13th Oct 2019

Turkey on collision course with Nato over Iran

  • Turkey insists that Iran should not be mentioned as a direct threat to Nato (Photo: Vassilena)

Turkey's reluctance to consider Tehran a nuclear threat has put Ankara on a collision course with the US and European Nato members, as the alliance is negotiating the terms of a missile defence system aimed primarily at potential threats from Iran.

Ankara's condition for its endorsement of a Europe-wide missile defence shield, to be agreed by Nato leaders in Lisbon on 19 November, is for Iran not to be specifically mentioned as a threat.

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"We do not see any threat from any of our neighbouring countries, whether it is Iran, Russia, Syria or others," Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said during the weekend as he was visiting China.

"I state quite clearly that Turkey will not be a frontal or flanking country [of the Nato missile shield] and we do not want to see again a zone of the Cold War and its psychology in our region," he added, noting that any Nato shield should be developed along these principles.

The line has irked the US, the main motor behind the shield, which is an upgraded version of a controversial plan by the previous George W. Bush administration.

According to unnamed US officials quoted by the Daily Telegraph, the missile defence deal is being seen as an "acid test" of Turkey's commitment to the transatlantic security alliance.

"I would say that we are not putting pressure on the Turks [in regard to missile defence]," said US defence secretary Robert Gates at a Nato meeting in Brussels on 14 October. "But we are having continuing conversations with them as one of our allies."

Meanwhile, the Turkish Security Council last week approved changes in its national security document, called the "Red Book," reportedly removing Iran and Syria and adding Israel to the list of countries posing a "major threat."

Turkish officials refused to confirm or infirm the information, pointing at the secrecy of the document. But according to the Jerusalem Post, the document accuses Israel of being a destabilising force that could provoke a regional arms race.

Israeli tourism minister Stas Meseznikov on Sunday called on Israelis to boycott Turkey as a holiday destination "out of national honour."

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have reached record lows this year after a raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla killed nine Turkish activists. Israel maintains its soldiers acted in self-defence. A UN report published in September found enough evidence to prosecute the Israelis for "willful killing."

Adding to Ankara's reluctance in backing the Nato shield are America's close links to Israel. According to the daily newspaper Today's Zaman, Ankara has sought and reportedly received assurances from the US that intelligence gathered using the missile shield's sensors will not be shared with Israel.

Under Washington's plans, the ballistic missile defence system would be rolled out in two phases. In the next two years, US Navy ships would be deployed in the Mediterranean. This would be followed by land-based interceptors in Romania and Poland and a high-tech radar in Bulgaria or Turkey by 2015.

Some critics are still unconvinced about its efficiency. Washington's new anti-missile strategy, published in April, relies on the "technical myth" that the systems are tested and accurate, physicists and missile-defence sceptics George Lewis and Theodore Postol wrote in a recent research paper entitled "How US strategic anti-missile defence could be made to work."

Instead of the land-based units, which may intercept a hostile missile "only by accident," the two physicists propose the use of stealth-equipped, interceptor-armed drones. "The situation is urgent, as Iran is already demonstrating countermeasures in flight tests that would render both the GMD and SM-3 long-range missile defence systems ineffective," Mr Lewis wrote.

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