S-400 purchase to benefit the Greeks and the Israelis
Turkey has started on May 27 a cross border military operation in Northern Iraq.
Were we surprised? Hardly. Located in a highly unstable region and fighting against terror organizations which find safe haven in neighboring countries, the Turkish state feels it has to stand ready to strike at any moment. This requires the army to maintain a high combat capability at all times.
The recent operation kicked off with the attacks of artillery batteries of the land forces and jet aircraft of the Turkish air forces. We will probably know at a later stage how many jets have taken off from airbases to cross to the Iraqi airspace.
According to military expert Can Kasapoğlu, 25 percent of the jets in the Turkish air force flew over the Syrian skies during Operation Olive Branch. Twenty-five percent is quite a high ratio for the Turkish fleet whose backbone consists of F-16s.
The United States has threatened suspending the delivery of F-35s and even excluding Turkey from the whole multinational co-production program, if Turkey goes ahead with the purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile defense system. According to Kasapoğlu from the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), sanctions foreseen by U.S. legislation against a “significant transaction” from Russia can go beyond F-35s. The S-400 acquisition risks putting the existing F-16 arsenal in jeopardy, as the United States can suspend delivery of its spare parts.
How would that affect Turkey’s fight against the terror organization, PKK? Would Turkey be able to continue to successfully conduct cross border air operations against PKK targets?
It would be fair to assume that the PKK might be quite happy these days to see the divide between Washington and Ankara get wider, with the potential of weakening Turkey’s strike capability.
Next to the PKK, I am pretty sure the Greeks would not feel sorry either about the risks over the Turkish F-16s. Would they benefit from the situation to venture out on a more frequent dogfights over the Aegean? What happens if Alexis Tzipras’ government is replaced after the snap elections by a more belligerent government?
Recently, news came out about Greece’s intention to acquire up to 30 F-35s to replace its oldest F-16s.
If the delivery of F-35s are suspended and Turkey is eventually excluded from the F-35 program, how is the Turkish air force going to answer to Greece’s superiority in the air? Will Russian warplanes, which will take years for Turkey to purchase, be enough to counterbalance the Greek fleet? How many years will it take for Turkish pilots to get used to Russian warplanes to counter Greek challenges in the air?
Will Greeks wait until the Turkish army finishes its transition from the American system to the Russian system to challenge Turkish air forces?
Not just Greece, but I can imagine Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israel is also rejoicing in the prospect of seeing Turkey excluded from the F-35 program. Turkey is planning to buy 100 F-35s. Imagine how this will give an air superiority to Turkey. Increasingly at odds with Turkey, would Israel like to see Turkey become a much stronger military power that would make it even more assertive in its foreign policy?
The F-35 is a long-term project which Turkey can decide to replace by other aircraft systems. But in the short term, the risks that put F-16s in jeopardy can have serious consequences in terms of Turkey’s struggle against the PKK as well as in terms of its defense posture in general.
Perhaps Ankara believes that in the end Washington will not go ahead with sanctions.
Kasapoğlu recalls the Mistral deal case between Russia and France. Russia had provided $978 million in advance payment for two Mistral helicopter carriers under a deal signed in 2011.
But the deal was canceled in 2015 due to sanctions imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea. Kasapoğlu recalls his earlier conversations with the French who claimed they will resist Washington’s pressure and go ahead with the deal.
But in the end France decided to sell its two formerly Russia-bound Mistrals to Egypt and returned Russia’s deposit on the vessels.
This shows us that first, even a country like France could not resist U.S. pressure and second, if France and Russia can cancel an agreement as a result of sanctions, so can Turkey and Russia.