Turkey has already started to see the benefits of its decision to host a special radar for NATO's planned missile shield as the United States promised to transfer three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters to Ankara's control for use against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced Sept. 14 that the NATO radar would be installed at a military base in Kürecik in the eastern province of Malatya to counter possible missile attacks from rogue nations. Turkish defense officials said the radar system would be operated through a base in Germany where a Turkish general will work alongside U.S. and NATO officers.
U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Frank Ricciardone told reporters Sept. 30 that the U.S. had agreed to transfer three AH-1Ws to the Turkish military to be used in the fight against the PKK.
"All this is valuable, but is still a small price for taking the risk of hosting the NATO radar. Iran already has expressed its ire against Turkey," said an Ankara-based defense analyst familiar with U.S.-Turkish relations. "So something more is expected to come from the United States, probably in terms of equipment and in political support."
Turkey acquired 10 AH-1W Super Cobras from the U.S. in the 1990s and have been using them effectively against the PKK. Following several crashes, however, it now has six operational choppers and Ankara has asked Washington to transfer a few more.
The U.S. rejected earlier Turkish requests for the transfer, saying its Marine Corps had roughly 170 AH-1Ws and they were being used in Afghanistan. As U.S. forces now prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in the upcoming months, three Super Cobras are expected to be given to Turkey from the Afghanistan fleet. Turkey also has more than 20 earlier models of the Cobra family, all produced by Bell Helicopter Textron.
These earlier attack helicopters have single engines, and their performances are very limited, compared to those of the AH-1W. Bell Helicopter Textron began production of the AH-1Z, the latest member of the Cobra family, in recent years and delivered the first batch of the gunships to the U.S. Marine Corps this January.
Bell Helicopter Textron won Turkey's first tender with the AH-1Z in 2002, but the U.S. company and the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or SSM, Turkey's procurement agency, were unable to agree on the gunship's features and price for three years.
As a result, SSM canceled that decision and opened a new bidding process that was then boycotted by American manufacturers. Eventually, Turkey selected Italian AgustaWestland's T-129, a Turkish version of the A-129 Mangusta International, over South Africa's Denel, maker of the AH-2 Rooivalk. Presently, AgustaWestland and Turkish Aerospace Industries, its Turkish partner, are manufacturing a total of 59 T-129s, worth billions of dollars, for the Turkish Army.
A first prototype crashed in Italy late last year, but TAI managed to successfully fly another prototype in Turkey several months ago. The first deliveries are scheduled for late next year, and the gunship is expected to enter service in the Turkish Army in 2013. Turkey and Italy have also agreed to potentially sell the helicopter to allied nations.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently announced that a number of MQ-1 Predator drones would also be acquired from the U.S.; Turkey had asked for both unarmed and armed versions of the Predator nearly three years ago. The MQ-1 Predator is mainly the surveillance version, and the MQ-9 Reaper is the armed version.
The U.S. extensively uses the Reaper in attacking al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist and insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The U.S. has sold the Reaper just to Britain for use in Afghanistan.
Unless Turkey Alters Foreign Policy, Iran Warns of Problems
A key aide to Iran's supreme leader said Turkey must radically rethink its policies on Syria, the NATO missile shield and promoting Muslim secularism in the Arab world -- or face trouble from its own people and neighbors, Reuters reported.
In an interview with the semi-official Mehr news agency, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's military adviser described Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's invitation to Arab countries to adopt Turkish-style democracy as "unexpected and unimaginable."
Turkey and Iran, the Middle East's two major non-Arab Muslim states, are vying for influence in the Arab world as it goes through the biggest shake-up since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a rivalry that has strained their previously close relations.
While cheering crowds greeted Erdoğan on his recent tour of North Africa, Tehran accused him of serving the interests of the United States by opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on street protests and agreeing to NATO's missile defense.
"The behavior of Turkish statesmen towards Syria and Iran is wrong and, I believe, they are acting in line with the goals of America," Major-General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told Mehr. "If Turkey does not distance itself from this unconventional political behavior it will have both the Turkish people turning away from it domestically and the neighboring countries of Syria, Iraq and Iran [reassessing] their political ties."
Turkey's decision to deploy a NATO missile early warning system has most angered Tehran, which sees this as a U.S. ploy to protect Israel from any counter-attack should Israel target Iran's nuclear facilities.
Rahim-Safavi said trade ties with Turkey -- which is an importer of Iranian gas and exporter of an array of manufactured goods -- would be in jeopardy if Ankara does not change its course.
"If Turkish political leaders fail to make their foreign policy and ties with Iran clear, they will run into problems. If, as they claim, they intend to raise the volume of contracts with Iran to the $20 billion mark, they will ultimately have to accommodate Iran."
Death of Prime Minister's Mother Softens Rivalry with Opposition
The main opposition leader visited Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday to offer condolences for his mother's death, melting the rivalry between the two party leaders.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, together with deputy party leaders Erdoğan Toprak, Gürsel Tekin and Akif Hamzaçebi, paid a visit to Erdoğan at his house in Istanbul. The meeting was closed to the press and no statement was made afterward.
The photos released, however, show that the meeting was warm, despite the recent tension over a number of political debates, including the prime minister's accusations that CHP mayors were receiving fund from German foundations.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Abdel-Aziz Sharaf, Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces General Hussein Tantawi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr sent messages of condolence to Erdoğan on Saturday.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad phoned Erdoğan on Saturday and conveyed his condolences.
Meanwhile, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani and Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister İrsen Küçük visited Erdoğan in Istanbul on Saturday and offered their condolences.
Tenzile Erdogan died on Friday morning at Medipol Hospital where she was receiving treatment for some time. She was hospitalized with stomach pains and high fever on Sept. 30. Doctors diagnosed her illness as acute cholecystitis. Erdoğan underwent cholecystectomy surgery at the Medipol Hospital Oct. 1.
Thousands of people filled the courtyard of an Istanbul mosque where funeral prayers were held before the burial Saturday and spilled out into the street.
Erdoğan, who helped carry the coffin along with President Abudullah Gül, was seen weeping.
Pro-Kurdish BDP Says Path to Peace is Through Ocalan
The co-chairman of Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, said the path to peace in the country's Kurdish issue passes through Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
On Sunday, BDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş spoke during a sit-in protest staged by the BDP in Diyarbakır, which marked the anniversary of Öcalan being forced to leave Syria, previously a safe haven, in the face of mounting pressure from Turkey in 1998. Police obstructed a march planned to be held in Gemlik Bursa. Gemlik is across the water from İmralı Island, where Öcalan is currently imprisoned.
"If the [Justice and Development Party] AKP really wants peace, it has to work for it. It has to exert much more effort if it really wants an end to bloodshed as much as we do. And, today, the most important path to peace passes through İmralı [Island]," Demirtaş said. "It is hard, impossible, to ensure peace as long as Öcalan stays in İmralı."
Fifteen BDP deputies, including BDP co-chairwoman, Gülten Kışanak, attended the sit-in protest in Diyarbakır.
Öcalan was captured in Kenya on Feb. 15, 1999, while being transferred from the Greek Embassy to Nairobi International Airport in an operation conducted by the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT.
He was sentenced to death the same year, but his sentence was suspended and later commuted to life imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished in Turkey in August 2002.
NATO Missile Shield 'Not Targeted at Anyone,' Spain Says
NATO's planned missile defense system is "not targeted against anyone," Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said Friday, a day after Russia criticized Madrid's decision to join the program.
On Wednesday, during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced that Spain had agreed to host four US naval ships equipped with interceptors designed to knock out incoming missiles.
Russia's foreign ministry objected to the plan Thursday, saying the move could end its cooperation with a NATO missile shield.
The ministry said the United States had decided to deploy the warships "without collective discussion" and the move raised concerns about a "significant buildup of U.S. missile potential in the European zone," according to a ministry statement. "If this continues, then the chance created at the (2010) NATO-Russia summit in Lisbon to turn anti-missile defense from an area of confrontation to an area of cooperation may be lost."
Leaders of the 28-member NATO alliance gave their backing last year for the Europe-wide ballistic missile shield, which U.S. officials say, is aimed at thwarting missile threats from Iran.
"The shield is a deterrent, it is not offensive, in order to defend ourselves. It is not targeted against anyone," Jimenez said during an interview with Spanish public television. "Russia was informed by Spain directly before the decision was announced because we have a special relationship. The reaction was the one which Russia traditionally has. There was no secrecy, nothing strange, not even a change in policy."
The four ships will be deployed at the U.S. naval base in Rota in southern Spain by 2013.
Washington has also obtained agreements with Poland, Romania and Turkey to host elements of the missile defense shield.
U.S. officials say the Europe-wide ballistic missile shield is needed to protect against threats from Iran and the Middle East. Moscow has expressed concern that the shield could target Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles used as nuclear deterrents.
Syrian Army Defector Calls for 'Military Aid'
A former Syrian colonel asks for 'military aid' to topple the Damascus regime, as he speaks to the Hürriyet Daily News at a refugee camp in Hatay
The international community and the United Nations should provide armed help to Syria's opposition movement so it can finally remove President Bashar al-Assad from power, said a former Syrian colonel-turned-defector now staying in a Turkish refugee camp.
"If the international community helps us, then we can do it, but we are sure the struggle will be more difficult without arms," Riad al-Asaad, a former colonel in the Syrian, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an Oct. 8 interview.
"The international community has helped opposition forces in Libya, but we have been waiting and suffering for seven months. The situation is less complicated in Syria than the situation in Libya, but we haven't received any help so far," al-Asaad said. "It is like Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, it looks very strong from outside but it can be destroyed with one big strike."
Al-Asaad is now staying in a refugee camp in the southern province of Hatay after escaping from his post in the Syrian Air Force in July. Nearly 7,608 refugees are currently sheltering in Turkish camps along the border with Syria.
The number of military defections in Syria is increasing, said al-Asaad, who is the leader of a group of similar defectors that are now calling themselves the Free Syrian Army.
"Right now there are more than 10,000 defectors in the Free Syrian Army, and the number is increasing day by day," al-Asaad said. "Defecting soldiers are setting up ambushes against government forces to prevent them from entering the villages."
Al-Asaad said the United Nations should support the Free Syrian Army with military means while also declaring some parts of the Arab republic's air space as a "no-fly zone."
Despite asking for help from outside, al-Asaad said many Syrians, including himself, did not favor a military intervention against the country. "Nobody is in favor of any foreign country's intervention into Syria."
But al-Assad's regime is weakening by the day, the colonel said. He also said the orders to kill Syrian civilians were being made directly by al-Assad and his brother, Maher al-Assad, who has his own fighting force conducting operations separate from the normal military.
"The Syrian regime and Bashar al-Assad would do anything to stay in power, they don't care about killing many people."
Al-Asaad also said he was in touch with the Syrian National Council, which announced an alliance between various groups last week during a meeting in Istanbul, and added that dissidents inside Syria were also supporting the council.
Recounting the story of his defection, al-Asaad said he was questioned in Aleppo in July and forced to confess that his own relatives were among the country's "armed dissidents."
"When they wanted to take me to Hama Airport, I realized that I was going to be killed there, and I escaped with my family to Jabal al-Zawiyah district. Then I fled Turkey," al-Asaad said. "They don't only arrest and kill the protestors, they also torture their families and relatives."
Demonstrations against the regime, however, will not stop despite all the oppression and killings, he said: "People know that the torture and oppression will increase more if they give up."
Turkey's Policy Changing toward Syria
Turkey is piling pressure on Syria with border military exercises, economic sanctions and the harboring of Syrian opposition groups and army defectors, but Ankara must tread carefully to avoid arousing the suspicion of Arab states or spurring Syrian counter-measures.
Turkey has shifted, in the space of six months, from being Syria's best friend to a center of gravity for opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Having started out by advising al-Assad to exercise restraint and make reforms when pro-democracy unrest first erupted in March, Turkey is now on the verge of invoking sanctions against a government it once sat down with for joint cabinet meetings.
Syrian dissidents abroad, and some who have managed to sneak out of the country, have flocked to Istanbul over the past few months to give the revolution a united political front. And Turkey has given sanctuary to the most senior Syrian military officer to defect, while this week it began maneuvers in a province over which Syria has had longstanding claims.
"Turkey is clearly taking sides now," said Cengiz Aktar, professor at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University. "Turkey expects this opposition and the upheaval in the country will eventually finish the job and the revolution will bring an end to the regime."
But Turkey's policy shift, which has aligned Ankara more closely with the West, comes with risks.
"Syrian intelligence might use every opportunity to instigate Kurdish violence," Aktar said, referring to Turkey's restive minority population.
Aktar said Turkey, whose clout in the Middle East has grown out of a combination of economic growth and secular democracy, could see goodwill evaporate if it is perceived to be meddling in Syria.
"At the end of the day, Turkey risks being told to mind its own business and to first put its house in order," Aktar said. "The more it wants to be a soft power the more it is going to be told by the international community to apply the same standards with its Kurds minority."
For all their closeness over the past decade, the two countries almost went to war in the late 1990s over Syria giving refuge to Kurdish militants fighting the Turkish state. Living under Turkish protection, Syrian Colonel Riad al-As'aad exhorted his former comrades to desert to organize the armed struggle he believes is needed to drive al-Assad from power.
"We assure them (the Syrian people) they should be patient, and God-willing, very soon, Bashar will be between their hands," As'aad told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. "We must be patient. We hope the Syrian people will be stronger and remain committed to continue to bring down the regime."
Revolted by the killing of Syrian civilians, and seeing the tide of history turn with the "Arab Spring" of popular uprisings, Turkey has calculated that its long-term interest lies in supporting the Syrian people's struggle for democracy. That Syria, like Turkey, has a Sunni Muslim majority, while al-Assad and his clique belong to the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, made that choice even simpler.
The breakdown in their relationship leaves Iran as Syria's closest backer, though the Russian and Chinese vetoes earlier this week of a United Nations Security Council draft resolution censuring Syria showed al-Assad retains some support elsewhere. Anti-al-Assad factions meeting in Istanbul -- ranging from Islamists through liberals, along with ethnic and tribal leaders -- have coalesced under a revolutionary Syrian National Council with a stated aim of ousting al-Assad within six months.
Offering itself as a potential future interim government, this broad-based opposition group has helped instill some confidence among governments, like Turkey, who disapprove of Assad but had not known who to support. Hitherto, they have feared al-Assad's fall would leave Syria without a central authority capable
One Western diplomat, asked about Turkey's hesitation in the past to ditch al-Assad, said Ankara had come to see him as "the devil we know."
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, who had previously enjoyed a close rapport with al-Assad, is expected to visit a camp in the border province of Hatay, sheltering some of the 7,500 Syrians who have fled the violence at home. Last month, Erdoğan predicted that al-Assad would be ousted "sooner or later," but how far he is willing to go to make it happen is an open question.
"What we have at the moment is a war of words between al-Assad and Erdoğan," said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based security analyst. "It's a bit like two jilted lovers, because they were very, very close. There is a lot of personal spite."
Compounding tensions, Turkey this week began military exercises in Hatay province, which Syria has had longstanding claims over since it was ceded to Turkey in 1939, when France controlled Syria and Lebanon. The exercises, relatively small-scale logistical drills involving a large contingent of less experienced reservist troops, are seen as a symbolic reminder to Damascus that the second largest army in NATO is just across the border.
"It is part of the Turkish government's campaign to apply increased psychological pressure on the regime in Damascus because previous warnings have gone unheeded," said Fadi Hakura, analyst at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank.
Turkey has begun intercepting arms bound for Syria passing through its waters and air space.
Some analysts say it is easy to foresee Turkey eventually helping to equip and organize Syrian rebels, like Colonel As'aad, who want to wage an armed struggle against those units of al-Assad's security forces leading the repression of protesters.
Other analysts believe it would be a mistake for Turkey to go beyond support for peaceful protests by letting it become a rear base for an armed opposition or being seen as a provocateur in Syria's internal conflict, especially if it developed a stronger sectarian dimension.