Erdogan’s NATO U-turn: What does the Turkish president have to gain?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 11 July 2023
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Erdogan’s NATO U-turn: What does the Turkish president have to gain?

  • Erdogan previously linked Sweden’s NATO bid to the EU’s acceptance of Turkiye, a candidate for the bloc’s membership since 1999

ANKARA: In a significant move ahead of the landmark NATO summit in Vilnius, Turkiye has abandoned its resistance to Sweden’s membership bid, raising questions about the concessions Ankara may have secured in return and how its role within the alliance will evolve following this pivotal decision.

Prior to the decision, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a meeting with EU Council chief Charles Michel, in which the pair explored avenues to revive cooperation between Turkiye and the EU and reinvigorate their ties. 

Erdogan previously linked Sweden’s NATO bid to the EU’s acceptance of Turkiye, a candidate for the bloc’s membership since 1999, whose accession talks have been frozen since 2018. Turkiye also emphasizes the importance of relaxing visa rules and updating customs union agreements.

Reviving relations with the US and Europe will also strengthen the Turkish economy, helping it draw in foreign investment and support central bank reserves. 

Ryan Bohl, a senior analyst for the Middle East and North Africa at the RANE Network, said Turkiye now enjoys full support from Stockholm for its EU membership aspirations. 

“While there hasn’t been a breakthrough in terms of resuming EU talks with Turkiye, Stockholm has promised to support Turkish efforts to do so. It also seems that Erdogan has secured promises to enhance economic ties between Turkiye and Sweden,” he told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHT

Erdogan previously linked Sweden’s NATO bid to the EU’s acceptance of Turkiye, a candidate for the bloc’s membership since 1999, whose accession talks have been frozen since 2018

In preparation for the NATO summit, US officials engaged in intensive diplomacy, holding several meetings with their Turkish counterparts. Ahead of their meeting with Erdogan on Tuesday evening, US President Joe Biden expressed his readiness to collaborate with Turkiye in enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area. 

One of Ankara’s key priorities is the modernization of its F-16 fleet, which Erdogan requested in October 2021 with the $6 billion deal that covers the sale of 40 jets as well as modernization kits for 79 Turkish warplanes.

Bohl said Turkiye’s recent move will be well received in Washington and increase the likelihood of the White House sending the bill regarding the sale of F-16 jets to the Congress.

“There will still be obstacles there because of Turkiye’s human rights record concerns from certain congresspeople, but the White House will likely put their influence to work overcoming that in time,” he added. 

On Monday, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez revealed discussions between Turkiye and the Biden administration regarding the pause placed on the potential sale of F-16s to Ankara were ongoing, indicating that a decision could be reached within the next week. 

The White House is also giving positive signals about it, with Biden “clear and unequivocal” on sending F-16s to Turkiye, said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Tuesday during a news conference in Vilnius. 

“This is in our national interest, it’s in the interest of NATO that Turkiye gets that capability,” he added.

During a conversation with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Biden signaled that he was working on a deal with Turkiye and Greece to strengthen NATO defense capabilities while facilitating Sweden’s entry into the alliance.

Turkiye will soon present the accession protocol for Sweden to the Turkish parliament, which will subsequently vote on its approval. However, no specific timeline has been announced for Sweden’s immediate membership, and the Turkish parliament, which is mainly controlled by a coalition led by Erdogan’s party, goes on holiday soon. 

Turkiye has long accused Sweden of permitting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to operate and raise funds, while also criticizing Stockholm for recent Islamophobic demonstrations, including the burning of the Qur’an. 

Despite these challenges, the two countries have collaborated closely to address Turkiye’s security concerns. Sweden recently amended its constitution, tightened its anti-terrorism laws, and resumed arms exports to Turkiye. Sweden also cooperated with Turkish security officials to track terrorist activities. 

Emre Caliskan, a research fellow at the UK-based Foreign Policy Centre, said this is a typical example of Erdogan’s leadership as the process is always more important than the result for him. 

“His aim is to show that Turkiye is an indispensable part of the Western system, but at the same time to send the message that we are not surrendering to you. In doing so, he forced Western leaders, who refused to meet with him before, to call him once a week,” said Caliskan. 

Additionally, Turkiye and Sweden have agreed to establish a new bilateral security compact, with Stockholm presenting a roadmap for its ongoing counterterrorism efforts. NATO will also create a special coordinator for counterterrorism within the alliance.

According to Bohl, while Turkiye’s efforts to end defense boycotts by new NATO members Finland and Sweden may enhance cohesion within the alliance, Turkiye is likely to maintain its own working relationship with Russia, potentially positioning Ankara as a NATO outlier in its confrontation with Moscow.

Following Erdogan's victory in the presidential elections in May, the decision not to obstruct Sweden's membership could generate significant political and economic optimism, reinforcing his position amid the ongoing depreciation of the Turkish lira.

Paul T. Levin, director of Stockholm University's Institute for Turkish Studies, doesn’t think Ankara can leverage Swedish NATO accession to force the EU to open up accession negotiations or to push the Customs Union modernization and visa liberalization.

“For instance, Ankara hasn’t fulfilled a number of criteria for visa liberalization, including amendments to its terrorism law. But, I do expect the F-16 deal to go through. US promises of deepening defense cooperation was the pre-condition to get Ankara to say yes to Swedish accession,” he told Arab News. 

According to Levin, the bilateral security compact is a way for Ankara and the Turkish audience to feel a little more relaxed about Sweden’s continuous work on counterterrorism efforts after Ankara removed its veto. 

“Based on my conversations with Swedish officials, they are serious about being tough on PKK in particular and they won’t backtrack on their fight against terrorism,” he said. 

For Levin, Erdogan has gained a position in the center of NATO enlargement affairs with the Swedish accession saga. 

“But it is a short-term win. In the long term, Erdogan has damaged Turkiye’s standing within the alliance by appearing as a troublemaker. It is a double-edged sword,” he added. 


Arab League welcomes Armenia’s recognition of Palestinian state

A youth carries water in Khan Yunis on the southern Gaza Strip on June 23, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 23 sec ago
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Arab League welcomes Armenia’s recognition of Palestinian state

  • ‘Influential international parties’ urged to meet their moral and historical responsibilities to the Palestinian people

CAIRO: The Arab League has welcomed Armenia’s recognition of the State of Palestine.

On Friday, Armenia’s announcement made it the latest country to recognize Palestine as a state.

While Israel continued its assault on Gaza, several countries recognized the state of Palestine, drawing strong rebukes from Israeli officials.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit welcomed Armenia’s announcement.

It is a courageous decision that reflects the standing of this friendly country on the right side of history, he said.

Gamal Roshdy, spokesperson for the secretary-general, said that the increasing recognition of the Palestinian state reflected a growing conviction among the international community that the continued occupation is not feasible and the need to implement a two-state solution.

Roshdy said that recognition represented an essential step toward the establishment of the Palestinian state on the borders of June 4, 1967.

Roshdy quoted the secretary-general, urging all countries to recognize the state of Palestine as soon as possible. The call also represents the embodiment of the two-state solution and a real contribution to achieving peace and ending the occupation,

On Friday, Egypt welcomed Armenia’s announcement.

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Egypt welcomed the decision by Armenia as a supportive step toward realizing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to end the Israeli occupation and establish their independent state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital.

Egypt valued Armenia’s support for the Palestinian cause, calling for the continuation of efforts by all parties of the international community in pursuit of creating a political horizon that allows for the revival of a genuine peace process that addresses the roots and causes of the Palestinian issue and restores the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, foremost among them their right to establish an independent state.

It called on influential international parties to assume their moral and historical responsibilities to the Palestinian people, to intervene to preserve their rights during this time of humanitarian hardship, to work to put an end to Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, and to recognize the state of Palestine as an essential step toward a just resolution of the Palestinian issue.


Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

  • Residents say Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses
  • Israeli military says it is continuing ‘intelligence-based, targeted operations’ in the Rafah area

CAIRO: Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons’ camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.
“The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis,” said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.
More than eight months into Israel’s war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza’s southern tip and the area surrounding Deir Al-Balah in the center.
Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.
The Israeli military said it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.
The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.
Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.
On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas’s military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.
In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.


Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

Updated 23 June 2024
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Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

  • Top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at ‘the highest levels... at all levels’ for speedier weapons deliveries’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday a row with the United States over weapons delays relating to the Gaza war would be resolved soon, amid simmering tensions between the allies.
“About four months ago, there was a dramatic drop in the supply of armaments arriving from the US to Israel. We got all sorts of explanations, but... the basic situation didn’t change,” he told a cabinet meeting.
“In light of what I have heard in the last day, I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future,” he added.
He said top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at “the highest levels... at all levels” for speedier weapons deliveries.
“After months of no change in this situation, I decided to give it a public expression,” he said.
Netanyahu irked Washington with a video statement earlier this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to.
Netanyahu’s latest comments came as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant flew to Washington for talks about the Gaza war.
On Thursday, the prime minister said Israel needed American ammunition to fight a “war for its existence” as it battles Hamas militants in Gaza and trades fire with Lebanese Hezbollah on its northern border.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has been fighting Hamas militants for more than eight months.


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

  • Social media video verified by Reuters showed Palestinian resident of Jenin on jeep that passed through two ambulances
  • Israeli military said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.


Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

Updated 23 June 2024
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Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

  • Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted
  • On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group said Sunday it had targeted a military position in northern Israel with an armed drone in response to the killing of an Islamist commander.
Israel and the powerful Iran-backed group, a Hamas ally, have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted on October 7.
Hezbollah’s announcement came hours after it published a video excerpt purporting to show locations in Israel along with their coordinates, amid heightening fears of an all-out conflict between the two foes.
On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh, saying he was killed “in a treacherous Zionist raid” in Khiara in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa area.
Israel later confirmed it had carried out the strike, saying Ghotmeh was responsible for supplying the Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, and Hamas with weapons in the area.
Hezbollah on Sunday said its fighters launched a strike “with an attack drone” on a military leadership position in the Beit Hillel barracks “in response to the assassination carried out by the Israeli enemy in the town of Khiara.”
The Israeli military meanwhile said in a statement that a drone had “crossed from Lebanon and fell in the area of Beit Hillel,” adding that “no injuries were reported.”
Cross-border tensions have surged over the past days, with Israel’s military announcing on Tuesday that a plan for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah responded with threats that no part of Israel would be spared in the event of an all-out war.
The Lebanese armed group on Saturday evening published a video showing Israeli positions and coordinates, along with an excerpt of Nasrallah’s speech in which he says “if war is imposed on Lebanon, the resistance will fight without restrictions or rules.”
Days earlier, it had circulated a nine-minute video showing aerial footage purportedly taken by the movement over northern Israel, including what it said were sensitive military, defense and energy facilities and infrastructure in the city and port of Haifa.
The cross-border violence has killed at least 480 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.