19FortyFive: Turkey’s Antagonism Of Greece Is Putting NATO To The Test

Turkey Turkish F-16 bob menendez

An analysis on 19FortyFive has detailed Turkey's hostilities against Greece, a fellow NATO member, which is now putting the Atlantic Alliance to the test as they struggle to balance unity within the organisation, and Ankara's belligerence.

The article:

Thetroubling eventsin Ukraine are a direct threat to the interests of the US and its allies, but also an indirect threat by giving leverage to a waywardTurkeyto strong-arm the US and its allies into ignoring itsnon-stopabusessimply to get Turkey to help Ukraine againstRussia.

Turkish acquisition of advanced weaponry, most recently its attempts to purchase advanced F-16 fighter jets, is the issue where this dynamic has played out most clearly.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) justput this issue front and centre by introducing an Amendment that would condition Turkey’s ability to buy advanced F-16s.

Scholars have longpointed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “Pan-Islamist, Neo-Ottoman,” ideology as a threat to regional stability. As such, Turkey was already on a downward slope in its relationship with the US.

After Turkey’spurchaseof the S-400 missile from Russia, it became a downward spiral. Turkey was the subject of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) due to its deal with Russia and wasremoved fromtheF-35 program.

Rather than reversing course, Ankara simply changed its request to purchase advanced F-16s to modernise its air force.

Ankara’s assumption seemed to be that the US was forced to kick them out of the F-35 program, but that once that was done, things would go back to normal. They were in for a rude awakening.

Congressional pushback was immediate, with apairofbipartisan letters, representing a bipartisan coalition of nearly 60 House members, opposing any sale of advanced F-16s to Turkey.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, alsoopposed the sale, and Ranking Member Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) was alsohesitant, saying:

“Until the issues surrounding [the S-400 missile] purchase are resolved I cannot and will not support weapon sales to Turkey.”

Just as bad for Ankara: the Biden Administration waslukewarmand made no firm commitments. Now-US Ambassador to Turkey, Jeff Flake,pledgedfurther CAATSA sanctions should Turkey buy more Russian weapons.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gave Erdogan a new lease on life. Now portraying Turkey,untruthfully, as a steadfast ally of NATO’s position on Ukraine, or alternatively as a usefularbiter between Ukraine and Russia, Erdogan had newfound leverage.

Sen. Risch softened his stance,saying“The Turks have made a credible argument for why they should get the F-16s. I’m positively disposed in that direction, but I’m not completely there yet.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), usually acriticof Turkey,said“I support the sale. While we have differences with the Turkish government, Turkey is a NATO ally, and we need to strengthen that alliance.”

This dynamic accelerated after Sweden and Finland petitioned to join NATO. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğluimmediately said that“Countries supporting terrorism should not be allies in NATO,” referring to Sweden and Finland’s support for Turkey’s oppressed Kurdish minority.

Quickly, NATO countries worked to ensure Turkey wouldn’t halt NATO enlargement.

After Turkey acquiesced to Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, Bidenannouncedhis support of the sale of F-16’s. However, Biden personally stressed that “I need congressional approval to be able to do that.”

During the recent House side passage of the NDAA, Reps. Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) offeredan amendment that would bar the sale unless it is certified by the Administration that it is necessary for U.S. national security and demonstrated concrete steps taken to ensure they are not used for repeated unauthorised overflights of Greece.

One would not naturally think that one NATO ally would be flying aggressive missions over another’s airspace. But just last month, Turkey violated Greek airspace 110 times in asingle day, an issue that has become a “daily source of tension” according to Greek news outlets.

The diplomatic strain between the two is severe. This is partly about the decades-old fight over the island ofCyprus, but alsoother itemssuch as an oil pipeline between Israel and Greece, among others.

Leaked documentssuggest Turkey even has ready-made plans to invade Greece. These are not trivialities.

So when the amendmentpassedwith a comfortable bipartisan majority of 244 to 179, Turkey was put in a difficult spot.

Çavuşoğlucalledany such restrictions “unacceptable,” a sentiment echoed by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who nonethelessinsistedthat the House Amendment could be overcome because of “work to be done in both the White House and the Senate.”

Erdoğanthreatenedto purchase jets from Russia, the United Kingdom, or France instead.

However, Senator Menendez is nowoffering a similar amendmentin the Senate, something that is expected to be voted on in the coming weeks. Acoalitionof various ethnic groups and thinkers have signaled their support.

This amendment will put the issue in focus. Will Turkey follow through and refuse to buy F-16s if they cannot use them against Greece?

The Biden Administration’s position is nuanced. Given Biden’s insistence on Congressional approval, when hehas the power to waive it in emergency situations, it’s fair to ask if his statement is a face-saving way to deny Turkey the jets, while still gaining Turkey’s cooperation on Ukraine.

The logic of the situation is clear: the US is willing to appease Turkey if it means NATO unity in opposition to Russia’s reckless and criminal attack on Ukraine.

But Turkey cannot credibly claim that the sale will provide that sort of unity if they are openly signaling they intend on using American jets to antagonise Greece.

Turkey is hoping that the Senate will overlook this contradiction. It should not. Erdoğanprivatelydisdains NATO, and simply uses it as a tool to gain leverage. Erdoğan is all too ready to move closer toRussia, toIran, and to coddle the mostradical Islamistmovements.

Turkey needs to change its behaviour, not its ask.

Until that time comes, the US should reject Turkish demands that it be allowed to use US technology to antagonise a fellow NATO member.

Clifford Smith is director of the Middle East Forum’s Washington Project. Follow him onTwitterandFacebook.

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