Turkey to increase ballistic missiles’ range

Missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers are a realistic target according to Professor Yücel Altınbaşak, head of Turkey’s State Scientific Research Institute. However, analysts remain uncertain as to Turkey’s capacity or need to achieve this goal.

J-600T Yıldırım ballistic missile on an F-600T launching vehicle, based on a MAN 26.372 6x6 truck.

Turkey aims to build ballistic missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers within the next two years, Turkish officials have said, but analysts remain uncertain as to whether the country needs, or can even achieve, such a capability.

Professor Yücel Altınbaşak, head of Turkey’s State Scientific Research Institute (TÜBİTAK), recently told reporters that the decision to build the ballistic missiles was made at a recent meeting of the High Board of Technology and in line with a request from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Altınbaşak said TÜBİTAK had already produced and delivered a missile with a range of 500 kilometers to the Turkish military and added that the missile had displayed a mere five-meter deviation from its target in field tests. In the next phase of the program this year, TÜBİTAK will first test the 1,500-kilometer missile before heading for the final goal of 2,500 kilometers.

Altınbaşak said building missiles with a range of 2,500-kilometer was a “realistic target for Turkey.” But analysts voiced doubts about Turkey’s ballistic ambitions.

“TÜBİTAK already has the technology to build the 185-kilometer stand-off-munitions (SOM) missiles. It may have reached the 500-kilometer range recently by diminishing the payload or by some other modifications. It is still dubious, however, how the tests for 500 kilometers went unnoticed globally,” a missile technology expert said.

A Middle East political expert said Turkey’s decision to produce cruise and ballistic missiles may mark a change in threat and security design perceptions.

“Why would the Turks need these missiles? Where will they use them? Against which threats? It is also intriguing that Turkey, which seeks a modern air force with deterrent firepower, is going along the path many rogue states with no modern air force capabilities have gone,” the specialist said.

Since 1997, Turkey has been a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) which was established in 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States.

The MTCR was created in order to curb the spread of unmanned delivery systems for nuclear weapons, specifically delivery systems that could carry a minimum payload of 500 kilograms a minimum of 300 kilometers.

Experts agree that the MTCR has been successful in helping to slow or stop several ballistic missile programs; Argentina, Egypt and Iraq abandoned their joint Condor II ballistic missile program, while Brazil, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan also shelved or eliminated missile or space launch vehicle programs.

Some Eastern European countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, destroyed their own ballistic missiles to – in part – better their chances of joining MTCR.

But there is consensus that the MTCR regime has its limitations. India, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan (all non-members) continue to advance their missile programs. All four countries, with varying degrees of foreign assistance, have deployed medium-range ballistic missiles that can travel more than 1,000 kilometers and are exploring missiles with much greater ranges. Similarly, Iran has supplied missile production items to Syria.

The missile expert said Turkey’s announcement for ballistic missile production may ring alarm bells in some of the countries which produce “the ingredients” for these missiles.
“From now on Turkey may find it increasingly difficult to have access to some of the components it will need to achieve its missile ambitions,” the expert said. “Some countries may think it more appropriate to introduce limitations to the Turkish purchase of some technology.”

 By Umit Enginsoy, HDN

Ahmadinejad: Iran Is Ready For Nuclear Talks

Even as he became the latest and most senior member of the Iranian government to publicly declare his readiness for nuclear talks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday lashed out at the West over its tough new economic sanctions that he said have hurt the Iranian people.

Addressing students in the southern city of Kerman, Mr. Ahmadinejad blamed the West for what he called its “excuses” for not restarting negotiations and heaped scorn on the United States and Europe over new sanctions, which target Iran’s oil industry. While they have hurt ordinary Iranians, he said, the sanctions have done nothing to weaken Iran’s resolve in the face of “bullying” over its nuclear program.

“You are the real enemy of the people and are putting pressure on them,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying. “I admonish you to pave the right track and do not make any excuses while the time is ripe for negotiations.”

The remarks come ahead of a visit by United Nations nuclear inspectors to Iran next week and March 2 parliamentary elections in Iran, where the economy has sputtered under the weight of sanctions and high inflation. With the country’s currency, the rial, having weakened to a record low against the dollar, Mr. Ahmadinejad on Wednesday reversed himself and allowed interest rates on bank deposits to rise in an attempt to ease inflationary pressure. The move was seen as a rare tacit admission of the effect the sanctions have exerted in Iran.

The uranium enrichment program in Iran has become the most urgent point of contention between Iran and the West, which has long suspected the Iranians are working to build a nuclear weapon despite their repeated denials. Iran has said it is enriching uranium for civilian energy and medical purposes. Israel, which considers Iran its most dangerous adversary, has hinted at the possibility of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said publicly on Thursday that the sanctions had created hardships for average people in Iran but that they would weather the difficulties. He added that Western insistence that sanctions are aimed at curtailing its nuclear program and not at the Iranian people was “a big lie.”

While Mr. Ahmadinejad said he was ready to resume nuclear talks, his comments did not appear to bring Iran closer to resuming negotiations with Europe and the United States. The previous round of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program broke down over a year ago after Iran presented conditions considered unacceptable to the West.

European leaders are waiting for Iran to respond to an October letter seeking a resumption of talks without preconditions if Iran agreed to discuss its nuclear enrichment program. During the last talks, Iran refused to discuss that main issue, seeking instead the removal of sanctions and the recognition of a right to enrich uranium before negotiating could begin.

Some Western diplomats have viewed Iran’s latest public offers of negotiations as an effort to buy time, allowing the country to enrich more uranium as talks get under way. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements on Thursday did not appear to coincide with any official diplomatic response, European officials said. Earlier this month during a visit to Turkey, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that his country was ready to resume negotiations. He said discussions were under way about the site and date, Iranian news media reported, and that the talks would “most probably be held in Istanbul.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.

The NYT

Davutoglu: NATO threatens neither Iran, nor Russia

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has given an interview to Interfax in the wake of negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in which he speaks about pressing international issues like Syria and Iran, as well as Turkish-Russian energy cooperation.

Question:At a press conference with Mr. Lavrov I noticed that you never mentioned that Turkey insists on Bashar Assad stepping down. Does this mean that Turkey still thinks that if Bashar Assad makes all the necessary reforms he can stay in power and he does not have to leave?

Answer:Syrian people will decide on this: who will be in power or who will not be in power, not us. But I think that who fights against his own people cannot have legitimacy. Therefore, the important thing is how Syrian people perceive the Syrian regime and President Bashar Assad. That is to decide for the people of Syria. The important thing is that Syrian people was not given the right to decide on this. Now the massacre must be stopped, the Syrian losses should be ending, and there should be no more attacks against civilians in the cities by the army, and full security and reforms should be together. That‘s our position. We ask Bashar Assad to listen to his own people.

Q.:If the Syrian crisis ends and Bashar Assad stays in power, will there be a possibility of improving relations…

A.:That is an ‘if-question‘. No president can stay if conflicting with his own people this scenario is impossible. Leaders and regimes an survive only if there is a support by the people of that country. Fighting against people and staying in power is not possible.

Q.:The Russian side has repeatedly insisted that the international community must do its best to stop violence either from the authorities of Syria and the armed opposition. Do you agree with this approach?

A.:Of course, the Syrian administration must stop using army against the people and should stop [] casualties and at the same time we always advise the Syrian opposition to express themselves people peacefully and using peaceful methods to express their demands. But the problem here is that the Syrian regime does not allow to demonstrate peacefully. That‘s the problem.

Q.:Turkish authorities have same contacts with a part of the Syrian opposition, it gives its territory for the Syrian opposition to meet and discuss the problems. Does Ankara has any relations with armed opposition in Syria?

A.:Turkey is democratic country. Everybody can met in Turkey. Even Syrian opposition meets in Turkey, even those who are supporting the Syrian regime meet in Turkey. Turkey is a free country, but we never supported any armed group in any country. Turkey has been a place where refugees, those who are escaping from oppression, can come to Turkey, and they are coming. There are 9,500 Syrian refugees staying in Turkey. They are our guests because they are our relatives and there are our ancestors escaping from oppression.

Q.:What do you think about the new EU sanctions on the Syrian regime? Do you think it will help to solve the problem?

A.:Unfortunately, the Syrian administration did not listen to our advice: the advice of its neighbors, like Turkey, the advice of Arab countries of the region and the advice of the international community, including Russia and others, for functioning the reform process and providing security to the civilians. This is the problem. Therefore, that is the Syrian administration responsibility to fulfill this.

Q.:Recently the EU has imposed an oil embargo on Iran. Ankara has good relations with Tehran. Is there any possibility that Turkey can increase supplements of Iranian oil to help Iran to go thorough this negative period?

A.:We have very good relations with Iran, and we have been working very hard for the negotiations with Iran within P5+1. This policy, Turkish policy, will continue in order to find a solution, peaceful solution to this issue. And of course the UN Security Council resolutions are binding, but other unilateral sanctions are not binding, and Turkish-Iranian economic relations will continue within the framework the international law.

Q.:Turkey is a NATO member. NATO does not hide that the target of its European anti-missile shield…

A.:There is no special reference to any special country regarding the missile defense issue.

Q.:But various politicians say…

A.:I do not see any NATO statement officially made by any NATO official declaring the name of any country as a threat or a target regarding the missile defense system.

Q.:Does Turkey think that Iran poses any nuclear threat to Europe?

A.:No. Not to us, Turkey. We do not see such a threat. We do not see any threat from any of our neighbors.

Q.:And what about Europe?

A.:That is not an issue for us. For us we do not see any threat. And NATO makes no reference to any country: neither to Iran, nor Russia.

Q.:You spoke today about the Turkish-French relations. Turkey said it will take some time in order to answer the French legislators who decided to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide. What measures you were talking about?

A.:Now we are waiting for the constitutional process to be finalized. There is an attempt by some members of the Senate to go to the Constitutional Council, and we will wait for the results of this process. If these effort do not produce a positive result, than everybody will see our measures, but at this moment we are expecting the results of this process.

Q.:As far as I understood that that your negotiations with Mr. Lavrov were a part of preparations for the Russia-Turkey summit. Is there any specific date and place of the summit?

A.:This summit is Turkish-Russian High Level Cooperation Council meeting, which is being held annually. Every year one meeting is of joint strategic planning committee, what we did today. The other part is the summit. We plan the meeting in the coming months, of course it will be after the election in Russia. Then we expect the date from our Russian counterparts, the most appropriate date in the following months after the election.

Q.:And it will be organized in Turkey?

A.:Yes, in Turkey.

Q.:The Turkish energy minister said that Turkey is ready to talks about some partnership on South Stream as we know Turkey is not a partner in this project. Now Turkey is not a partner, it only give its territory. What this will look like?

A.:We think that it was giving permission to the construction of South Stream in the Turkish economic zone. This is a strategic decision in our bilateral cooperation. It show a strong political will on the Turkish side to cooperate with Russia on energy issues. I am sure there will be a huge potential on how to cooperate on all these issues, and our energy ministers will be talking this possible cooperation prospects.

Q.:Another energy question. Do you have any information about how the talks between Gazprom and private Turkish companies in order to replace the contract with Botas that expired last year.

A.:It is going well. It is the issue of mutual interest.

Q.:How did the last year bilateral agreement that increased the supplements of Russian gas to Turkey can influence the talks between Gazprom and private companies?

A.:This is an economic issues between the two campmates. So it absolutely another issue. The talks have continues. There is a potential between the two countries for official projects for future cooperation, so that is important. But the negotiations will continue between companies .

Q.:Let me return to Bashar Assad. Must the international community prosecute him, if he leaves his post?

A.: The Syrian people will decide on all of these issues. We cannot decide on their behalf. So an important thing for us as a neighbor of Syria is to complete this process in a peaceful manner based on aspirations of the Syrian people.

Interfax

Turkey threatens intervention into Iraq

Relations between the Turkish and Iraqi governments have deteriorated sharply. In a speech to parliament on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the head of a Sunni Islam-based religious party, accused his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of a Shiite-coalition, of promoting sectarian violence against the Sunni minority in Iraq.

Erdogan warned: “Maliki should know that if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes it will be impossible for us to remain silent. Those who stand by with folded arms watching brothers massacre each other are accomplices to murder.”

Erdogan was responding to complaints by Maliki that Turkey has been interfering in Iraqi domestic politics through its support for the largely Sunni-based Iraqiya coalition, which is engaged in a fierce power struggle with the government in Baghdad.

The implications of Erdogan’s statement are unmistakable. They amount to a direct threat that Turkey will support an intervention into Iraq on the same pretext of “defending civilians” used to justify the NATO-led intervention to oust Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the case of Iraq, intervention would be justified with the allegation that Maliki is persecuting the country’s Sunnis.

The Turkish stance toward Maliki is inseparable from the broader US-backed drive to refashion geopolitical relations in the Middle East and, above all, to shatter the regional influence of Iran. US allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf state monarchies—all dominated by Sunni elites—have lined up with Washington against Shiite-ruled Iran. They are using inflammatory sectarian language to try to galvanise support for a policy that threatens to trigger a regional war.

The Syrian regime, which is a longstanding Iranian ally and based on an Allawite Shiite ruling stratum, has been targeted for “regime change.” The current Iraqi government, while it is the direct creation of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, is also viewed as unacceptable by the regional US allies. The Shiite factions forming the Maliki government have longstanding ties with the Iranian religious establishment. Maliki has refused to support an ongoing US military presence in Iraq or economic sanctions, let alone military aggression, against Syria and Iran.

Iraqiya, which was part of the ruling coalition, campaigned aggressively to weaken the political dominance of the Shiite parties in the lead-up to the withdrawal of US combat troops in December. Sunni leaders accused Maliki of reneging on an agreement to preside over a “national unity” government and pressured him to place the main security ministries under the direction of Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, had been a long-time American collaborator before the US invasion and was installed by the US in 2004 as the “interim” prime minister of Iraq. He sanctioned the military repression of the Sunni population and atrocities such as the destruction of the largely Sunni city of Fallujah. Despite this history, he was adopted by the Sunni elites as their main representative after the effective collapse of the anti-occupation insurgency. His qualifications are his hostility to the Shiite religious parties, his anti-Iranian Arab nationalism and his close connections to Washington.

Attempts to elevate Allawi, with clear support from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have suffered something of a shipwreck. Maliki and his Shiite-based Da’wa Party, which was repressed by the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, responded with a pre-emptive strike against the challenge to their grip on power.

Hundreds of ex-Baath Party members, particularly former senior military officers, have been rounded up and detained. Allawi alleged this month that more than 1,000 members of his and other parties opposed to Maliki had been arrested in recent months. He claimed they had been subjected to torture to extract false confessions of committing “terrorism.” There has been a growing number of indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and religious events by suspected Sunni extremists. Last week, 34 men accused of terrorism were executed in a single day.

In the most high-profile case of alleged Sunni “terrorism,” the bodyguards of Iraqiya Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi—one of the country’s highest ranking politicians—were detained and allegedly tortured. They were paraded on national television in late December to accuse the Sunni leader of personally directing a sectarian death squad.

Hashemi has only escaped arrest by taking refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. He has been charged with crimes that carry a death sentence.

Maliki responded to a walkout of Iraqiya ministers from his cabinet by having their offices locked and stripping them of their political responsibilities. The Iraqi parliament has continued to sit despite a boycott by most Iraqiya members.

Last Friday, the Iraqiya deputy governor of the majority Sunni province of Diyala, who agitated last year for regional autonomy, was seized by secret police operating under Maliki’s command. He has been charged with “terrorist activities.”

The present crisis could rapidly lead to the eruption of civil war and potentially fracture Iraq along sectarian lines, drawing in other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran. The majority of the 300,000-strong Iraqi military are Shiites. While poorly trained and equipped, they have a degree of allegiance to Maliki’s government.

A confrontation is looming between the Maliki government and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Last week, a Shiite politician advocated an economic blockade of the Kurdish region unless Vice President Hashemi was handed over for trial. The Kurdish government has its own 200,000-strong armed forces.

Following the 2003 invasion, the US fostered sectarian divisions as a means of undermining the previous Baathist elite and blocking a unified resistance by ordinary working people against the occupation and collapse of living standards. Now the US is encouraging its regional allies to back the Sunni and Kurdish elites against the Maliki government, with reckless indifference for the rapidly escalating violence.

By James Cogan, WSWS

Turkey awaits key counterterrorism weapons

Turkey's T129 attack helicopter during flight tests.

The Turkish military is slated to acquire several weapons systems to use against terrorists from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) this year, one senior procurement official said last week.
Italy’s AgustaWestland and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) have been collaborating on building the T-129 attack helicopter, a Turkish version of the company’s A129 Mangusta International.

AgustaWestland is scheduled to deliver the first nine of a planned 59 helicopters to the military toward the end of 2012.

Turkish authorities then will assemble the required weapons systems on the platforms, and the nine helicopter gunships are expected to enter service in 2013, the official said.

Separately, the United States is expected to deliver three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters early this year. The U.S. Congress approved the sale of these three choppers, worth $125 million, toward the end of 2012.

Additionally, TAI, Turkey’s state-owned aerospace powerhouse, is scheduled to deliver to the military three Anka Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles in 2012, to be used for reconnaissance purposes, the official said.

Turkey is already operating nine Israeli-made Heron MALE drones against the PKK. The United States has also deployed another four RQ-1 Predator MALE drones at Turkey’s southern İncirlik airbase to fly over PKK camps in northern Iraq and provide the Turkish military intelligence.

Additionally Turkey has requested to buy four RQ-1 Predator reconnaissance drones and two armed MQ-1 Reapers, but the U.S. has not responded to the request.

In addition to its MALE drone capabilities, the Turkish military operates scores of smaller drones.

Unmanned vehicles

TAI’s efforts to develop and produce the Anka have seen a delay of several years. “Attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles are among the most effective weapons against terrorists, and we will have an abundance of these weapons soon,” said one security official.

The PKK this year intensified terrorist attacks against Turkish military and civilian targets, causing a public outrage.

Separately, the U.S. Boeing is expected to deliver the first of a planned four spy planes to the Turkish Air Force in 2012. The program to manufacture the four Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft is worth more than $1.6 billion and is behind schedule a few years.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee, Turkey’s highest procurement agency, is also expected to select a foreign company in Turkey’s $4 billion long range air and missile defense system program. Among the candidates competing to build an air and missile defense system with Turkish partners are U.S. companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, with their Patriot Air and Missile Defense System; Russian Rosoboronexport’s S-300; Chinese CPMIEC’s (China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp.) HQ-9; and European Eurosam’s SAMP/T Aster 30.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee’s members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Procurement Chief Murad Bayar.

Finally, the committee would select a national commercial shipyard which will manufacture the third through the eighth of the Milgem national corvettes. The first two corvettes were built at a military shipyard. The first corvette, the TCG Heybeliada, already has entered service in the Navy, and the second, the TCG Büyükada, has been put to sea for tests.

HDN

Hamas leader visits Turkey

Haniyeh and Erdogan

Gaza’s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is in Turkey on his first official tour outside the blockaded territory.

His talks with Turkey’s premier come as his host’s relations with Israel deteriorate after last year’s raid on a Turkish aid ship.

Nine activists died in the incident when Israeli comandos boarded the Gaza-bound Turkish vessel to prevent it breaching Israel’s blockade of the strip. Haniyeh’s visit is set to include a meeting with the familes of the dead activists.

Euronews

US, Iran in tit-for-tat threats over Hormuz

A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said on Thursday that the United States was not in a position to tell Tehran “what to do in the Strait of Hormuz”, state television reported.

Tehran’s warning to block crude shipments through the crucial passage for Middle Eastern suppliers followed the European Union’s decision to tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, as well as accompanying moves by the United States to tighten unilateral sanctions.

Iran’s English-language Press TV quoted Hossein Salami as saying: “Any threat will be responded by threat … We will not relinquish our strategic moves if Iran’s vital interests are undermined by any means.”

Separately, Salami was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency: “Americans are not in a position whether to allow Iran to close off the Strait of Hormuz.”

The U.S. Fifth Fleet said on Wednesday it would not allow any disruption of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, a strip of water separating Oman and Iran.

At loggerheads with the West over its nuclear programme, Iran said earlier it would stop the flow of oil through the strait in the Gulf if sanctions were imposed on its crude exports.

Analysts say that Iran could potentially cause havoc in the Strait of Hormuz which connects the biggest Gulf oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. At its narrowest point, it is 21 miles (34 km) across.

But its navy would be no match for the firepower of the Fifth Fleet which consists of 20-plus ships supported by combat aircraft, with 15,000 people afloat and another 1,000 ashore.

WB

Iran threatens to target Turkey if attacked by NATO

Iran will target NATO’s missile defense installations in Turkey if the U.S. or Israel attacks the Islamic Republic, a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Saturday.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guards’ aerospace division, said the warning is part of a new defense strategy to counter what he described as an increase in threats from the U.S. and Israel.

Tensions have been rising between Iran and the West since the release of a report earlier this month by the International Atomic Energy Agency that said for the first time that Tehran was suspected of conducting secret experiments whose sole purpose was the development of nuclear arms.

The U.S. and its Western allies suspect Iran of trying to produce atomic weapons, and Israel, which views Tehran as an existential threat, has warned of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

“Should we be threatened, we will target NATO’s missile defense shield in Turkey and then hit the next targets,” the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Hajizadeh as saying.

Tehran says NATO’s early warning radar station in Turkey is meant to protect Israel against Iranian missile attacks if a war breaks out with the Jewish state. Ankara agreed to host the radar in September as part of NATO’s missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats from neighboring Iran.

A military installation in the Turkish town of Kurecik, some 435 miles (700 kilometers) west of the Iranian border, has been designated as the radar site, according to Turkish government officials.

Hajizadeh said the United States also plans to install similar stations in Arab states south of Iran. He said increasing threats has made Iran alter its military defense strategy.

“Based on orders from the exalted commander in chief, we will respond to threats with threats,” he was quoted as saying.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, is also commander in chief of Iran’s armed forces.

Also Saturday, the chief of Iran’s elite Quds Force said he doesn’t fear assassination and is ready for “martyrdom.” He warned Washington of serious consequences if it does not stop threatening the Islamic Republic.

The comments by Quds Force commander Brig. Gen. Ghassem Soleimani were published in several Iranian newspapers. The Quds Force is the special foreign operations unit of the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, and Soleimani is a key figure in Iran’s military establishment but rarely speaks in public.

“Oh, God, bestow upon me martyrdom in Your path by the hands of enemies … The U.S. must know that when a glass is broken, it becomes sharper,” he told a gathering of militiamen in the southeastern Iranian town of Kerman.

Tensions have increased in recent weeks between Iran and the U.S., with several American neoconservatives urging the Obama administration to use covert action against Iran and kill some of its top officials, including Soleimani.

The force has been accused by the Americans of involvement in an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington. Two men, including an alleged member of Iran’s Quds Force, have been charged in New York federal court in the case.

Iran has dismissed the American claims as a “foolish plot”, saying U.S. officials have offered no proof.

Associated Press

Turkey’s T-129 attack helicopter prototype P6 maiden flight completes successfully

The first Turkish-built prototype of the T129 attack helicopter during flight tests over the Akinci airfield, Ankara.

The first flight, conducted by Turkish Aerospace Industries’ (TAI) test pilots, of the T129 “P6” prototype helicopter has timely and successfully been completed at TAI’s facilities in Akıncı, Ankara, the company said today  

The ATAK Program was initiated with the aim to meet the Attack/Tactical Reconnaissance Helicopter requirements of the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLF) by the integration of high-tech avionics equipment, hardware and software being developed ‘in-house’ by Turkey.  

The first flight of the P6 prototype marks an important milestone in the ATAK Program and is the first of three T129 prototypes which are being assembled in Turkey.

The helicopter is based on the Agusta Westland A129 Mongoose which has been the mainstay of the Italian army and has been operational and battle-proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The T-129 ATAK is an enhanced version of the Italian-built A129, and its development is now the responsibility of TAI, with AgustaWestland as the primary partner.

 Prior Crash

The original prototype being built in Italy crashed in March 2010 during a test flight, leaving its Italian test pilot and its test engineer needing hospital treatment for minor injuries.

Turkey originally planned to order 51 A129s with 40 options back in 2007 but the following year Turkey undertook to fully build the platform.

Under the agreement, TAI has integrated an indigenous mission computer, avionics, weapons systems, self-protection suites and the helmet-mounting cuing systems. TUSAS Engine Industries (TEI) is manufacturing the LHTEC CTS800-4N engines under licence. Under the agreement, Turkey has full marketing and intellectual property rights for the T-129 platform. There are also no restrictions imposed on Turkey for the export or transfer of the platform to third countries other than Italy and the UK.

International coalition of pressure against Syria

By Sami Kohen

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

The meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday constitutes a significant event in the international campaign focused on Syria lately.

It is not a coincidence that as Turkey launches this latest diplomatic attempt, many countries and organizations have also expressed tough criticism of the Assad regime.

The fact that the bloody incidents in Syria have reached the dimensions of a massacre has prompted even those countries which have been silent or cautious up until now to voice their concerns loudly.

Saudi Arabian King Abdullah condemned the incidents in Syria for the first time and called on Assad to end the violence. Like Saudi Arabia, two other Gulf countries, Bahrain and Kuwait, withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus.

Meanwhile, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council issued statements condemning the Assad administration. The chief imam of the al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt came out against Damascus.

It is a significant development that the Arab world for the first time is raising its voice in a chorus against the Assad regime even though some of these countries are lead by authoritarian kings or leaders. The public uprising in Bahrain was crushed by brute force. And besides, with contributions of troops from Saudi Arabia… This is one of the contradictions of the Arab world.

However, this is also a reality that the vice surrounding Syria is tightening and that the Assad regime is gradually becoming isolated.

Nobody says ‘resign’

Including Turkey, an interesting aspect of the attitude of all the countries that are increasing their pressure against Syria is that Assad is still the addressee, and hopes of change are still being pinned on him.

No one from either the West or the East has called on Assad to resign as in the case of Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi. This call had an immediate effect in Egypt. In Libya, the process has not been finalized yet.

In fact, incidents in Syria for example are more tragic than Egypt. But the international community still maintains the wish and hope that the transformation in this country can be made without a change of regime.

The primary reason for this is that Syria’s political structure and the strength of its regime is different than other Arab countries. To tell the truth, Assad is not a person who would obey the word “resign.” He relies on his own army, the Baath party, his intelligence organization and support from Iran.

Because of this and other similar reasons, nobody for now has openly asked Assad to resign. Instead of this, they advise him to withdraw his army from cities and end the firing on the public. The demand from Arab countries (for example King Abdullah) is only this. Western countries – and, of course, Turkey – in addition to this call for Assad to make democratic reforms fast, demand that he come to terms with the opposition and organize free elections.

With or without Assad

Will this change and transformation occur with or without Assad?

At this phase – since it is a weak probability that the regime will be toppled – the option of forcing Assad to change his politics is preferred more.

How will this happen? Again at this phase, the method to be applied should be to keep Damascus under political pressure and to force the administration to come to terms with the opposition.

Signs coming from the region and the West also point to the formation of a “coalition of pressure” against Syria.

Will this be enough to bring Assad to reason? If it is, then it is good for everybody. Otherwise, other options could be considered, such as boycotts or economic sanctions – nobody, presumably, is considering the military option. We hope that it will not come to that point.

*Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

HDN