Turkey Under Fire For Hosting NATO Radar Protecting... Israel?
Turkey's collapsing relations with Israel over the past week or so have occasioned a new round of hand-wringing about whether the West is losing Turkey. But that drama has overshadowed another, countervailing, development: Turkey's agreement to host a NATO air defense radar. This has recently been one of the most sensitive Turkey-NATO issues; NATO wanted Turkey to host the system, but Turkey didn't want it to explicitly target Iran, even though it is obvious to everyone that that's the threat the system is intended to protect against.
But for whatever reason, the Turkish government has changed its mind, agreeing to host the radar and even (in a somewhat between-the-lines fashion) acknowledging that it has to do with Iran:
“We are of the opinion that the step taken [in deploying the radar system] is important for our region. That’s why we, as the government, have decided [to station the system in Turkey] after broad consultations,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said late Tuesday.
That has bolstered Turkey's relationship with NATO, argues Lale Kemal in Today's Zaman:
Turkey's decision to host on its soil the radar component of a US-sponsored missile shield project should be seen as a political decision reaffirming Ankara's ties with NATO. This decision comes at a time when the alliance has begun to perceive Turkish foreign policy goals as a deviating from those of the Western club. One Western official commented on the Turkish decision to host the missile defense radar saying, “Turkey is back in the club.”
And of course, the move has annoyed Iran and (to a lesser degree) in Russia. And Turkey's opposition also has taken the opportunity to criticize the government -- ironically, given everything else that's going on, for taking Israel's security more seriously than its own. From another Today's Zaman article:
“We don’t believe it appropriate for Turkey to take such a step without any questioning. This system is directly designed as a shield against missile systems targeting Israel. Taking this step without informing the public sufficiently shows that Turkey’s foreign policy is now not centered in Ankara but instead that the government is assuming a foreign policy based on international interests. If a threat really stems from Iran, the government should clearly explain the extent of this threat. The government’s decision will make Turkey a target for missiles. We are convinced that the government’s move is related to Washington’s interests rather than Turkey’s security and that this step is being taken in line with Israeli demands,” [MHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Oktay] Vural said.
So is Turkey kowtowing to the West and Israel, or turning against them? Or, is all of this evidence that Turkey is moving towards being neither solely "Eastern" or "Western" but something all its own?
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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