Written by JINSA
JINSA Report #999
Ed. Note: Turkish media jumped on a sentence in JINSA Report #995 in which we worried about the potential compromise of Western military technology by Turkey as it expands its relations with Iran and Syria (and Brazil, Hamas and Hezbollah). We weren't the only ones worried. A member of our Board of Advisors with long experience in U.S. defense policy wrote the following:
As a member of NATO, Turkey has access to a wide array of American technology that, if compromised, could spell real danger for U.S. operations in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and threaten allies that rely on American equipment and training. Turkey's increasingly close relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and, recently, Russia, should cause the United States to monitor Turkey closely with an eye toward the damage that could be done to American interests.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has shown no interest in the radical reorientation going on inside of Turkey. The widespread arrest of past and present Turkish military figures along with a large number of others has not sparked even a comment from the State Department or Pentagon, and nor from the White House. The participation of the Turkish government with the IHH in the Gaza flotilla - and the corresponding inflammatory rhetoric that has emanated from the Turkish government - received even less attention. The result is that the Turkish government thinks it has a free hand with Israel, as well as with Iran - although it is peeved the U.S. did not back the Turkish-Brazilian deal for a portion of Iran's nuclear materials.
A particular worry is the Turkish intelligence services, to which Prime Minister Erdogan has appointed two radical Muslim civilians to key positions: Hakan Fidan as head of Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT), Turkey's foreign intelligence service; and Muammer GÃ¼ler as Undersecretary for Public Order and Security, which heads Turkey's counterterrorism service. The intelligence services are playing a key role in separating the Turkish military from Israel and in the removal of those they see as a threat to the current government.
The big risk is that the intelligence services, conflating their very strong hatred of Israel with their support of Israel's - and America's - enemies, will grab equipment and information from the Turkish military and share it with those enemies.
No one can competently say what Turkey is discussing - or sharing - with Hamas and Hezbollah, or with Iran and Syria. Until the Gaza flotilla, Israel did not collect intelligence on Turkey, and it is unlikely the U.S. has paid much attention.
Turkey has the third largest air force in NATO (some 930 aircraft) after the U.S. and the UK. Of these, 230 are F-16's (Blocks 20, 40 and 50) and Turkey is a Level 3 partner in the forthcoming Joint Strike Fighter. Like the U.S., Turkey has KC-135 refueling tankers, meaning that the Turkish Air Force can operate just about anywhere on a sustained basis (or could provide refueling to Iranian F-14's or Syrian Sukhois and MiGs). Turkey also has four AWACS aircraft that can be used to direct air battles - their own or those of their new allies. This is a particular risk to the U.S. because it exposes all U.S. assets in the Gulf area to Turkish real-time surveillance, and it could give to the Iranians and Syrians a strong ability to actively target U.S. bases and operations, as well as U.S. air, naval and land assets in the region.
Turkey also has a relatively strong Navy with a number of German-designed diesel electric submarines, modern torpedoes, and surface ships equipped with missiles and gun systems. Its navy is probably not capable of challenging the U.S., but Turkey could transfer sensitive systems to America's adversaries. Among the systems in Turkish hands that could pose serious threats are the U.S. Harpoon missile, the Norwegian Penguin, the Exocet from France, Sea Skua from BAE systems, Hellfire II from the U.S. and others.
Turkey has a strong amphibious capability with an assortment of landing craft, mobile armor systems, self-propelled guns, anti-tank systems and a range of equipment that, if in Iranian or Syrian hands, could spell real trouble. For example, Turkey has more than 850 Stinger missiles (now locally built). These missiles are the same ones the Mujahedeen used to great effect against Russian helicopter gunships. Also in the Turkish army are tens of thousands of LAW antitank rockets, TOW antitank missiles and the very effective Russian Kornet antitank missile. Any of these systems, but particularly the TOW missiles, if transferred would significantly strengthen the Iranians and Syrians.
There are countermeasures systems, night vision equipment, communications gear, command and control and capabilities from other countries, such as advanced Israeli drones, that in the hands of either the Iranians or Syrians, could tip the balance in the region and directly harm U.S. operations and leverage while also posing a serious operational threat.
At this time, the U.S. has not taken any steps to moderate the flow of technology, equipment, systems and supplies to Turkey. In fact, the reverse is true as the Obama Administration has been building its "pro-Muslim" foreign policy in large part around Turkey. And it is true that in some areas, most particularly in Afghanistan, the Turks are making a contribution. Turkey has a small contingent responsible for security around Kabul, and also assists in training the Afghan Army and police forces. But even this positive is a red flag, because Turkey's close relationship to Iran could pose a serious risk if Ankara and Tehran expand their relationship to cover the evolving situation in Afghanistan and connected with it, Islamic ideological collaboration.
Turkey is a powerful country for many reasons - its NATO membership, its heavy investment in the military, its historical position in the region and its strong alliance with the United States. That the United States is standing by and waiting for the next example of Turkey's turn away from the West to happen is narrow-minded and reckless.
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan and nonsectarian educational organization committed to explaining the need for a prudent national security policy for the United States, addressing the security requirements of both the United States and the State of Israel, and strengthening the strategic cooperation relationship between these two great democracies.