Ankara expects US ‘green light’ for F-16 sale

Ankara expects US ‘green light’ for F-16 sale
Turkiye is confident its long-awaited $6 billion deal to buy F-16 fighter jets will go ahead after the US House of Representatives introduced an amendment to the annual defense budget bill removing a series of hurdles to the sale. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2022

Ankara expects US ‘green light’ for F-16 sale

Ankara expects US ‘green light’ for F-16 sale
  • Turkiye’s regional rivals, including Greece, are rapidly modernizing their air forces, analyst tells Arab News
  • The Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act is set to pass by the Senate and House of Representatives this month before being sent to the White House

ANKARA: Turkiye is confident its long-awaited $6 billion deal to buy F-16 fighter jets will go ahead after the US House of Representatives introduced an amendment to the annual defense budget bill removing a series of hurdles to the sale.
On Tuesday, lawmakers in the US Senate and House reached an agreement on the annual defense policy bill.
The Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act is set to pass by the Senate and House of Representatives this month before being sent to the White House.
In October 2021, Turkiye made a request to the US to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets and about 80 modernization kits to update its existing fleet. However, Washington so far has refused to give a “green light” on the sale, saying that it needs to follow the standard process.
“The removal of articles that tied the sale of fighter jets to Ankara with restrictive conditions from the NDAA draft eliminated an important roadblock for Turkiye’s purchase of 40 new F-16s and 80 F-16 modernization kits from the US,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of German Marshall Fund of the US, told Arab News.
In a letter written to Congress in March, the State Department said the potential sale of the jets and modernization kits to Turkiye would strengthen bilateral ties and NATO’s long-term unity.
“The administration believes that there are nonetheless 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 Turkiye,” the letter said.
Sentiment toward Turkiye in the administration of US President Joe Biden had softened after Ankara’s mediation efforts during the Ukrainian conflict and thanks to its normalization policy with former rivals, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.
In an interview with the CNN Turk broadcaster last month, Turkiye’s presidential spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, said that US approval for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye could be completed in a month or two.
In August, a Turkish technical delegation met in Washington with experts and authorities from Lockheed Martin, while another political delegation along with Turkish diplomats also conducted lobbying activities in the US.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met two US senators — Lindsey Graham and Chris Coons — in New York in September to seek their potential support for the sale.
However, the proposed sale of US weapons to Turkiye has been subject to intense debate after Ankara bought Russian-made defense missile systems, which resulted in its removal from the F-35 fighter jet program along with several US sanctions on its defense sector.
Democratic Senator and Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez said on Wednesday that he will not approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye and that the final text of the NDAA was not “a win” for Ankara.
According to Sine Ozkarasahin, a security analyst at the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, the Biden administration is using its political capital to move the debate in a positive direction.
“But there are still many hurdles to be overcome for a potential agreement, and persuading skeptical senators such as Menendez is the most significant of all,” she told Arab News.
The explanatory text accompanying the NDAA bill emphasized that “NATO allies should not conduct unauthorized territorial overflights of another NATO ally’s airspace,” considered by many experts as a warning to the overflights in the Aegean that trigger disagreements between Ankara and Athens.
“Those in the US Congress that want to prevent the transaction have other means to do so, but in return the administration has ways to overcome or circumvent their objection,” Unluhisarcikli said.
“In line with the Arms Export Control Act, US President needs the Congress to not formally object to the transaction. Accordingly, the president needs to notify the Congress 30 days before formalizing a defense sale to a third country, and 15 days in the case of allies including Turkiye,” he added.
Unless Congress adopts a joint resolution of disapproval within those 15 days, the president can sign off the deal.
According to Unluhisarcikli, Congress has never prevented an arms sale through this channel in the past and, given its workload, it is not an easy task to adopt such a resolution in a short time.
“However, there is also a practice in the form of the State Department informally notifying the Congress 20 days before the president’s formal notification. If there are strong objections in the Congress after the informal notification, then the president is unlikely to make the formal notification,” he added.
If the deal to buy F-16 fighters falls through, Ankara may consider other options, including Eurofighters, Swedish Saab fighter aircraft or the latest generation of Russian or Chinese fighters.
“However, Turkiye’s regional rivals, like Greece, are rapidly modernizing their air forces while Ankara remains stuck in the fourth-generation air warfare model,” Ozkarasahin said.
“In the aftermath of its removal from the F-35 program and the changing power balances with its geopolitical rivals, Turkiye urgently needs a stopgap solution until its national combat aircraft takes to the skies.”
The first prototype of Turkiye’s indigenously built fighter jet TF-X recently arrived on the final assembly line. The aircraft is estimated to be rolled out in March 2023 and make its first flight in 2025 or 2026.


Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference
Updated 29 January 2023

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

ALGIERS: Parliamentary committees of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Saturday agreed on the need to digitize the OIC’s work and organize periodic virtual sessions and meetings to enhance its work.

General secretaries unanimously agreed during preparatory meetings for the 17th session of the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States, which is set to be held in the Algerian capital, Algiers, on Sunday.

PUIC Secretary-General Mouhamed Khouraichi Niass renewed his call for setting up a cooperation mechanism between Islamic and international parliaments to strengthen relations in all fields.

Niass expressed his hope to develop a work program to achieve the objectives of the PUIC’s General Assembly and to exchange scientific and practical expertise to upgrade the performance of the General Secretariat.

On Friday, the ninth meeting of the standing committee specialized in cultural and legal affairs and the dialogue of civilizations and religions was held, where members reviewed a number of draft resolutions related to Islamic sanctities in Muslim and non-Islamic countries, especially the protection of the Al-Aqsa Mosque from threats. 

The committee also dealt with combating religious intolerance and supporting dialogue among civilizations, as well as combating the dangers of xenophobia and Islamophobia around the world.


Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 January 2023

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
  • Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize

TUNIS: Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model.
Barely 11 percent of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition groups and ignored by many Tunisians disillusioned with their leaders.
Ten candidates secured seats in the legislature even though not a single voter cast a ballot for them, simply because they ran unopposed.
In seven constituencies, not even one candidate bothered to run.
President Kais Saied is pinning his hopes on Sunday’s second round of voting, which will wrap up his sweeping redesign of Tunisian politics that began when he suspended the previous parliament in 2021.
The new body will have fewer powers than its predecessor and risks being little more than a rubber stamp for Saied.
The president and many Tunisians blamed the previous parliament, led by the Ennahdha party, for political deadlock seen as worsening the country’s protracted economic and social crises.
Some Ennahdha officials have been jailed and the party is refusing to take part in the parliamentary elections, and has held repeated protests.
In last month’s first-round voting, 23 candidates secured seats outright in the 161-seat parliament: 10 of them because they ran unopposed and 13 because they won more than 50 percent of the vote, according to election officials.
In Sunday’s second round, voters are choosing among 262 candidates seeking to fill the 131 remaining seats.
In the seven constituencies with no candidate, special elections will be held later to fill the seats, likely in March. Since Saied was elected president in 2019 with 72 percent of the vote, his support among Tunisians has dulled.
Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Daily life for Tunisians seems to keep getting worse.
At a Tunis food market, vendors struggled to sell strings of dates, fish heaped on ice, piles of eggplants and herbs as shoppers lamented rising prices.
Few seemed to think Sunday’s vote would solve their problems.
Successive elections “have brought me nothing,” sighed Mohammed Ben Moussa, an employee of a private company.
The economy is meanwhile teetering.
According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment has reached more than 18 percent and exceeds 25 percent in the poor regions of the interior of the country, while inflation rate is 10.1 percent.
Tunisia has been suffering for several years from record budget deficits that affect its ability to pay its suppliers of medicines, food and fuel, causing shortages of milk, sugar, vegetable oil and other staples.
The Tunisian government is currently negotiating a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was frozen in December.

 


Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people
Updated 29 January 2023

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

DUBAI: An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck northwest Iran near the border with Turkiye on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 300, state media reported.
The official news agency IRNA reported the toll citing the head of emergency services at the university in the city of Khoy, near the quake’s epicenter.
An emergency official told state TV that it was snowing in some of the affected areas, with freezing temperatures and some power cuts reported.
Major geological faultlines crisscross Iran, which has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years.


UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2023

UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
  • Child and maternal malnutrition ‘increasing at a speed never seen before,’ World Food Programme says

BEIRUT: The World Food Programme has warned that hunger rates in Syria have soared to record highs after more than a decade of devastating conflict.

A brutal war that triggered years of economic crisis and damaged vital infrastructure has put 2.9 million at risk of sliding into hunger, while another 12 million do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN agency said.
“Hunger soars to 12-year high in Syria,” as 70 percent of the population might soon be “unable to put food on the table for their families,” the statement said.
“Syria now has the sixth highest number of food insecure people in the world,” the WFP added, with food prices increasing nearly 12-fold in three years.
Child and maternal malnutrition are also “increasing at a speed never seen before,” in more than a decade of war.
If the international community does not step up to help Syrians, it risks facing “another wave of mass migration,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley during a visit to Syria this week.
“Is that what the international community wants?” he asked, urging donor countries to redouble efforts to “avert this looming catastrophe.”
The UN estimates 90 percent of the 18 million people in Syria are living in poverty, with the economy hit by conflict, drought, cholera and the Covid pandemic as well as the fallout from the financial crash in neighbouring Lebanon.
The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests.
About half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that found the regime was responsible for a chemical weapon attack on the city of Douma in 2018 lacked any evidence, and denied the allegations.
The global chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday a nearly two-year investigation had found that at least one Syrian military helicopter had dropped gas cylinders onto residential buildings in Douma, killing 43 people.
Investigators said there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that at least one Syrian air force helicopter had dropped two cylinders of the toxic gas on the rebel-held town of Douma during Syria’s civil war.
“The world now knows the facts,” said Fernando Arias, chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW.
“It is up to the international community to take action,” Arias said in a statement.
Damascus and its ally Moscow claimed the April 7, 2018 attack was staged by rescue workers at the behest of the US which afterwards launched airstrikes on Syria along with Britain and France.
The Douma case also caused controversy after leaks from two former employees accused the Hague-based watchdog of altering its original findings to make them sound more convincing.
But the OPCW said its investigators had “considered a range of possible scenarios” and concluded that “the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
Western powers together called on Syria to be held accountable over the “horrific” attack.
“We call on the Russian Federation to stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons,” said a joint statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany.
“No amount of disinformation from the Kremlin can hide its hand in abetting the Assad regime.”

 


Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan

Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan
Updated 40 min 42 sec ago

Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan

Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan
  • The strike caused only minor damage to the roof of a building but no casualties
  • There have been a number of explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial facilities in the past few years

TEHRAN/DUBAI: Bomb-carrying drones targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan overnight, authorities said early Sunday, causing some damage at the plant amid heightened regional and international tensions engulfing the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian Defense Ministry offered no information on who it suspected carried out the attack, which came as a refinery fire separately broke out in the country’s northwest and a 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck nearby, killing two people.
However, Iran said it had repelled the attack, the defense ministry said, according to the IRNA news agency.
“An unsuccessful attack was carried out using (drones) ... on one of the workshop complexes of the ministry of defense,” it said, adding that the strike late Saturday night caused only minor damage to the roof of a building but no casualties.
The announcement of the attack comes at a tense time in Iran, which has been rocked by protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in September, tensions over its nuclear program and accusations by some countries that Tehran has been supplying drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine.
The ministry said one of the drones was destroyed by the site’s anti-aircraft defense system, while the other two exploded.
“The attack, which occurred around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, did not cause any disruption to the operation of the complex,” it said.
Details on the Isfahan attack, which happened around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, remained scarce. A Defense Ministry statement described three drones being launched at the facility, with two of them successfully shot down. A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.
Details on the Isfahan attack remained scarce, but the Defense Ministry described three drones being launched at the facility, with two of them successfully shot down. A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.
A video widely shared on social media, the authenticity of which AFP could not verify, shows a loud explosion at the site and images of emergency vehicles then heading toward the area.
The deputy governor of Isfahan province, Mohammad Reza Jan-Nesari, also said on television there had been “no casualties,” adding that “the cause of the incident is under investigation.”
The Defense Ministry only called the site a “workshop,” without elaborating on what it made. Isfahan, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Tehran, is home to both a large air base built for its fleet of American-made F-14 fighter jets and its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center.
Tehran has been targeted in suspected Israeli drone strikes amid a shadow war with its Mideast rival as its nuclear deal with world powers collapsed.
Iran has several known nuclear research sites in the region, including a uranium conversion plant.
Separately, Iran’s state TV said a fire broke out at an oil refinery in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It said the cause was not yet known, as it showed footage of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze.
State TV also said the magnitude-5.9 earthquake killed two people and injured some 580 more in rural areas in West Azerbaijan province, damaging buildings in many villages.
In April 2021, Tehran announced that it had started producing 60 percent enriched uranium at the Natanz site in Isfahan province.
Negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known by its acronym JCPOA, between Iran, the European Union and six major powers, stalled after the United States exited in 2018.
The agreement was aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons, an objective that Iran has always denied pursuing.
In recent years, Iran has accused Israel of carrying out several covert actions on its soil, including an attack, according to Tehran, using a satellite-controlled machine gun, which killed a leading nuclear physicist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020.
In addition, Tehran has been accused in recent months of supplying drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine, which Iran denies.
(With AFP and AP)