Turkish armored vehicle exports soar

Turkish exports of armored vehicles are expanding, including purchases by the United States for the first time.

Otokar's Cobra APC supports a large array of mission-specific modifications and has become a huge export success for Turkey.

A senior Turkish military procurement official involved with supporting Turkish arms exports, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Hurriyet that Turkish armored vehicle manufacturers are expanding beyond their traditional Middle Eastern markets.

“We are happy to see these companies now chasing deals in parts of the Far East they have not yet sold their products to, and there are initial signs of penetration into difficult markets like the U.S.,” he said “All of that is very encouraging.”

Turkey’s Defense Industry Manufacturers Association Secretary-General Kaya Yazgan told Hurriyet, “The making of armored vehicles is one of the strongest sectors in our defense industry.”

Istanbul’s Otokar, which is owned by Turkey’s top business conglomerate Koc Holding, produces seven armored vehicle variants and its 2010 sales to civilian and military clients topped $313 million.

In May Otokar displayed Turkey’s first indigenously built tank, the Altay, at the IDEF’11 international defense industry fair in Istanbul.

Head of Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industry Murad Bayar said Altay tanks would be entirely built in Turkey, with Turkish defense industry company Aselsan. It will build the Altay’s electronic systems, providing Identification Friend-or-Foe systems.

Otokar officials say that Altay tanks will be ready for sale by 2016.

Otokar exports products to the armed forces of nearly 20 countries.

Last December Otokar said that it had received its first order from a foreign military for its ARMA new armored combat vehicle, which comes as either a 6×6 or 8×8 wheeled armored vehicle.

The company added that the ARMA, a modular multi-wheel configuration wheeled armored vehicle, would be exported before making its debut in the Turkish military. The amphibian vehicle weighs 20 tons fully loaded for combat and has a crew consisting of a driver, a commander and eight personnel. ARMA is transportable by various means including C130 aircraft.

Otokar also builds the Cobra, a 4×4 vehicle, which comes in 10 models designed for different missions. Otokar has sold Cobras to more than 10 other countries and the vehicle has been utilized in a variety of both NATO and U.N. missions.

“There is increasing demand for the Cobra from an increasing number of countries,” Otokar said in a news release.

In 2009 Turkey’s total arms exports amounted to $832 million. Other leading Turkish arms manufacturing companies include Hiscar Automotive Industries, Ankara’s FNSS, which is 51 percent owned by Turkish business group Nurol and Izmir’s BMC, which is owned by the Cukurova Holding industrial conglomerate.

 SpaceWar

Russia, Kyrgyzstan in Talks Over Training Base

A ground staff member directs a C-130 Hercules at Manas Air Base near Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, February 13, 2009. Reuters photo

Russia is in talks with Kyrgyzstan to expand its military presence in the volatile central Asian nation by setting up a training center in the south, the Kyrgyz foreign minister told AFP.

“We are discussing the possibility of creating a training base in the south of Kyrgyzstan,” Ruslan Kazakbayev told AFP in an interview conducted June 24.

The training base was part of ongoing discussions to conclude an agreement under which “all of Russia’s existing military installations on our territory will be merged into one,” he said.

Russia already operates one base in Kyrgyzstan, the Kant airbase outside the capital Bishkek, as well as several other installations such as a seismic station providing data for strategic missile forces.

Moscow had been in talks about opening a second military base in Kyrgyzstan with the country’s previous administration led by Kurmanbek Bakiyev before he was ousted in a violent uprising last year.

Both the United States and Russia jostle for military influence in a region gaining in strategic importance owing to its proximity to Afghanistan.

Washington also operates a military base in Kyrgyzstan, making it the only country in the world to house both Russian and U.S. bases.

Russia lobbied for the closure of the U.S. base but Bishkek eventually agreed to keep it open after Washington more than tripled the rent paid to use Manas. Kazakbayev said the Kyrgyz government and Washington were in similar talks.

“We are also working with the U.S. government in this direction,” he said without being more specific. “I would like to stress that a decision on these issues will be made in a transparent manner and will take into account our country’s national interests.”

Under the current agreement with Washington, the Manas base, a pivotal transit hub for troops and supplies for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, will be stationed in Kyrgyzstan until 2014.

Bloody riots rocked the country last June, becoming the worst inter-ethnic clashes to hit Kyrgyzstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union and taking place two months after violent protests deposed Bakiyev.

AFP

Turkey’s options in handling the Syrian crisis

by Hasan Karaahmet

As Syria’s Assad regime continues to struggle in containing the widespread uprisings and demonstrations for a more democratic, progressive political system throughout the country, neighboring Turkey is facing an increasingly difficult humanitarian crisis just north of the long border.

Last Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu spoke with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, about the changing security environment in Syria and implications for Turkey. Movement of Syrian troops north near the Turkish border in an attempt to control the outflow of Syrian refugees into Turkey was among the critical subjects the two ministers discussed. It is no secret now that the situation at the border and increasing numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey, now approaching some 20,000, is creating tensions between the two countries.

Thus far, Turkey’s AKP government has followed a bi-polar political strategy in handling the Syrian crisis. It publicly criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while quietly advising the same regime on how to contain and eliminate the opposition using tangible, progressive reforms. On the other hand, Turkey also hosted open platforms for Syrian opposition leaders on Turkish soil, in order to provide guidance and discuss their strategies in toppling the Assad regime and achieving a higher political presence in Syria.

Currently, Turkey seems to have three options in peacefully diffusing the threatening situation beyond its southern border and stopping the inflow of Syrian refugees.

  • (1) The first option Turkey is suggesting to Syria involves removal of Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, who leads the Syrian Republican Guard and is primarily responsible for killing and mistreatment of a great number of Syrian opposition members. Turkish authorities have wisely avoided condemning Bashar al-Assad and kept their focus on Maher instead. According to a June 18th report by Al Arabiya, an emissary of Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Syria to ask Bashar to fire his brother. This suggestion requires Maher to be exiled to Turkey or another suitable country where he would be monitored and kept away from militancy and interfering with Syrian internal politics. Turkey points out that such a move would portray Bashar as a truly progressive, reformist leader who is willing to exile his brother for the greater good of Syria.

Some western analysts generally unfamiliar with the region point out that this option undermines the role of Maher in keeping different factions of the Syrian Armed Forces together and suggest that exiling Maher may push Syria into an explosive infighting and eventually even partitioning. I, however, disagree with this observation as I believe it is the Assad family as a whole and its surrogates within the Syrian state that provide the said unifying function. Power of the al-Assad clan is currently personified in Bashar al-Assad, and any decision he makes, even as radical as firing his brother, will be readily digestible by the forces in Syria that determine the political and economic dynamics in that country. So long as the Alawites’ traditional hold of economic power in Syria’s western coastal cities is not damaged, their support of Bashar and the al-Assad family in general will remain strong.

That said, we should not forget that the former Syrian President, Bashar’s father Hazef al-Assad did successfully exile his younger brother Rifaat al-Assad, also a military man, after a coup attempt, a move that demonstrated the reach of his power and strengthened his regime for years to come. I believe the same may as well be the case for his sons.

  • (2) The second option Turkey is working on for Syria is similar to the Lebanese political model, where a confessional system based on a 1932 census is in effect that just about equally divides power among Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim factions. Proposal for Syria would similarly allocate the power, and hence resources, somewhat equally among the country’s majority Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds, and minority Alawites, Christians and Druze. This new system would create strong checks and balances that would prevent either side from dominating the economy or monopolizing the politics of Syria.

Turkey is ready to provide all the assistance needed for accomplishing this. If completed successfully, it would score an important point for Turkey in the country’s ambitious mission to become a prestigious leader and a secular democracy model for the Islamic world.

  • (3) The third option proposes the legalization of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). At the moment, membership in the group is not only outlawed in Syria, but also punishable by death. Turkey says legalization of the Syrian MB and turning the group into a legitimate political party would limit its militancy and draw the movement closer to a more peaceful, political struggle. This would, in effect, dramatically defuse the Syrian crisis.

Al-Assad is however seems to be currently against the idea as it bears the potential for eventually growing in power via unification of the majority Sunni base turning into electoral votes and undermining the established power of Al-Assad’s Baath party and the economic monopoly of Syria’s Alawites.

It will be interesting to see the events unfold and watch Turkey make its moves before the crisis grows into an even bigger refugee crisis, and with the movements of even more Syrian military units into the border region, starts posing a national security danger for Turkey.

TR Defence

Azerbaijan Warns Armenia with Show of Force

Showing Azerbaijan's increasing military capabilities, S-300 air defence missiles was part of an Azeri army parade held in Baku.

Azerbaijan paraded thousands of soldiers and hundreds of military vehicles through its capital June 26 in a show of force two days after talks failed to resolve a bitter territorial dispute with Armenia.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who has overseen massive increases in defense spending, warned in his speech that he was ready to take back the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region, which was seized from Azerbaijan in the 1990s by Armenian separatist forces backed by Yerevan.

“The war is not over yet,” Aliyev said at the showpiece parade in the center of Baku, vowing to end what he called the “occupation” of Karabakh.

“The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored and the territory will be restored,” he said.

Six thousand troops marched in the parade, accompanied by tanks, armored cars and rocket launchers, as fighter planes and combat helicopters roared overhead and warships lined up in the nearby Caspian Sea bay.

In his speech, Aliyev also spoke approvingly about the increases in defense spending financed by the energy-rich state’s huge revenues from oil and gas exports.

“Azerbaijan has fulfilled the task that I set, which was that Azerbaijan’s military expenditure must exceed the entire state budget of Armenia,” he said, noting that defense spending reached $3.3 billion (2.3 billion euros) this year.

“Military expenditure occupies first place in the state budget of Azerbaijan and that is understandable. It will be like this as long as our lands are not liberated,” he said.

Military hardware manufactured in Azerbaijan, including unmanned drones, was on show for the first time to highlight the country’s expanding defense industry.

The “Armed Forces Day” parade in Baku was the third in the country’s post-Soviet history and also marked this year’s 20th anniversary of independence.

It was shown live on state television in a broadcast preceded by a series of patriotic songs accompanied by images of troops in action and President Aliyev wearing camouflage fatigues.

The parade was held after the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia failed to agree despite strong international pressure to a “basic principles” roadmap document that would have been a significant step towards a Karabakh peace deal.

A joint statement issued after the summit in Russia on June 24 merely noted “the reaching of mutual understanding on a number of questions, whose resolution helps create conditions to approve the basic principles”.

The two enemies traded accusations after the summit, with Armenia saying that Azerbaijan had torpedoed the talks by wanting a dozen changes to the document and Baku saying that Yerevan was seeking to mislead the world.

The outcome was a major disappointment after hopes had been raised of a long-awaited breakthrough in the talks, which were presided over by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the city of Kazan.

U.S. President Barack Obama had also telephoned his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts before the summit to urge them to agree the “basic principles” document.

Seventeen years after the Karabakh ceasefire, the opposing sides still often exchange deadly fire across the frontline and Baku has repeatedly threatened to use force if negotiations don’t yield results.

Fears have been raised of a return to war that could prove even bloodier than the 1990s conflict and potentially threaten pipelines taking Caspian Sea oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.

The interim “basic principles” agreement would see an Armenian withdrawal from areas around Karabakh that were also seized during the post-Soviet war.

It also envisages international security guarantees and a vote on the final status of the territory at some point in the future.

But even if the document is eventually agreed by both sides, huge obstacles remain to a final peace deal.

Armenia insists that Karabakh will never again be ruled by Baku, while Azerbaijan insists that the region must remain part of its sovereign territory.

AFP

Iran to Stage Missile Wargames

Iranian Qiam-1 ballistic missile can carry up to 700 kgs of high explosives or a nuclear warhead.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards are to launch military exercises on June 26 with the firing of different range ballistic missiles, the state news agency IRNA reported.

The exercises, codenamed Great Prophet-6, are to start on June 26, said a Guards commander, Gen. Ami Ali Hadjizadeh, quoted by IRNA, without specifying how long the maneuvers will last.

“Short-, medium- and long-range missiles will be fired, especially the Khalij-Fars, Sejil, Fateh, Ghiam, and Shahab-1 and -2 missiles,” he said.

The general, whose force carries out wargames each year in the Gulf region, said the latest exercises were “a message of peace and friendship to the countries of the area.”

In late May, Iran said it had equipped the Revolutionary Guards with a new surface-to-surface missile, the Qiam-1, which was built locally and test-fired last August.

Iran says it has a wide range of missiles, some capable of striking targets inside arch-foe Israel as well as U.S. bases in the Middle East.

The Islamic republic regularly boasts about developing missiles having substantial range and capabilities, but Western military experts cast doubt on its claims.

Iran’s missile program is under the control of the Guards.

Its space and missile programs have been a concern in the West, which fears Tehran is developing a ballistic capability to launch potential nuclear weapons which it suspects Iran aims to develop under the guise of its civilian atomic program.

Iran has steadfastly denied these Western charges, saying its nuclear and space programs have no military objectives.

AFP

Turkey to launch international mobilization for Palestinian state’s recognition

An Israeli soldier stopping Palestinian civilians.

Turkey could “declare a mobilization” in the international arena for the recognition of a new Palestinian state, Turkey’s prime minister has said, voicing strong backing for Palestinian aspirations to an independent state.

“Turkey is determined to support Palestine [in its bid] to become a member of the United Nations,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a press conference after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

In his four-day visit to Ankara to seek support to solve a dispute with Hamas on establishing a unity government, Abbas received strong promises of help on the matter.

While backing Palestinian ambitions to found their own state, Ankara also urged both Abbas and Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal to end their disagreements on who would be the new prime minister of the unity government. Meshaal had talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Istanbul on Tuesday.

“Establishing an independent and viable state, whose capital will be east Jerusalem, is the basic condition to solve this problem,” Erdoğan said referring to the Middle East peace process with Israel.

The prime minister said Turkey would host meetings for ambassadors of Palestine from various countries in Istanbul on 23-24 July.

“We are continuing on the path of reconciliation and there will be no turning back,” Abbas said in the press conference.

“We will make all efforts possible until the unity of our nation is achieved and a transitional government is established,” he said.

Abbas said countries that have not yet recognized the independent Palestine state should recognize it in order to support peace and stability.

Al-Fatah and Hamas have argued over who will be the next prime minister of the unity government. A meeting of al-Fatah and Hamas leaders in Cairo on Tuesday was postponed due to Hamas opposition to the reappointment of Western-backed economist Salam Fayyad.

Turkey has urged Abbas and Meshaal groups to take advantage of the high moral ground they achieved with their agreement to form a unity government, stressing Palestinian groups should be united to properly use the leverage they achieved.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, meanwhile, arrived in Ankara on Friday to hold talks with Turkish officials.

HDN

Greece striving for more debt

.Greece needs to impose ever more unpopular austerity on a restive people on June 28, with the European Union placing its faith in Athens to clear parliamentary opposition and a general strike.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said Friday he is negotiating a new bailout worth some 110 billion euros, as Europe enters a crucial 10 day period to ringfence the euro crisis.

The Greek premier is in the eye of a storm threatening financial markets, the unity of Europe’s 17-nation currency area, and even the EU – with the United States warning of a potential to drag down world economic recovery.

“We are talking about a huge, huge amount,” the Agence France-Presse quoted Papandreou as saying after formally requesting aid at a two-day European Union summit in Brussels.

While he said it was “too early to give a precise amount,” the final sum would be “similar to the first aid package” in May 2010, which was not enough to prevent the government in Athens from slipping ever deeper into the red.

The actual size, Papandreou admitted, “depends on the participation of the private creditors,” those banks, pension funds and insurers that the EU wants to contribute to a rescue by way of an “informal and voluntary” rollover.

Greece needs to impose ever more unpopular austerity on a restive people on June 28, with the European Union placing its faith in Athens to clear parliamentary opposition and a general strike.

Even before the new bailout, Greece owes the equivalent of a year-and-a-half of total national economic output, some 350 billion euros.

British banks face an indirect risk from Greece’s financial crisis despite having a “remarkably small” direct exposure to the country, the governor of the Bank of England said Friday.

Mervyn King called for greater disclosure of sovereign and banking exposures, and of other risks which may be lurking on balance sheets, to bolster confidence in the broader financial system, The Associated Press reported.

“If there is uncertainty about exposures and a lack of transparency and people simply do not know which other institutions could be at risk because of their direct and indirect exposures, then there is always the risk that people may feel it’s just not worth continuing to roll over funding to institutions,” King told a news conference.

On Friday, the euro slid against the dollar amid persistent concerns the Greek debt crisis spreading contagion across the eurozone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that leaders had struck “an important political accord for the stabilisation of the euro,” which Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said took just half an hour to thrash out.

Merkel stressed the EU had “encouraged Ireland, Portugal and Greece to follow the roadmap set down with the troika” of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF that is monitoring the rescues.

Portugal measures

Portugal’s new Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, meanwhile, said his coalition government is preparing to accelerate and possibly broaden austerity measures the country promised in return for a $110 billion bailout.

Coelho, who took office earlier this week at the head of a center-right administration, says he is also considering a swifter reorganization of loss-making state companies.

Passos Coelho said after a European Union summit Friday in Brussels that he will announce details of his plans next week.

HDN

Syria’s Assad accuses Turkey of arming rebels

Syrian refugees watch as Turkish troops patrol the area north of the border.

The regime of President Bashar Assad has acknowledged increasing attacks on its military believed aided by neighboring Turkey.

Syrian officials said a rebel force of up to 500 fighters attacked a Syrian Army position on June 4 in northern Syria. They said the target, a garrison of Military Intelligence, was captured in a 36-hour assault in which 72 soldiers were killed in Jisr Al Shoughour, near the border with Turkey.

“We found that the criminals [rebel fighters] were using weapons from Turkey, and this is very worrisome,” an official said.

This marked the first time that the Assad regime has accused Turkey of helping the revolt. The Ankara government has become increasingly critical of Assad and said the president has one week to end his crackdown against the opposition.

Officials said the rebels drove the Syrian Army from Jisr Al Shoughour and then took over the town. They said government buildings were looted and torched before another Assad force arrived.

At one point, the Assad regime conducted a tour for journalists of Jisr Al Shoughour. Officials showed journalists a mass grave that was said to contain the bodies of soldiers.

A Syrian officer who conducted the tour said the rebels in Jisr Al Shoughour consisted of Al Qaida-aligned fighters. He said the rebels employed a range of Turkish weapons and ammunition but did not accuse the Ankara government of supplying the equipment.

Western diplomatic sources said rebel fighters have been attacking Assad’s military in both northern and southern Syria. They said the rebels were being supplied by Sunnis from neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

“With every passing day, the Sunnis in the Syrian military are growing more uneasy,” a diplomat said. “The Sunni senior commanders are still loyal, but the field commanders, particularly on the level of squad and companies, are feeling the pressure to defect.”

Opposition sources have reported a breakdown in law and order throughout Syria. The Kurdish opposition Democratic Union Party has reported a rebellion in Hasaka prison, which resulted in a fire in the facility.

“The prison may be under the control of the prisoners, but the building is surrounded by security forces,” the party said.

World Tribune

Turkey’s Actions May Trigger NATO Confrontation With Syrian Military

Last week, a feature by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton excoriating the political leadership of Syria appeared in the London-based Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat. Saudi-supported and printed in twelve locations, it is considered to be among the most influential newspapers in the Arab world.

As such, her comments (in English and Arabic) were intended to signal to Arab readers and the world at large that the American position toward Damascus is becoming more stringent and confrontational, evoking Clinton’s statements toward the leadership of Ivory Coast and Libya earlier in the year.

Her characteristically imperious, contemptuous and inflammatory comments, indeed threats, included:

“In his May 19 speech, President Obama echoed demonstrators’ basic and legitimate demands…President Assad, he said, could either lead that transition or get out of the way.

“It is increasingly clear that President Assad has made his choice.”

“…President Assad is showing his true colors by embracing the repressive tactics of his ally Iran and putting Syria onto the path of a pariah state.

“By following Iran’s lead, President Assad is placing himself and his regime on the wrong side of history…”

“If President Assad believes he can act with impunity because the international community hopes for his cooperation on other issues, he is wrong about this as well. He and his regime are certainly not indispensable.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 18 that the Washington administration is preparing a case against Syrian President Bashar Assad and other government officials at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The same newspaper feature added that “The U.S. is also exploring ways to more directly target Syria’s oil and gas revenue…”

On June 14 four members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including the military alliance’s three European powerhouses – Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – proposed a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council aimed at Syria. Three days later in Berlin German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed their governments would push for a new UN resolution targeting Syria. In Sarkozy’s words: “France, hand in hand with Germany, calls for tougher sanctions against Syrian authorities who are conducting intolerable and unacceptable actions and repression against the population.”

The USS George H.W. Bush nuclear-powered supercarrier and its assigned carrier strike group and carrier air wing – with 9,000 sailors, 70 aircraft and four guided missile destroyers and cruisers – is in the Mediterranean Sea not far from the Syrian coast. One of the destroyers, USS Truxtun, just left the Israeli port city of Haifa after a two-day stopover.

The USS Monterey guided missile cruiser is docked off the Georgian Black Sea city of Batumi currently and will re-enter the Mediterranean soon. Deployed as the first warship assigned to the U.S.-NATO potential first-strike pan-European interceptor missile system, it can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as Standard Missile-3 interceptor missiles.

The guided missile destroyer USS Barry left Gaeta, Italy where nine other US. warships have been stationed, on June 17 after a five-day port visit. USS Barry is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, used at the beginning of the U.S.-NATO Libyan campaign in March and currently in the Mediterranean.

The Pentagon and its allies – every nation in the Mediterranean is now a NATO member or partner except for Libya, Syria, Cyprus (under renewed and intensified pressure to join the bloc’s Partnership for Peace program) and Lebanon (whose coastline has been blockaded by NATO states’ military vessels since 2006) – have the military hardware in place for a replication of the 95-day war against Libya directed at Syria: Scores of warplanes on carriers and on bases in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey and guided missile ships ready to launch Tomahawk missiles.

On June 19 Ersat Hurmuzlu, senior adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, told the United Arab Emirates-based Al Arabiya television channel that Syria has less than a week to respond to what Reuters described as “calls for change.” Hurmuzlu’s exact words were:

“The demands in this field will be for a positive response to these issues within a short period that does not exceed a week.

“The opposite of this, it would not be possible to offer any cover for the leadership in Syria because there is the danger …that we had always been afraid of, and that is foreign intervention.”

Although the last sentence can be read as either warning or threat, it is in fact the second. The statement as a whole is an ultimatum.

Since the war against Libya was launched by U.S. Africa Command under the codename Operation Odyssey Dawn to the present NATO-run Operation Unified Protector in place since March 31, air operations have been run from NATO’s Air Command Headquarters for Southern Europe in Izmir, Turkey.

In March Turkey supplied five ships and a submarine for the blockade of Libya’s coast and on March 28 Hurriyet Daily News announced that Turkey was “assuming control of the Benghazi airport, and sending naval forces to patrol the corridor between the rebel-held city and Crete,” quoting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

“Turkey said ‘yes’ to three tasks within NATO: the takeover of Benghazi airport for the delivery of humanitarian aid, the task about control of the air corridor and the involvement of Turkish naval forces in the corridor between Benghazi and Crete.”

In 2003 the U.S. ambassador to NATO at the time, Nicholas Burns, stated in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“NATO needs to pivot from its inward focus on Europe – which was necessary and appropriate during the Cold War – to an outward focus on the arc of countries where most of the threats are today – in Central and South Asia, and in the Middle East.

“NATO’s mandate is still to defend Europe and North America. But we don’t believe we can do that by sitting in Western Europe, or Central Europe, or North America. We have to deploy our conceptual attention and our military forces east and south. NATO’s future, we believe, is east, and is south. It’s in the Greater Middle East.”

Earlier this month Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul announced that Izmir will also be the new home of the Alliance’s Land Force Command, consolidating and transferring ground forces currently stationed in Germany and Spain to the Izmir Air Station.

On June 17 Turkey took over command of Standing NATO Maritime Group-2 which, with Standing NATO Maritime Group-1, is part of the NATO Response Force and centers its activities in the Mediterranean. Each group consists of between 4-8 warships – destroyers and frigates – and since 2005 has expanded its missions through the Suez Canal to the Gulf of Aden and the Somalia coast, circumnavigating the African continent in 2007 and traveling the length of the Atlantic coast of the U.S., then entering the Caribbean Sea the same year, the first time NATO had ever deployed to the Caribbean. The NATO naval groups have also sailed to Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, the Persian Gulf and the Baltic Sea among other locations.

Turkey hosted a conference of Syrian opposition forces called “Change in Syria” from May 1-June 2 in the city of Antalya. Although held under the sponsorship of the Egyptian-based National Organisation of Human Rights, logistics and security were provided by the host country.

Had Syria allowed a gathering of Turkish opposition groups whose express intention was the overthrow of the government in Ankara, one can only imagine the Turkish administration’s reaction.

On June 13 Britain’s The Guardian, since the Balkans crisis began in the early 1990s never slow to fan the flames of moral panic over humanitarian crises, with techniques ranging from hyperbole to hysterics, in order to alarm and neutralize its readership into acquiescence to Western military action (while claiming formally, if not convincingly, that it is not advocating the latter), ran an editorial titled “Syria: Butchery, while the world watches,” which let the cat out of the bag regarding the prospect of U.S. and NATO military intervention in Syria by stating:

“Turkey, a member of Nato, could yet drag the west in, if it decides its own interests require action to defend its borders from the [Syrian] refugees The world would then pay a high price indeed for having pretended that Assad was somebody else’s problem.”

On June 19 the major Turkish daily newspaper Zaman quoted Veysel Ayhan of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies harking back to the rationale for NATO’s first military actions 16 years ago:

“Remember when NATO was accused by the international media and public of not being able to prevent 8,000 Muslim Bosnians from being murdered in front of the world’s eyes? As a member of NATO and a country whose border is about to witness such a massacre by the Syrian army, Turkey will not allow such a thing to happen again, especially before its own eyes.”

Last week Turkey’s President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were reported to have toughened demands on Syria in a meeting with President Assad’s special envoy Hasan Turkmani in Ankara, and on January 18 Al Arabiya reported that Ankara had dispatched an envoy to Damascus to demand that Assad’s brother Maher relinquish his command of the Republican Guard and the Fourth Armored Division.

Zaman recently cited what was identified as a pro-government Syrian official saying to the United Arab Emirates-based daily The National:

“The West wants to put the region under Turkish control like in the Ottoman days. Turkey is a NATO member and embodies a safe kind of Islam for the West, so they have done a deal to give everything to Ankara.”

Should a conflict erupt between Turkey and Syria on their border, NATO will be obligated under its Article 5 collective military assistance clause to enter the fray on Turkey’s side. Should NATO intend opening hostilities against Syria, no better pretext could be devised than that scenario.

In February of 2003, on the eve of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, in NATO’s words “Turkey requested NATO assistance under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.”

“NATO’s Integrated Air Defence System in Turkey was put on full alert and augmented with equipment and personnel from other NATO commands and countries.”

Four Alliance Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft were deployed from their base in Germany to the Forward Operating Base in Konya, Turkey. Three Dutch and two American Patriot missile batteries were deployed to the country in March of that year, and “Preparations were made to augment Turkey’s air defence assets with additional aircraft from other NATO countries.”

Article 4 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, NATO’s founding document, states:

“The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”

Article 5 says:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

If Turkey opens armed hostilities with its neighbor, the conflict will not remain a local one for long.

Scoop

Syrian refugees in Turkey near 12,000

Turkish Red Crescent has established thousands of temporary shelters along the border to help accomodate the large inflow of Syrian refugees.

The number of Syrians sheltering in Turkey  has approached 12,000 after some 1500 refugees poured across the  border on Thursday and Friday, officials said.

The new exodus was triggered on Thursday morning when Syrian  troops backed by tanks entered a border zone where thousands  fleeing a bloody crackdown on anti-regime protesters were camping,  hesitant to cross to Turkey.

Turkey’s emergency situations agency said on Friday that 1578  Syrians had crossed into Turkish territory, bringing the total  number to 11,739.

Fifty people, including 15 with gunshot wounds, remain in  hospital, the statement said.

The Turkish Red Crescent has erected several tent cities in the  border province of Hatay to shelter the refugees.

Turkish authorities continue to provide food to those who remain  camping on the other side of the border, the statement said.

Crammed into a narrow strip along the Turkish frontier, the  displaced Syrians have braved squalid conditions, sleeping rough or  in makeshift shelters of branches and plastic sheets, surviving on  scarce food and water.

They have hesitated to cross to Turkey, gripped by uncertainty  over a future on foreign soil and wary of leaving their property  behind.

Turkish authorities have reportedly assured them they can cross  over if they felt threatened.

Sky News