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Ankara snubs US warning on Hamas as Greek-Turkey tensions escalate


Turkey flatly dismissed a US State Department objection to a recent Istanbul meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and two leaders of the militant group Hamas, whom the State Department has designated as “global terrorists”. The move will further strain relations in NATO and ratchet-up the already “fever pitch” tensions in the Aegean.

Instead, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called on the United States to use its regional influence for a “balanced policy” that will help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of “serving Israel’s interests”.

The United States strongly objected to Erdogan’s hosting of the two Hamas leaders on August 22, according to a statement issued by the State Department on August 25. The Turkish snub followed the same day.

“Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and EU and both officials hosted by President Erdogan are Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The U.S. Rewards for Justice Program is seeking information about one of the individuals for his involvement in multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings,” the State Department’s statement said, before adding, “President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza. We continue to raise our concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels. This is the second time President Erdogan has welcomed Hamas’ leadership to Turkey this year, with the first meeting occurring February 1.”

Dismissing the statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said that it considers the US “Declaring the legitimate representative of Hamas, who came to power after winning democratic elections in Gaza and is an important reality of the region, as a terrorist will not be of any contribution to efforts for peace and stability in the region.”

This is more of Ankara’s posturing, as it is vying to be seen as the protector of Palestinian interests after the UAE and Israel reached a landmark agreement early this month to establish diplomatic relations, a senior Western analyst told New Europe.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) with one of Hamas’ senior leaders, Ismail Haniyeh (L), during an earlier meeting in Ankara. EPA-EFE/YASIN BULBUL

The latest war of words between Washington and Ankara comes amid a conflict that appears to be waiting to happen in the Eastern Mediterranean and amid fresh negotiations between Ankara and Moscow over the purchases of a second battery of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

Ankara has already bought an S-400 battery for $2.5 billion in 2017 and installed it in 2019. The decision was a major snub of Turkey’s NATO allies who said the Russian hardware was incompatible with NATO anti-aircraft systems and its integration into Turkey air defense would enable Russian experts to study how to counter NATO gear and electronics. This prompted the US to threaten sanctions against Turkey and remove it from its F-35 Lightning II jet program in July.

To further deepen the rift, the Kremlin and Erdogan’s government signed a contract for a second delivery of S-400s to Turkey, Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on August 23.

The S-400 missile system is considered the most advanced of its kind in Russia, capable of destroying targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers and a height of up to 30 kilometers.

Turkey is the first member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to purchase an air defense missile system from Russia. Ankara’s stubbornness and its blatant ignoring of NATO’s rules and guidelines are seen as a serious affront by most members. This will help many NATO members make up their minds to jump to Greece’s aid should the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean evolve into a full-fledged confrontation.

The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, who just visited Athens and Ankara in a shuttle diplomacy move that was aimed at defusing the tensions and to bring the two sides to the negotiating table, warned on August 25 that “The current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is … playing with fire, and any spark – however small – could lead to a disaster,” Maas said after meeting with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias.

Though Greece and Turkey are two NATO allies, they are historically bitter rivals with a mutual animosity that dates back centuries. The two are pitted against one another over energy resources, both claiming exploration and exploitation rights in the Mediterranean and both have launched rival navy drills in close proximity of each other. Their militaries are on high alert and both countries have deployed warships to shadow each other.

Members of Israel’s IDF watch as a Greek F-16 jet takes off at the Ovda airbase in the Negev Desert, near Eilat, in southern Israel, EPA-EFE//ABIR SULTAN

The dispute has in drawn in the European Union, with Maas saying that Germany, and the whole of the EU, will stand by Greece “in firm solidarity”.

Cyprus’ Defense Ministry said warplanes and navy ships from France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus would be holding air and sea military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean starting on August 26. France and Greece will deploy both aircraft and warships as part of the drills, while Cyprus will activate its air defense system to test its capabilities.

Ankara seems to be overstretching its capabilities and is hell-bent on making fresh enemies by the day, a senior analyst told New Europe. The Turks are now involved militarily against the Kurds in Syria and Iraq and are providing active combat support to anti-Syrian government forces in Idlib. Erdogan also has his military involved in ongoing operations in Libya and now the Mediterranean, and is now stepping on everybody’s toes in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, parts of North Africa, and even as far as Afghanistan.

All of this suits Moscow just fine, for the moment, the analyst warned. It will continue to be that way until the time and price are right for the Kremlin to play a constructive role. At that moment Ankara finds itself alone and overstretched.



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Ankara dismisses Egypt’s warning of Libya intervention



Ankara will no stop supporting its Libyan allies despite Egypt’s warnings that it could proceed with a “direct” intervention if forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) march towards the strategic city of Sirte, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing a senior Turkish official.

On Saturday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also ordered the country’s army to be ready to carry out missions inside or outside of the country to protect its national security amid tensions over Turkey’s intervention in Libya.

Later in the day, GNA denounced el-Sisi’s threat of military intervention, labelling it as a “declaration of war.”

“This is a hostile act, direct interference and amounts to a declaration of war,” the Tripoli-based GNA, led by Fayez al-Sarraj said in a statement.

“Sisi’s statements have no basis,” the Turkish official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, adding that “Turkey and Libya will not turn back from their determination.” He added that GNA with Turkish support is continuing preparations to recapture Sirte and the Jufra region further south.

Libya has been torn by conflict since 2011, when the NATO-backed uprising overthrown the longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

In the war-torn country, the internationally-recognised GNA is clashing with the forces of Libya’s National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar.

On June 6, el-Sisi proposed the “Cairo Declaration and Cairo Initiative” and called for a number of measures, including a ceasefire on June 8, elections for a presidential council by the Libyan people under the auspices of the UN, the departure of all mercenaries from Libya, and the resumption of the 5+5 military talks.

 



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Ankara threatens to close down U.S. Air Force base in Turkey – Defence Blog


A senior Turkish official said that Ankara threatening to close down the U.S. Air Force Incirlik Air Base.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a statement that Ankara may insist that the U.S. leave Incirlik air base if Washington goes ahead with the sanctions it has threatened in response to Turkey’s purchase of S-400 air defense systems.

“We will assess the worst-case scenario and make a decision. If the US imposes sanctions against Turkey, then the issue of the Incirlik and Kurecik bases may be on the agenda,” Cavusoglu said.

Deliveries of the latest Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, which caused a significant rift in relations between Turkey and the United States, began in July. According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the S-400 will be fully operational in April 2020.

The vast Incirlik Air Base, located in southern Turkey close to Syria, has been a longstanding symbol of U.S.-Turkish cooperation. At the height of the Cold War, it underscored America’s commitment to its NATO partner against the Soviet Union.

Incirlik Air Base has a U.S. Air Force complement of about five thousand airmen, with several hundred airmen from the Royal Air Force and Turkish Air Force also present. The primary unit stationed at Incirlik Air Base is the 39th Air Base Wing (39 ABW) of the U.S. Air Force. Incirlik Air Base has one 3,048 m (10,000 ft)-long runway, located among about 57 hardened aircraft shelters.

It is worthwhile noting that estimated B61 nuclear gravity bombs stored at İncirlik airbase, which is about 100 miles from the Syrian border and which the US air force shares with its Turkish counterpart.

Of the five nuclear weapons storage locations in Europe, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey stores one-third of the weapons in Europe, although there are unconfirmed rumors that the weapons may have been withdrawn.

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