‘Blinding’ Israel’s defense? Turkish media says Ankara could disable US radar over F-35 deal threat
The editorial was published on Sunday by the Yeni Safak newspaper in apparent response to concerns voiced by a US Air Force official. Heidi Grant, the deputy undersecretary of the USAF for international affairs, had earlier said that Turkey’s deployment of the Russian-made S-400 long-range anti-aircraft missile system may expose vulnerabilities of the US-made F-35 Lightning II fighter jets. Turkey plans to purchase over 100 of the advanced warplanes from Lockheed Martin.
The newspaper called the implication that the planned deal may be frozen “blackmail” by Washington, and suggested that in retaliation Ankara could dismantle the Kurecik radar station. The powerful AN/TPY-2 X-band early-warning radar, which was set up by the US in the eastern province of Malatya in 2012, is part of NATO’s system of airspace surveillance in the region.
The newspaper says that unlike similar surveillance sites in Israel, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE, the Kurecik radar station can detect missile launches from the entire western part of Iran. With the site disabled, that airspace would no longer be properly monitored by NATO, the editorial said.
“In case Turkey decides to dismantle the Kurecik radar in response to the ongoing attempts by the US to use the F-35 jets to blackmail Turkey, Israel will lose its ‘early warning system’ in case of a missile launch from eastern or northern Iran,” the newspaper said.
Turkey’s hosting of NATO radar facilities is a matter of controversy in the country. In 2014, the ruling AKP party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, had to defend itself from opposition accusations which said the site only benefits Israeli security and fails to make Turkey safer. The accusations were part of a heated presidential race laden with anti-Israeli sentiment.
The deployment of NATO radar was also criticized by Russia since it has contributed to the alliance’s anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, which Moscow sees a threat to its national security.
Likewise, Ankara’s decision to purchase the state-of-art Russian S-400 system was criticized by NATO, which said the Russian SAM was incompatible with the equipment used by the alliance.
Turkey said it chose the Russian system because it was necessary to ensure its security, which had been undermined by members of NATO, adding that the bloc had failed to sell arms that Ankara wished to acquire.
The US and NATO have experienced various barbs from Turkey and Erdogan personally recently. Just days earlier, the Turkish president claimed that his transatlantic ally “paid a lot of dollars to [Islamic State].”
On Monday, Erdogan’s chief adviser, Yalcin Topcu, questioned his country’s membership in NATO, claiming the bloc’s approach towards Ankara was “brutal and dishonorable.”