NATO member Turkey is in talks with Russia to purchase Russia’s long-range air defense missile system, the S-400. The system is capable of shooting down a variety of targets, including conventional aircraft as well as America’s brand new F-35 stealth fighter, as well as ballistic and cruise missiles.
Russia recently sold a similar system (the S-300) to Iran. A sale of the system to China was in the works but ultimately failed due to differences of opinions between the two countries as to the transfer of technology.
The move should be perceived as part of an on-going shift in alliance for Turkey, from the Western-based NATO to the Russia/Iran axis. The move also can be viewed as part of a global shift in alliances which has been occurring during the second term of the Obama administration.
“We have already made clear that we will be in cooperation with countries and companies that would lend support to us throughout this process. We have said our doors are open and that we are willing to cooperate,” Turkish Defense Ministers Fikri Isik said in regards to the potential purchase, as reported in Hurriyet Daily.
The missile system competes with the American Patriot as well as other European systems.
The missile deal should also be viewed as part of the deteriorating relations between Turkey and the U.S. “Let me be very frank in my remarks. I’ve been known for my candor. I wouldn’t speak the truth if I said I was not disillusioned, because I am disillusioned,” said Turkish President Recep Erdogan, addressing what he sees as the failure of the U.S. to take the threats facing Turkey seriously.
Erdogan was referring to the war in Syria and the subsequent refugee problems facing Turkey. In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Erdogan said, “We have addressed these issues; discussed them with President Obama and Vice President Biden. They failed to rise to the occasion and handle these issues seriously. This is quite upsetting for us.”
Erdogan is also fuming over America’s alliance with the Kurds which was made to fight Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). For years, Turkey refused to join the battle against Islamic State, all the while allowing for the transfer of arms and fighters to ISIS as well as benefitting from and being a conduit for their pilfered oil.
When Turkey finally did join the battle against ISIS this past summer, it primarily used the fight as a cover to attack the Kurds, who – in their quest for independence – are viewed as mortal enemies by Turkey.
The U.S. allegedly withdrew its Patriot missiles positioned on Turkey’s Syrian border in response to those attacks, angering Turkey. At the same time, Turkey has been enraged by the U.S.’s refusal to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan claims was behind the July 15 coup attempt staged against Erdogan’s government.
Hence, it is not surprising that Turkey has turned to Russia to purchase a missile system independent of its Western allies. After shooting down a Russian military plane (whose pilot was killed by a Turkish nationalist attempting to parachute to safety), Turkey’s eventual contrition to Russia for the incident brought Turkey into Putin’s sphere of influence.
Notwithstanding Turkey’s abysmal human rights record and its slow, steady descent under Erdogan’s 13-year leadership into an Islamist enclave that has given cover ISIS for years, it appears that President-elect Trump’s designated National Security Advisor Lt-Gen. Michael Flynn (former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency), will try to change this new reality.
Writing in The Hill on election day, Flynn charges that “Turkey is vital to U.S. interests” as it is “really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as a source of stability in the region,” providing cooperation with U.S. military operations.
Flynn calls Gulen the “primary bone of contention” between the two countries. Flynn views Gulen as an Islamist radical, comparing his career, words and deeds to those of Sayyid Qutb and Hasan al Banna, leading ideologue and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood respectively.
Alluding to his desire to comply with Turkey’s demand to extradite Gulen, Flynn writes, “What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort while running 160 charter schools funded by the Turkish taxpayers?”
Flynn may be right about Gulen’s orientation, although save for the fact that Erdogan is the democratically elected president of Turkey, their ideological outlooks are not dissimilar. Turkey’s intelligence services have been photographed supporting and arming ISIS and its visa waiver program as assured a steady stream of fighters joining the terror group. Erdogan’s open embrace of Hamas as well as his invitation to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to visit Turkey (despite being charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court) speak volumes.
Although Flynn may be viewing the conflict in purely practical terms, he should be forewarned that Islamists ideologues like Erdogan quite often do not see the world or make policy decisions through the eyes of Western pragmatism.
A dance with the devil is indeed a dangerous one.
Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org