F-35 ban could become a ‘rally around the flag’ issue in Turkey

F-35 ban could become a ‘rally around the flag’ issue in Turkey

“Hey George! Hey Hans! You will not be able to put us down! Because my people are behind me!” Turkish President said in a rally in the western city of Manisa on May 28, campaigning for the June 24 snap election.

He specifically criticized Germany for not letting him or any official name from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) address Turkish voters living there, while a rally by the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was recently allowed. Upon Turkey’s warnings the German authorities did not let one HDP spokesman deliver a speech, but Ankara is still upset.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu travelled to Germany on May 28 ahead of a ceremony due today for the victims of a 1993 racist arson attack in the city of Solingen. Five Turks were killed and 14 others were wounded in the attack, and Çavuşoğlu could try to use the anniversary commemoration to deliver messages to the Turkey-origin population in Germany.

Erdoğan also suggested last week that foreign powers want to bring him and his government down by manipulating currency markets against the Turkish Lira. The lira recently suffered historic lows and could only start recovering over the weekend after the Central Bank took a series of measures that financial markets have long been expecting.

The July 2016 coup attempt is another issue straining ties between Turkey and the West. Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen and his illegal network in the state apparatus are accused of being behind the attempted putsch, and Gülen has lived in a Pennsylvania ranch since 1999. The Americans have not responded positively to Turkey’s persistent demands to extradite Gülen or take legal action against him, and many see the whole issue as another plot against Erdoğan by the West.

The Gülen question is not only about the U.S., as a number of alleged Gülenists, soldiers, prosecutors, judges, academics and journalists have found shelter - and some of them asylum - in EU member countries. Turkey’s rift with the U.S. and France over their collaboration with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is another subject prompting suspicion of a “Western conspiracy” against Turkey’s territorial integrity.

And now the F-35 issue has also emerged. Turkey, as an active member of the Western defense alliance NATO is one of the co-producers of this new generation of F-35 jet fighters, but a U.S. Senate committee has demanded that it be removed from the project because an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, has been detained in Turkey over alleged links with Gülenists and the PKK. Turkey’s deal to purchase S-400 air defense missiles from Russia is another motivation for the Senate’s F-35 ban request, amid remarks from Erdoğan that he turned to the Russians because the Americans have not been willing to sell Patriot systems.

According to the F-35 project agreement, the first two F-35s must be handed over to Turkey in the U.S. by June 21 for training and testing purposes. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has already warned the U.S. that a counter action could be expected if a ban on F-35s is imposed. In 1975 when the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Turkey over the Cyprus issue, Ankara closed down the strategic İncirlik air base, near the Syrian border, which is key for American flights in a broad area from the Suez to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Now, in addition to the İncirlik base there is also a strategic radar site of the Missile Shield global defense system in Malatya.

If there is a ban or a removal of Turkey from the project, it could create a “rally around the flag” effect in Turkey, contrary to the naive motivation of its instigators that punishing Turkey would give a clear and important message to Erdoğan. Many Turkish people would recall how after Britain refused to deliver two warships that the Ottoman government had already paid for in 1914, the Ottoman state opted to harbor two German warships by hoisting Turkish flags on them, bombed Russian Black Sea ports, and dragged the country into the First World War against the Allied Powers.

What’s more, the reporting of Israeli daily Haaretz on May 28 about Israel warning the U.S. not to sell F-35s to Turkey with all their technical capabilities - because such jets could pose a threat to Israel - has certainly not helped the situation.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion, Turkey