just two days of exams are now required after subjects were reduced to five instead of nine.
The official exams of the Lebanese Baccalaureate Certificate of Secondary Education, which 43,000 students will take, are scheduled to start on Wednesday and last for three days.
A total of 12,000 teachers are supervising the official exams as the official education associations decided not to boycott exams at the last minute despite their demands to raise the allowance.
Imad Al-Ashkar, director general at the ministry, who heads the examining committees, said the suspension of studies as a result of the teachers’ strike and online schooling have been taken into account while setting exam papers.
The ministry has resorted to donors to secure additional funds to pay teachers for supervising and correcting official exams.
The teachers were promised an increase in financial allowances for supervisors and heads of exam centers; 160,000 LBP ($6.34) and 200,000 LBP respectively. They were also promised a $20 daily allowance provided by donor countries.
The currency depreciation means that the supervisor’s allowance is only enough to buy them a sandwich and a soda. Meanwhile, the price of a 20-liter gasoline canister is almost 700,000 LBP.
The struggle of education workers is being replicated by all the Lebanese, who are facing a living crisis that has reached unacceptable limits, as bakeries are running out of bread and water is barely reaching households since the Water Establishment cannot afford diesel to run its pump.
Power cuts are ongoing and more medicines are expected to go missing from pharmacies as subsidies will be lifted on more chronic disease medicines next week.
Traders are taking advantage of the crisis to make illegal profits; the cost of 10 barrels of household water has doubled to 1 million LBP.
Some bakery owners have reported that people in the southern suburb of Beirut are buying all the flour from the mills at a subsidized price before setting up stands near bakeries, selling flour bags at double their price while the security services stand idly by.