CAATSA gone wild
While the Pentagon has expressed its willingness to follow through with its pledged delivery of US made F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, Congressional opposition fuelled by a unique alliance of the US based Armenian, Hellenic and Jewish lobbies continues to oppose the US delivery of the jets to NATO member Turkey.
What one is witnessing in the United States is a perfect storm of geopolitical brinkmanship which has allied with domestic ethno-religious agitation groups in a malaise of open Turkophobia. From the perspective of many in Congress from both major US parties, delivering the F-35s to Turkey would violate the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which allows for US sanctions on otherwise neutral or even allied countries who purchase weapons from nations being directly sanctioned by Washington. The directly sanctioned nations in question are Russia, Iran and the DPRK (North Korea).
Because of Turkey’s agreement to purchase Russia’s S-400 missile defence systems, Ankara is now being targeted by members of the US Congress keen to exert what amounts to a blackmail clause in CAATSA which would threaten any nation with sanctions for the “offence” of purchasing Russian weapons. As a result, Ankara is now considering purchasing Russia’s Su-57 fighter jets as a cheaper, more political viable and in many respects mechanically preferable alternative to the F-35s.
Mad Dog injects sanity into a strange debate
US Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis has already illustrated a clear flaw in the CAATSA which could see nations like Vietnam and India who must necessarily do arms deals with Russia in the service of upgrading their older Soviet and Russian made systems, being punished by the US for a long-standing geopolitical reality. While India and Vietnam are both pivoting closer to the US in terms of arms agreements, neither nation can afford to merely dump their old stockpiles of actively used Soviet/older Russian equipment. Because of this, Mattis suggested a reasonable exemption to CAATSA for such nations.
Turkophobia in the US Congress
Turkey now finds itself in an equal and opposite position vis-a-vis Vietnam and India as a NATO member that is increasingly pivoting towards an enhanced partnership with Russia. However, unlike India which has already been sufficiently bullied into cancelling orders of new weapons from Russia, Turkey has stated that it will not tolerate any threats from the US over its sovereign right to buy weapons from which ever nation it wishes to purchase them from.
But while the Pentagon’s moderate approach to CAATSA both in respect of Vietnam and India as well as Turkey is being ignored by CAATSA absolutists in Congress, the Congressional obstructionists to the F-35 deal have found allies in some predictable and one unusual place.
A new anti-Turkish alliance in the eastern Mediterranean and among US based pressure groups
For much of the 20th and 21st centuries, the large American based Hellenic and Armenian lobbies have agitated for a less friendly US approach to Turkey. For the Armenian lobby, the main goal is to convince the US Federal government to recognise the tragic events of 1915 as “The Armenian Genocide” while the Hellenic lobby has sought to persuade Washington to pressure Ankara into acknowledging the early 20th century conflict in western Anatolia as the “Pontic Genocide”. Additionally, the US Hellenic lobby has for years attempted to persuade NATO to take a tougher line on the status of Northern Cyprus. Thus far, none of these lobbying attempts have met with the desired success of the respective lobbies at a Federal level.
While the US based Jewish lobby is traditionally more powerful than either the Hellenic or Armenian lobbies, the US Jewish lobby has generally had little negative to say about Turkey in-line with the fact that of all of the Muslim majority governments in the region Tel Aviv had its best relations with Ankara, as well as the overriding reality that Turkey never passed any antisemitic legislation as most of the powers of Europe did prior to the mid-20th century.
But with Turkish President Erdogan openly calling for a wider pan-Islamic movement for Palestine, all the while calling “Israel” a terrorist state, the US Jewish lobby like “Israeli” politicians, have joined traditional foes of Turkey in openly agitating for a more anti-Turkish position form the US government.
This has expressed itself both domestically in the US and geopolitically in terms of “Israel’s” new regional partnerships. Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that Gilad Erdan, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud faction has called for Tel Aviv to recognise the events of 1915 as an “Armenian Genocide”. If “Israel” were to officially to do this, it would represent a clear break between Tel Aviv and Ankara and quite possibly a point of no return. The more Turkey stands up for Palestine, the more voices like those of Erdan will become amplified in arguing for a move that is less about Armenia (a traditionally anti-Zionist nation) than about sending a clear message to Turkey that the partnership has run its course.
From healthy relations to the ultimate strain
Turkey was the first Muslim majority nation to recognise “Israel” and prior to recent decades, Ankara and Tel Aviv have had a generally healthy relationship. This dramatically changed in 2010 when “Israeli” commandos illegally boarded the MV Mavi Marmara in international waters. The MV Mavi Marmara was a privately chartered Turkish flagged ship carrying mostly Turkish activists on their way to Gaza in order to deliver much needed humanitarian supplies to besieged Palestinians. The gruesome raid killed ten Turks and resulted in the lowest ebb in Ankara-Tel Aviv relations until now.
Pipeline politics no more
The incident resulted in the expulsion of Tel Aviv’s ambassador to Ankara and a formal downgrading in relations. In 2016, the two sides reconciled, primarily out of pragmatic motives. At the time, both “Israel” and Turkey hoped to jointly participate in a pipeline that would transport gas from northern Iraq through Turkey and into “Israel”.
However, since then, the plans for such Turkey to “Israel” East Mediterranean pipeline have stalled. Instead, Tel Aviv has pivoted closer to Turkey’s regional rival Egypt (which has said next to nothing about Palestine in recent days), while most importantly there is now talk of an EU sponsored East Mediterranean pipeline between “Israel”, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.
According to the pro-Brussels New Europe,
“The EastMed gas pipeline would circumvent Turkey, which has increased tensions with Cyprus, Greece and Israel recently, providing a way to transport newly discovered gas supplies from the East Mediterranean to Europe. The talks in Nicosia in May follow a memorandum of understanding regarding the EastMed pipeline, which was signed in December.
According to the Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA), the EastMed will connect the recently discovered gas fields in the Levantine Basin, in the southeast Mediterranean, with mainland Greece and is projected to carry 8-14 billion cubic meters per year of natural gas to Greece and Europe.
According to DEPA, the approximately 1900 kilometer long pipeline (700 kilometers on-shore, 1200 off-shore) consists of the three following main sections, as well as compressor stations located in Cyprus and Crete: a pipeline from the fields to Cyprus, a pipeline connecting Cyprus to Crete, and a pipeline from Crete crossing mainland Greece up to the Ionian coast.
From there the EastMed can link up with the offshore Poseidon pipeline enabling the delivery of additional diversified sources from the Levantine to Italy and beyond. The EastMed pipeline is preliminarily designed to have exit points in Cyprus, Crete, and mainland Greece as well as the connection point with the Poseidon pipeline”.
The deal to create such a pipeline was sealed in December of 2017 while glowing reports from pro-EU media touted the deal as a means of allowing Europe to decrease its dependence on Russian gas while also offering “Israel” a chance to swap Turkey for EU partners. As Turkey’s long paralytic bid to join the EU is now de-facto over, both Europe and “Israel’s” cooperation over a new East Mediterranean gas pipeline has the effect of drawing Russia and Turkey into an even closer partnership than the one they are currently in.
At the moment the Turkstream pipeline designed to bring Russian gas into Europe via Turkey is a major joint project between Moscow and Ankara. Now, both the EU and “Israel” are looking to challenge this route with a pipeline of their own in a similar region. In reality, there is enough demand for gas in Europe and “Israel” to mean that both pipelines can coexist, but the geopolitical optics are clear enough. Tel Aviv has joined forces with the most anti-Ankara states in the EU in order to cut Turkey out of “Israel’s” future.
The importance of Turkey’s Soft Power in the Sunni Muslim world
President Erdogan has already proved himself to be the ‘Sultan of Soft Power’ in the wider Sunni Muslim world. Without clear leadership from Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Qatar and with Saddam’s always controversial Iraqi government long out of power, Erdogan has positioned himself as a champion for Palestine not only in Turkey and the Sunni Arab world but beyond. Because of this, one should never underestimate how far Turkey will take its support of Palestine vis-a-vis Tel Aviv, not least because the more Erdogan voices his opinions in support of Palestine, the more he is respected and supported both in Turkey and far beyond.
“Israel” supporting Turkey’s main rivals
Because “Israel” has taken clear moves away from Turkey and towards its hated Hellenic rivals, officials in Ankara who in the past may have been hesitant to sever ties with Tel Aviv because of economic considerations may now be much closer to doing so. “Israel’s” intensifying military cooperation with both Greece and Cyprus are a further sign that when it comes to Turkey, Tel Aviv is doing everything in its power to replace its once healthy Turkish partnership with that of countries with notoriously poor and always heated relations with Ankara.
Then there is the issue of Kurdish ethno-nationalism in both Syria and Iraq. Uniquely in the world, the United States and “Israel” are supporters of Kurdish separatism both in northern Syria and northern Iraq. President Erdogan has already made it clear that this is one of several red lines that “Israel” can cross in respect of maintaining even semi-normal relations. During the attempted illegal Kurdish succession from Iraq in the autumn of 2017, Erdogan posed the following rhetorical statements to Kurdish secessionists in Iraq,
“Who will recognize your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel?…
…“You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you!”
Turkish leaders are increasingly angry with the US prioritising “Israeli” grievances over the traditional Ankara-Washington partnership. This has been made all the more impactful from the Turkish perspective because while “Israel” is not formally a member of NATO, Turkey has been a member since 1952. This has now been compounded by the fact that western financial institutions are speculating against the Turkish Lira in a move that Erdogan has rightly identified as a form of hybrid war against Ankara on the eve of a major election.
With “Israel” aligning with the global Armenian lobby, the Hellenic nations of the EU and with Kurdish ethno-nationalists in Syria and Iraq, Turkey is now considering dropping the F-35 purchases all together and buying the Russian made so-called “F-35 killer” – the Su-57. Turkey’s decision is being equally swayed by the fact that within the US, the generally pro-“Israel” Jewish lobby has teamed up with the US based Armenian and Hellenic lobbies to push for an even more anti-Ankara policies in Washington.
While Turkey has been careful not to immediately sever any economic ties to the US or “Israel”, Ankara has instead opted to wait and see what both Washington and Tel Aviv will do next. In this sense, Turkey has not pushed away its fellow NATO member America nor has Turkey intentionally severed any economic ties with “Israel”. Ankara has instead opted to keep its options open and to ultimately take the option which it believes is most conducive to Turkey’s own national interests. Turkey’s pragmatic understanding of the real art of the deal is leading Turkey to a logical position where it has found that Russia is a far more amiable partner than the US and America’s traditional allies and dependants. Thus, Turkey’s Russian partnership is built on something far more practicable than historical precedent: it is based on reason, logic and self-interest – the most compelling factors in any geopolitical agreement.