The United States have warned Turkey that unless the country change its apparently newfound hostility toward Israel and its cozying up with Iran, it stands little chance of obtaining the American weapons it intends to buy.
Eurasia Review reports that President Barack Obama personally delivered the message to his counterpart in Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The warning comes at a time when Turkey wants to purchase American drone aircraft in order to attack Kurdish separatist insurgents along the Iraqi border in the southwest. With US combat forces pulling out of Iraq and the Kurdish threat flaring up once again, the Turks have reason to be concerned.
One administration official was quoted as saying that, “The president has said to Erdoğan that some of the actions that Turkey has taken have caused questions to be raised on the Hill,” referring, presumably, to congressional Democrats, “about whether we can have confidence in Turkey as an ally.” Washington, apparently, is upset because Turkey, along with Brazil, negotiated a nuclear fuel exchange agreement with Iran last May and voted against United Nations sanctions on Iran in July.
“When the leaders met later that month at the G20 summit in Toronto, Obama told Erdoğan that the Turks had failed to act as an ally in the UN vote,” writes Eurasia Review. “He also called on Ankara to cool its rhetoric about an Israeli raid that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bearing aid for Gaza.”
The president, ironically, was criticized in his own country for withholding unequivocal support of Israel when it received fierce condemnation internationally for intercepting a small fleet of blockade runners in May. Turkey, among other Middle Eastern states, was quick to blame Israel for resorting to violence. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, for instance, described Israel’s actions as “piracy” and “a dark stain on the history of humanity” while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu compared the attack to America’s 9/11.
Turkey’s rhetoric at the time should not necessarily be interpreted as newfound resentment with Israel however. For decades, the country has been one of few in the region to get along with the Jewish state after all. But like many of its neighbors, Turkey worries about Iran and its nuclear ambitions. With Israel already a nuclear state, Turkey, once Tehran announces the weaponization of its nuclear technology, may well justify its rapid search for the same citing Israeli aggression.
But even if Turkey were genuinely upset, it would make little sense for the United States to cancel an arms deal in spite of more than half a century of close, stable relations with what remains, besides Israel, the West’s only true ally in a region that is overwhelmingly anti-American. Close second comes Saudi Arabia which is notorious for funding and exporting terrorism worldwide. Indeed, fifteen of the nineteenth terrorists who hijacked planes on 9/11 were Saudi. That hasn’t stopped the United States from exporting numerous weapon systems to the kingdom though.
Turkey has, in recent years, been pursuing a more independent foreign policy that includes strong trade relations with nearby Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for instance. The country realizes that it can be a regional power and exert influence throughout the Middle East, using its exports and ties with the West as leverage. Europe and the United States shouldn’t regard this is a threat, no matter photo-ops of Erdoğan with Holocaust denying, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A Turkey that is welcomed back in the Arab world can be an instrument in America’s own Middle East policy. That is, unless Washington keeps blaming the Europeans for keeping Turkey at bay for so long and start demanding from Ankara that it satisfy itself with being NATO’s eastern bulwark and little more. Then, America should expect Turkey to drift even father for it feels confident enough these days to put its own interests before those of the West.