Turkey’s expulsion from F-35 programme to irrevocably damage ties with US

The end of Turkey’s role in the F-35 programme was a product of a serious miscalculation by Ankara.

ISTANBUL - Turkey’s expulsion from the US-led F-35 fighter jet programme heralds future tremors in Ankara’s troubled relations with the United States and other Western allies.

The Trump administration ended Turkey’s participation in the multibillion-dollar defence project citing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s insistence to buy Russian S-400 air defence batteries despite warnings from Washington that the Russian system could be used by Moscow to spy on the F-35.

Roland Popp, a security analyst specialising on the Middle East, said the end of Turkey’s role in the F-35 programme was a product of a serious miscalculation by Ankara.

“The S-400 deal was meant to portray both a symbolic distancing from the West as well as a first important step to diversify military procurement” by Turkey, Popp said via e-mail. He said Ankara expected its Western partners to tolerate the move.

“There are signs that Erdogan and his people are indeed surprised about the harshness of the US reaction but it is too late to retract now,” Popp added.

Erdogan relied on a message of support he said he received from US President Donald Trump at a meeting in June. Trump said recently he had not decided on whether to impose additional sanctions on Turkey but anti-Turkish pressure is building in the US Congress.

A resolution tabled in the US Senate calls for sanctions and demands that the administration convene talks at NATO to discuss threats posed by Russia and mull Turkey’s membership in the alliance.

The US decision came after months of warnings by Washington and other NATO partners of Turkey. European diplomats voiced frustration at the unwillingness of the Ankara government to review the decision to buy the S-400.

Turkey says the S-400 addresses legitimate defence needs and that the United States refused to sell the American Patriot system at similar attractive terms.

“It is not fair to remove Turkey, a main partner, from the F-35 programme and the claim that S-400 system would jeopardise the F-35s is baseless,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.