Turkiye, US strengthen bilateral relations through joint military exercises

The USS Gerald R. Ford’s voyage to Antalya showcased the commitment of both nations to fostering cooperation. (@Warship_78)
The USS Gerald R. Ford’s voyage to Antalya showcased the commitment of both nations to fostering cooperation. (@Warship_78)
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Updated 29 August 2023
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Turkiye, US strengthen bilateral relations through joint military exercises

The USS Gerald R. Ford’s voyage to Antalya showcased the commitment of both nations to fostering cooperation. (@Warship_78)
  • The USS Gerald R. Ford’s voyage to Antalya showcased the commitment of both nations to fostering cooperation
  • As the largest and newest aircraft carrier in the US Navy’s fleet, the vessel’s visit carries symbolic weight

ANKARA: In a significant move aimed at bolstering their diplomatic ties, Turkiye and the US recently conducted extensive joint military exercises, marked by the momentous visit of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the US Navy’s cutting-edge aircraft carrier, to the Turkish port city of Antalya.

The joint military exercises, the most extensive in at least seven years, carry notable implications against the backdrop of an impending meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, next month.

The USS Gerald R. Ford’s voyage to Antalya, following its stops in Oslo, Norway; Split, Croatia; and Piraeus, Greece, showcased the commitment of both nations to fostering cooperation.

As the largest and newest aircraft carrier in the US Navy’s fleet, the vessel’s visit carries symbolic weight. Turkish naval ships including TCG Anadolu, Goksu, Gediz, Imbat, Meltem, Burakreis, as well as Turkish air force assets like F-16s, KC-135s, and P-72s, engaged in pre-arrival collaborative exercises with the Gerald R. Ford Strike Group, underscoring mutual commitment to Mediterranean security and bolstering partner interoperability.

“The Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group operated with our partners in the Turkish navy and air force, executing a series of multi-domain exercises prior to our arrival in Antalya,” said Rear Adm. Erik J. Eslich, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 12.

“The exercises strengthened the bond we share with Turkiye and enhanced our common understanding of maritime tactics and procedures advancing interoperability objectives. Additionally, our collective efforts reinforce our shared goals of promoting peace and stability in the region.”

Amidst this display of unity, the USS Mount Whitney, a US 6th Fleet Command Ship, visited Istanbul, while the USS Normandy, a guided-missile cruiser, arrived at Aksaz. These sequential visits to Turkish ports highlight the comprehensive nature of the two nations’ military cooperation.

As the Gerald R. Ford remains anchored off the coast of Antalya, the vessel will extend its hospitality to local officials and military leaders, further underscoring the enduring bonds between Washington and Ankara.

Beyond its immediate symbolism, this collaborative effort stands as a testament to the ongoing pursuit of maritime stability and security, serving as a deterrent and reinforcing collective defense commitments.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of German Marshall Fund of the US, thinks that on the one hand the joint exercise is normal as the two countries are NATO allies with a long-standing security partnership, but it also points to efforts at normalization of the strained partnership between the two allies.

He told Arab News: “The fact that Selcuk Bayraktar, the chairman of Baykar, the company that manufactures the Bayraktar drones, and son-in-law of President Erdogan, visited USS Gerald R. Ford and posted his photo from the aircraft carrier on social media has strengthened the political aspect of the exercise.”

This closer alignment is poised to project influence both regionally and globally. Turkiye’s recent decision to withdraw opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership was met with appreciation by the US.

The move reflects a diplomatic thaw, exemplified by Biden’s acknowledgment of Erdogan’s “courage” in supporting Sweden’s bid during the NATO summit in Vilnius. This conciliatory gesture has spurred hopes in Ankara of reciprocity, potentially leading to a reversal of US objections to Turkiye’s procurement of F-16 fighter jets.

The US Congress had previously hindered such sales following Turkiye’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missile systems in 2017.

According to Unluhisarcikli, resolution of the S-400 crisis, suspension of the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act in reference to Turkiye, and Ankara’s return to the F-35 program as a buyer if not as a joint manufacturer could be future steps.

“Within this framework, a visit by President Erdogan to Washington would not be surprising,” he said.

In the meantime, a President Vladimir Putin-Erdogan head-to-head meeting now looks likely to be in Sochi in Russia in the near future, the ruling Justice and Development Party spokesperson Omer Celik said on Tuesday.

But, for Unluhisarcikli, Turkiye’s joint exercise with the US by itself is not a signal to Russia.

He said: “Ankara and Washington are treaty allies and there is nothing more natural than the two holding joint exercises. However, the bigger picture tells us that the Russia-Turkiye relationship is no longer a rose garden.”

Russia’s suspension of the Astana Process; Turkiye’s return of the Azov commanders to Ukraine; Russia withdrawing its veto to the condemnation of Turkiye at the UN Security Council regarding recent incidents on the divided island of Cyprus; President Erdogan’s telephone call to Putin during the Wagner mutiny where he fell short of condemning Wagner; and recent reassertions by Erdogan and other officials on Crimea being part of Ukraine point in this direction, according to Unluhisarcikli.

He thinks that the nature of the Turkiye-Russia relationship is competitive cooperation and the two draw closer when both of them feel excluded or targeted by the West, but when one of them has better relations with the West, competition takes over cooperation.

Unluhisarcikli said: “The Turkiye-Russia rapprochement process happened at a time when Turkiye was diplomatically isolated and Erdogan felt vulnerable after the failed coup attempt. But neither is true any longer.

“Turkiye is no longer diplomatically isolated as it normalized relations with Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, reduced tensions with Greece and therefore the EU, and it exchanged positive messages with its allies during the NATO summit in Vilnius.

“And after retaining his office in the recent presidential elections, after which many Western leaders called him immediately to congratulate, Erdogan is far from being vulnerable.”

Therefore, he added, Turkiye does not have the intention to suspend its cooperation with Russia, but a negative reaction to Turkiye’s normalization of its relationship with its treaty allies could lead to that unintended consequence.

Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, said it is a positive practical step from both sides to raise the profile of bilateral military, in this case naval, cooperation.

He told Arab News: “Especially given the naval dimension to the Ukraine conflict, this is an effective deterrent message to Russia from both Washington and Ankara.

“It may indicate a broader signal on warming ties more generally, and reflects some of the fruits of Turkish diplomatic efforts to repair ties with the West.”


How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage

How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage
Updated 53 sec ago
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How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage

How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage
  • Pre-war poll found just 41 percent of Arab Israelis and 32 percent of Jewish Israelis think peaceful coexistence is possible
  • However, analysts believe the ongoing conflict in Gaza could bolster support and action for the two-state solution

LONDON: Israel’s military operation in Gaza has raised questions about potential scenarios for postwar governance and security. The emerging consensus view — at least for now — seems to be the need for a two-state solution.

There are several barriers to the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, however. One immediate stumbling block is that the dream of Palestinian statehood rests on the fortunes of the incumbent administrations in Israel and the US.

The normally close allies appeared more divided than ever since Washington’s abstention in a UN Security Council vote on March 25 resulted in the passing of a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.

Relations soured further after seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen were killed on April 1 in a series of Israeli airstrikes while distributing food in the Gaza Strip, leading to additional censure by Washington.

Even before these events, the US government had voiced open support for a Palestinian state. In his State of the Union address on March 8, US President Joe Biden made clear that “the only real solution is a two-state solution.”

However, Biden faces a tight election slated for Nov. 5. If he loses to his Republican challenger, Donald Trump — who was an ardent supporter of Israel’s hard-right policies during his last presidency — a two-state outcome seems unlikely.

Indeed, chatter among Trump loyalists suggests the former president may be leaning toward support for the removal of Palestinians from Gaza once and for all, with the starkest indication coming from his son-in-law and former Middle East adviser Jared Kushner.

Asked at the Harvard Kennedy School in March whether he expected Benjamin Netanyahu to block Gazans from returning in the event they were removed en masse, Kushner said: “Maybe,” before adding: “I am not sure there is much left of Gaza.”

On March 5, Trump told Fox News that Israel had to “finish the problem” in Gaza. When asked about a two-state solution, Trump avoided the question, simply stating: “You had a horrible invasion that took place that would have never happened if I was president.”

On April 18, 12 countries at the UN Security Council voted to back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership. Only the US voted against, using its veto to block the resolution.

The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly “that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations” in place of its current “non-member observer state” status, which it has held since 2012.

The majority of the UN’s 193 member states — 137, according to a Palestinian count — have recognized a Palestinian state.

Regardless of the outcome of the draft resolution, the fate of Palestinian statehood also rests on the actions of the Israeli government and the views of a divided public.

Polling data from the Pew Research Center suggest that dwindling support for a two-state outcome in Israel has been driven primarily by the country’s Arab population.

In 2013, some 74 percent of Arab Israelis said that they believed an independent Israel and Palestine could coexist, with this number dropping to 64 percent in 2014 before plummeting to 41 percent in April last year.

Conversely, belief in peaceful coexistence among Jewish Israelis has fluctuated between 46 and 37 percent over the past 10 years, dropping to 32 percent before the Oct. 7 attacks.

INNUMBERS

• 41% Arab Israelis who believe peaceful coexistence is possible, down from 74 percent in 2013.

• 32% Jewish Israelis who believe peaceful coexistence is possible, down from 46 percent in 2013.

(Source: Pew Research Center survey conducted in September 2023)

Crucially, however, support for a single Israeli state has never been a majority view, with some 15 percent undecided, suggesting that the hesitancy in support for it is based on not knowing what such a system would look like in practice.

This assessment reflects that of Benjamin Case, postdoctoral research scholar at Arizona State University, who said that with the right framing, Israelis could come around to supporting a two-state solution.

“Public opinion shifts in response to horizons of political possibility,” Case told Arab News. “Israelis want the return of their loved ones who are held hostage, and they want guaranteed safety — and of course they want things that most people want, like healthy, prosperous lives.

“If a real solution is offered that brings peace and security, I think most Israelis will eventually get behind it.”

Lawmakers in Washington, it seems, are trying to provide such a framing. On March 20, a group of 19 Democratic senators issued a public call for Biden to establish a “bold, public framework” for the realization of the two-state solution once the war in Gaza is over.

Cognizant of the ongoing security concerns in Israel, the call suggested a model based on a “non-militarized Palestinian state.”

It called for the unification of both Gaza and the West Bank under the Palestinian flag, and said that this newly recognized country could be governed by a “revitalized and reformed Palestinian Authority.”

Case said that while it is important to recognize Israeli security concerns in forging a Palestinian state, any model needed to pay particular attention to the rights of Palestinians.

He stressed that Palestinian human rights “must come before the preferences of Israelis,” but said that meeting those needs with a Palestinian state was a “sensible solution for the extreme violence in Israel and Palestine.

“A Palestinian state would likely deprive Hamas of its reason for existing,” he said. “Hamas grew out of conditions of prolonged occupation, and thrives on the conflict.

“What popularity it has among Palestinians comes less from its governance and more because it represents resistance against occupation in a hopeless situation. If a path to a Palestinian state is realized, Hamas would have to reform significantly or would lose power.”

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of the independent Jadaliyya ezine and a former analyst for International Crisis Group, is concerned that despite growing Western support for a two-state solution, the world appears no closer to achieving this goal.

“I don’t think a two-state settlement is now closer than previously,” Rabbani told Arab News. “The passage of time makes it increasingly difficult to achieve.

“A two-state settlement is a question of political will, not of artificial points-of-no-return. On this score, political will among Israel and its Western sponsors to end the 1967 occupation, without which there can be no two-state settlement, has been systematically non-existent.”

Nonetheless, he said, “in view of recent developments,” it was pertinent to pose “related but no less important questions” on the desirability of a two-state outcome and its durability in light of what he described as “the genocidal, irrational apartheid regime that is Israel.”

Regarding the positions of countries in the Arab world, he suggested there was “diminishing purchase” on the desire for peace with Israel.

Contesting Rabbani’s position, Case believes Palestinian statehood is now closer to becoming reality than it was on Oct. 6, and that the “gross disproportionality” of Israel’s response to the Hamas terror attack had played its part in this.”

“Ironically, had Israel shown restraint following the Oct. 7 attack, it may well have been the opposite,” he said.

“The brutality of the Hamas assault would likely have fostered unprecedented international sympathy for Israel, entrenching Israeli occupation policies.

“However, the Israeli military response, especially the shocking scale of civilian casualties in Gaza, as well as the genocidal remarks made by many Israeli officials toward Palestinians, have reversed the backfiring effect, raising international awareness about the injustices of the occupation and generating urgency to find a durable solution.”

The two-state solution, a proposed framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was first proposed in 1947 under the UN Partition Plan for Palestine at the end of the British Mandate.

However, successive bouts of conflict, which saw Israel expand its area of control, put paid to this initiative.

Then in 1993, the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed on a plan to implement a two-state solution as part of the Oslo Accords, leading to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

This Palestinian state would be based on the borders established after the 1967 war and would have East Jerusalem as its capital. However, this process again failed amid violent opposition from far-right Israelis and Palestinian militants.

Since then, the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, reciprocal attacks, the undermining of the Palestinian Authority, and ever harsher security controls imposed by Israel, have left the two-state solution all but unworkable in the eyes of many.

For others, it remains the only feasible option.


Israeli fighter jets target site from which Hermes 450 drone was shot down

Israeli fighter jets target site from which Hermes 450 drone was shot down
Updated 3 sec ago
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Israeli fighter jets target site from which Hermes 450 drone was shot down

Israeli fighter jets target site from which Hermes 450 drone was shot down
  • Spokesperson says Israel’s air force will continue to operate in Lebanese airspace to achieve aims

BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes targeted the outskirts of Aaichiyeh village in Lebanon’s southern region on Monday after Hezbollah said it had downed an Israeli drone on a combat mission.

Hezbollah announced it had shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone on Sunday night from the same location.

It is the second drone that Hezbollah has downed in Lebanese airspace in the last two weeks. The Iran-backed group’s tactics now involve shooting down Israeli drones, in addition to targeting military outposts opposite the southern border.

Hezbollah said that the drone was attacking “our noble and steadfast people.”

Explosions were heard on Monday afternoon after sirens sounded in the Israeli Kiryat Shmona settlement and its surroundings in the Upper Galilee.

Israeli Channel 12 reported that “a suspicious aerial target was intercepted over the Galilee panhandle near the Lebanese border.”

Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee said that “a surface-to-air missile was launched toward an Israeli army drone that was operating in Lebanese airspace on Saturday night.”

The drone was hit and fell in Lebanese territory, he said, adding that the incident was under investigation.

Adraee claimed that Israeli warplanes struck the site from which the missile was launched, and added that the air force would continue to operate in Lebanese airspace to achieve the military’s aims.

Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, a member of Hezbollah’s Central Council, said the group’s drones “successfully bypass Israeli air defense systems every day.”

He said the distance between “us and Israeli settlements and sites is extremely close, and the distance between Kafr Kila and Metulla is zero, as well as Miskvam and Al-Manara.”

Qaouk said Hezbollah’s drones can hit their targets in Israeli settlements within a minute from launch.

He said: “You saw in Arab Al-Aramsha how the drone attacked the Israeli force, and we thus demonstrated our ability to evade all Israeli air defense systems.”

Qaouk added that “the increase in killings and attacks on homes in border towns will not alter the situation. It will not affect Hezbollah’s commitment to backing Hamas and will not result in the settlers going back to their homes (in northern Israel).”

Qaouk’s remarks came as confrontations on the Lebanese southern front continued on Monday as the Israeli army bombed Maroun Al-Ras village in Bint Jbeil.

The Israeli military also targeted a site near Maydoun village in western Bekaa, while shells reached the outskirts of Tayr Harfa, Dhahira, and Yaroun.

Meanwhile, sirens sounded at the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s headquarters in Naqoura following Israeli bombing that had targeted the western sector of the country.

Hezbollah then launched missiles from Lebanon toward an Israeli military base in Western Galilee.

The group attacked an Israeli military position near Hanita with artillery shells and “successfully hit spy equipment across from the village of Al-Wazzani with suitable weapons.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati has received Harvey Smyth, British deputy chief of the defense staff.

A statement said the talks had focused on the need “to reduce tension and achieve a ceasefire in southern Lebanon.”

Smyth also met Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for talks which focused on the situation “in Lebanon and the region in light of Israel’s continued aggression against Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.”

European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi also led a delegation to meet the parliament speaker, and Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun.

Berri’s office said the parties discussed the “overall situation in Lebanon and the region.”

Lebanon is asking for help in boosting the number of Lebanese soldiers in the area south of the Litani River, in line with Resolution 1701, and is urging the global community to support the move.


UAE rolls out grand welcome for sultan of Oman’s state visit

UAE rolls out grand welcome for sultan of Oman’s state visit
Updated 22 min 5 sec ago
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UAE rolls out grand welcome for sultan of Oman’s state visit

UAE rolls out grand welcome for sultan of Oman’s state visit
  • Leaders witnessed the signing of several memorandums of understanding and agreements which span a wide range of sectors

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan welcomed Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq at an official reception at Qasr Al-Watan in Abu Dhabi on Monday, marking the sultan’s state visit, Emirates News Agency reported.

On Sultan Haitham’s arrival, his motorcade, escorted by Sheikh Mohamed, was greeted by a procession of riders on Arabian horses and camels.

Emirati folk groups performed music and dance to celebrate the visit.The ceremony included an inspection of the guard of honor by the leaders, alongside renditions of the UAE and Omani national anthems.A 21-gun salute was given in honor of Sultan Haitham’s visit as well as a flypast by the UAE Air Force’s aerobatics team, Al-Fursan, during which smoke was released in the colors of the Omani flag.

At Qasr Al-Watan, groups of Emirati children welcomed the leaders by waving the flags of both countries and chanting welcoming phrases. In celebration of the visit, Abu Dhabi’s landmarks and streets showcased Omani flags and displayed messages of welcome for Sultan Haitham.

Sheikh Mohamed and Sultan Haitham discussed the longstanding and historical ties between the UAE and Oman, focusing on cooperation across various sectors.

During their meeting, the leaders witnessed the signing of several memorandums of understanding and agreements which span a wide range of sectors, including investment, renewable energy, sustainability, railways, technology, and education.


Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine

Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine
Updated 22 April 2024
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Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine

Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine
  • Aboul Gheit met Albanese at the headquarters of the Arab League General Secretariat in Cairo
  • Discussion centered on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, given continued Israeli violations against the civilian population

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese discussed the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip on Monday.

Aboul Gheit met Albanese at the headquarters of the Arab League General Secretariat in Cairo.

The discussion centered on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, given continued Israeli violations against the civilian population over the past several months.

Albanese is the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Gamal Roshdy, the secretary-general’s spokesperson, conveyed Aboul Gheit’s commendation for the special rapporteur’s work and her courageous stance as a global conscience amid the “silence and indifference of many nations toward the atrocities committed by the occupying forces, which constitute acts of genocide.”

Roshdy quoted Aboul Gheit as affirming during the meeting that Israeli crimes could not be justified as mistakes or collateral damage from military operations.

“They are deliberate acts aimed at collectively punishing the population and depriving Palestinians of their fundamental right to live on their land.”

Aboul Gheit expressed his solidarity with Albanese in the face of incitement campaigns and accusations of antisemitism against her.

He said that the motives behind these campaigns were clear, highlighting Israel’s efforts to silence any independent voices that exposed the reality of the civilian massacre unfolding in the Gaza Strip. 

He said that Israel engaged in character assassination against individuals who revealed its falsehoods and deception to global public opinion.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Albanese discussed the condition of human rights and Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories on Sunday.

Shoukry received Albanese in Cairo, where they called for an immediate end to Israeli attacks on Gaza in compliance with international laws and demanded the safe delivery of humanitarian aid.


Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says

Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says
Updated 22 April 2024
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Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says

Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says

BAGHDAD: US forces stationed at Iraq’s Ain Al-Asad air base were targeted in an armed drone attack that caused no damage or casualties, a US official said, in the second attack on US troops in the region in less than 24 hours.
The attacks follow a near-three month pause in the targeting of US forces in Iraq and Syria after months of near-daily rocket and drone strikes by Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed factions over US backing of Israel’s Gaza campaign.