Turkey-based NATO radar's Israel protection in question

Turkey-based NATO radar's Israel protection in question

Burak Bekdil ISTANBUL
Turkey-based NATO radars Israel protection in question

NATO’s radar base in the eastern province of Malatya has been under fire from opposition parties, which claim it is aimed at protecting Israel against Iran, rather than Turkey. The government, however, refutes the allegations, saying Israel is not a NATO-member and arguing that the country does not need more protection as it already has its ‘Iron Dome’ air defense system.

“Dismantle that radar base; it is there merely to protect Israel from Iran,” roared the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, hoping to squeeze Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the presidential race, dominated by an anti-Israeli campaign by all candidates. 

However, a leading member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) refuted claims that the NATO radar base in Kürecik, eastern Turkey, and the NATO Patriot missiles to be deployed on Turkish territory against threats from Syria are actually aimed at protecting Israel against Iran.  

“When Israel has such a security system that it is called the ‘Iron Dome,’ there is no answer to the question: ‘Why would an additional facility be established in Kürecik to protect Israel?’” AKP deputy Volkan Bozkır, the head of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission, was quoted as saying by Anadolu Agency.

According to Bozkır, since the Israeli anti-rocket shield is able to intercept 90 percent of the 1,500 missiles sent from Gaza, it is absurd that the Jewish state would need extra protection.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, meanwhile, has reminded everyone that the NATO radar was a NATO radar and Israel was not a NATO ally.

Facts behind Kürecik and regional dynamics

Who is telling the truth? Or is anyone telling the truth without twisting the facts? Here are a few facts:

- The Patriot system is a mini-missile defense architecture (Patriots) owned by NATO and deployed in southern Turkey, presumably to protect parts of eastern/southeastern Turkey from the potential threat of Syrian chemical-biological attack.

- Six Patriot anti-missile batteries simply cannot protect a vast territory and its 3.5 million inhabitants from ballistic missiles with quite unpleasant warheads.

- Defense analysts and insiders have often argued that the Patriot umbrella will not protect 3.5 million Turks, but a U.S.-owned, NATO-assigned radar deployed earlier in Kürecik (in the province of Malatya) – and not from Syria – primarily from Iranian ballistic missiles.

- This is an early-warning missile detection and tracking radar system whose mission could include providing U.S. naval assets in the Mediterranean with early warning and tracking information in case of an Iranian missile launch targeting an ally or a friendly country, including Israel.

- This should explain the quiet U.S. encouragement for the deployment of the Patriots in areas near the NATO radar in Turkey. Anti-missile protection over Kürecik could be essential for the alliance.

- Turkish and NATO officials have claimed that the location of the Patriot batteries (Adana, Gaziantep and Kahramanmaraş) and the radar at Kürecik makes any connection between the two impossible. A connection between the two is possible simply because the Patriot is a road mobile system: It takes minutes to dismantle a battery, say in Kahramanmaraş, and re-deploy it closer to Kürecik in a matter of hours. This can be done quite discreetly.

- Iran, and to a certain extent Russia, have not been deeply annoyed by the deployment of the Patriots because Tehran or Moscow want 3.5 million Turks to die under a barrage of Syrian chemical-biological warheads. They are annoyed because they view both the radar at Kürecik and the Patriots that guard it as a threat to their own (offensive) missile capabilities, which the NATO assets now stationed in Turkey can theoretically – and probably practically too – neutralize (the only theoretical vulnerability is if Iran launched its Sejil missiles from a distance of 1,600 - 1,700 kilometers).

- It was not a coincidence that Iran’s army chief of staff, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, warned NATO at the time of deployment that stationing the Patriot batteries in Turkey “was setting the stage for world war.”

Bozkır’s defense line was probably aimed at blurring the picture, one defense analyst said. “Israel’s protection through the Iron Dome is a shield against rocket threats from Gaza. Kürecik could be useful for protecting Israel from any missile threat from Iran. These are completely different threats,” he said.

This does not mean that the Patriot and Kürecik architecture was deployed solely to protect Israel, said another analyst, but that "such deployments can be multi-purpose shots.”