F-35 Adir Jets.
(photo credit: COURTESY IAF)
Turkey’s radical spin under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hardly a new story. Israel has been facing a militant and aggressive Turkey ever since the IDF ended Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009.
Just a few weeks ago, Turkey denounced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “blatant racism” after he called Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. In response, Netanyahu said Erdogan was a “dictator” and a “joke”.
Thankfully last week, the United States woke up to what is happening in Turkey and decided to take action. On Monday, the Pentagon announced that it was halting the scheduled delivery of equipment related to the stealth F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, marking the first concrete US step to block delivery of the aircraft to its NATO ally.
The move came in response to Turkey’s announcement that it was going to purchase an advanced Russian surface-to-air missile system known as the S-400. “Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended,” Air Force Lt. Col. Colonel Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.
In addition, four US senators two weeks ago introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the transfer of F-35s to Turkey until the US government certifies that Ankara will not take delivery of the S-400 system.
The move has important strategic consequences for the State of Israel. The Israeli Air Force currently has a fleet of 14 F-35 jets, known in Israel by the name Adir, and is expected to receive 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an extremely low radar signature allowing them to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as to evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400.
For some time now, Israel has been looking at Turkey and wondering whether it is on its way to becoming another version of Iran. Until the Islamic revolution in 1979, Israel and Iran were the closest of allies. The countries jointly invested in defense systems and Jerusalem sold significant amounts of weapons to Tehran.
All that changed when the ayatollahs took over and the weapons once sold by Israel were turned against it. Israel and Turkey also once had a similar relationship. The IAF, for example, used to train freely over Turkish airspace, and the chiefs of staff of both countries used to frequently meet to share intelligence.
Now though, the countries no longer have an ambassador posted in each other’s country. Last May in an incident carefully orchestrated by Erdogan’s government, Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Naeh, was forced to undergo a humiliating security check at Istanbul Ataturk Airport with media cameras rolling.
With Erdogan continuing to radicalize his country, the question has to be asked whether the same could one day happen in Turkey that happened 40 years ago in Tehran. Could Turkey one day turn into a clear enemy of Israel and the rest of the West?
On the one hand, Turkey is a member of NATO and as such, is committed to certain Western values. Its military regularly trains with other Western armed forces – including the United States – and much of its equipment comes from America as well.
Nevertheless, the US, as well as NATO, should be wary of what is happening in Turkey. Erdogan openly supports Hamas, attacks Israel and pours massive amounts of money into Turkish-supported Islamic institutions and organizations in east Jerusalem. He also uses his consul general in Israel’s capital city to funnel aid into the Gaza Strip.
As expected, Turkey is already blaming Israel for the suspension of the F-35 delivery. A Turkish source told the TRT news agency that Israel pressured the US to stop the deal. While Turkish defense companies have participated in the production of some parts of the advanced aircraft, the report quoted Turkish sources as saying that Israel wanted the deal with Ankara canceled to take over Turkey’s role in the production.
The US made the right decision to suspend the aircraft deliveries. Turkey needs to decide whose side it is on. Does it belong to the West and NATO, or is it continuing its radical turn to the east? Erdogan should let us know.
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