Washington (GPA) – Despite efforts by US lawmakers to block the move, the first batch of Lockheed Martin F-35s to be sold to Turkey is expected this week.
The ceremony marking the official handover of the F-35s to be sold to Turkey is expected to take place on the twenty-first of this month. Although the fighters will not be flown to Turkey until their pilots have completed their training in the US, the ceremony on Thursday will make the F-35s legal property of the Turkish military.
Normally, this kind of sale between the US and a fellow member of NATO would presumably go off without a hitch. However, there is trouble with this particular sale due to multiple concerns about the current leadership in Ankara which includes US ‘security concerns’ fueled by other political tension points in US-Turkey relations.
One of these more smaller points of contention that have played a role in the opposition to the sales of the F-35s is the case of a US pastor, Andrew Brunson, who is currently in Turkish custody. Brunson was arrested for alleged ties to terrorist organizations including that of exiled-cleric Fethullah Gulen, FETO. The arrest of the pastor has come to the attention of several US senators, including Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina who has called the charges “bogus” and said the release of Brunson should be a condition for the sale of the F-35s.
More important then Brunson however, is the concern by Turkey’s western allies is the recent decision to purchase the S-400 air-defense missile systems from Russia as well as other areas where Ankara ‘diverges from Washington’s interests in the region’.
Turkey has been seeking to purchase the S-400 systems for a few months now but the US has been in Ankara’s ear every step of the way warning against it. Obviously, the S-400 wouldn’t be compatible with NATO defense systems already in place in Turkey, even threatening sanctions should the sale of the Russian missiles go through.
This has been part of an effort to make the Turks not only not buy the S-400s but to also try to pressure them into buying Patriot missile systems. The threats of sanctions are a new aspect to American pressure applied to Turkey, but as the Turks likely see it, sanctions for buying Russian weapons are better than preconditions that would be attached to the purchase of Patriot systems.
The US is notorious for these kinds of preconditions on the sales of weapons to their more independently minded allies like Turkey. Yet Turkey has changed their political position in the last few years and their renewed willingness to work with Russia – which has proven itself as a regional power-broker in Syria – when it is beneficial (even if this runs counter to US and NATO policy).
These concerns were all outlined in a recent letter signed by 44 senators which outlined their “concern about the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey comes against the backdrop of Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system,” and claim that if the deal goes forward it would risk placing “the F-35 technology in the hands of the deepening Russian-Turkish relationship.”
The senators also expressed concern that due to the fact that “operating to undermine US interests” which likely refers to recent clashes between Turkey and US-backed terrorists working in northern Syria under the flag of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” or SDF. The SDF is the primarily Kurdish militia in Syria that is aligned with the US and has leadership primarily filled with members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group Washington and Ankara consider terrorists.
It is unclear how the Turks are continuing to work against US interests besides just not buying missiles from them after the US agreed to occupy northern Syria with the Turks instead of the Kurds but details like this aren’t important to Congress. While Turkey is far from an ideal ally it is fairly clear that the move to block the sale of the F-35s is congressman hoping to punish Turkey for cooperating with Russia, despite the fact that Lockheed Martin doesn’t seem to care and understands the concept of having to compete with other makers of high-end equipment like Russia. It is well within Turkey’s rights to do business with whoever they please and they are clearly ready to exercise that right even in the face of US threats.