ANALYSIS: Erdogan creates a new crisis in the Middle East

Turkish leader risks major confrontation with the West with purchase of Russian S-400 batteries, belligerent moves across Middle East.

Yochanan Visser ,

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at Organization of Islamic Cooperation
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at Organization of Islamic Cooperation

Three years after the botched coup against him, Turkey’s hotheaded leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks a major confrontation with the West over his policies in the Middle East.

The crisis in the relationship between Turkey and the West began after Erdogan accused the CIA of being behind the botched coup which some observers think was a false flag operation to give the autocratic leader more executive powers.

In the aftermath of the botched coup Erdogan decided to seal-off the Incirlik airbase which was used by NATO warplanes in the battle against ISIS and where the US army has stored tactical nuclear weapons.

Erdogan later demanded the US extradite the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and who Erdogan claimed had been orchestrating the failed coup.

At about the same time, Erdogan demanded the US army in Syria end its cooperation with the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which controls roughly one-third of Syrian territory along the Turkish border.

The US didn’t give in, however, and Erdogan then decided to improve relations with Russia after solving a crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish army.

The Turkish leader later decided to purchase the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile defense shield, a move which set him on a crash course with NATO of which Turkey is a prominent member.

As a result of the purchase of the S-400 system by its ally Turkey, the Trump Administration decided to scuttle the delivery of the Lockheed F-35 stealth fighter plane but hasn’t decided yet to apply the so-called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey.

During the recent G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Erdogan met with US President Donald J. Trump to discuss the looming crisis over the delivery of the S-400 missile shield.

The Turkish delegation reportedly pointed out to Trump that the deal with Russia was closed before Aug. 2, 2017, the day Trump signed the CAATSA legislation.

Trump seemed to show some understanding of Erdogan’s position on the S-400 when he blamed the Obama administration for not selling the Patriot missile system to Turkey, but nevertheless announced he would cancel the delivery of the F-35’s.

The stealth jet is considered the most advanced warplane in the world, while the S-400 system is designed to counter the threat posed by the F-35.

On July 12, Turkey received the first batch of S-400 components when three Antonov An-124 cargo planes of the Russian air force landed at the Murted Air Base in Ankara.

The first S-400 batteries will become operable in November this year and Russian military officials will train their Turkish counterparts in operating the system.

The training will allow the Russians to collect crucial intelligence on NATO’s operational systems and could cost Turkey its membership in the treaty organization.

Erdogan, meanwhile, has apparently come to the conclusion that he must stave off a confrontation with Trump over the deal and is using his special relationship with the President to prevent sanctions which could exacerbate Turkey's economic crisis.

At the same time, the Turkish tyrant seems to threaten destabilizing the Middle East even further by belligerent moves in Syria, Iraq, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea where Turkey started drilling for gas near occupied Northern Cyprus.

According to media reports Turkey is amassing troops and heavy weaponry along the border with Syria in the eastern part of the war-torn country.

Turkish state-controlled media reported this week that the “huge deployment” is a preparation for an offensive in the area east of the Euphrates River, now controlled by the SDF and US Special Forces.

In Iraq, meanwhile, Turkey used for the first time a ballistic missile to attack a position of the outlawed Kurdish PKK militia while a report by the Anti-War blog revealed that Turkish soldiers are in northern Iraq to carry out missions against the PKK.

Then there is Libya, where a new offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar is causing a major escalation of the civil war.

Turkey has recently decided to intervene in the war on behalf of Islamist militias controlling Tripoli and which are part of the Muslim Brotherhood bloc led by Erdogan.

The Turks have delivered armored vehicles to the Libyan Islamist militias and have military advisers on the ground.

The showdown between Turkey and the LNA has recently becoming more direct after Haftar’s forces arrested six Turks and shot down a Turkish drone which was on its way to attack the LNA near Mitiga International Airport in the vicinity of Tripoli.

The US initially backed the army of the officially UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), but after a phone call between Haftar and Trump seemed to have changed course.

A White House statement after the phone call on April 15 said that Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources.”

The statement contradicted criticism issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who a few days prior to Trump’s conversation with Haftar, demanded an immediate end to the LNA offensive against the GNA and the militias in Tripoli.

“We’re going to stand tall, not to be stubborn,” Erdogan said about the looming confrontation with his NATO partners on July 15 when Turkey commemorated the botched coup in 2016.

Turkish political commentators think the controversial leader is willfully creating a new crisis with the West in order to consolidate his rule after the opposition won a re-run of the municipal election in Istanbul.

“The only way for Erdogan to survive is to convince Turkey's citizens, including Kurds and other minorities that the only options in front of them are ‘Tayyip or we burn the country’,” the Washington-based Turkish journalist Ilhan Tanir wrote in his commentary on the new crisis.