Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The predicament of Incirlik

Implicit accusations continue to be issued from Ankara against Washington. But these accusations cannot be met with deeds, at least not a great cost, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking during the 33rd mukhtars (local officials) meeting in Ankara
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking during the 33rd mukhtars meeting in Ankara

Turkey is once again snapping and growling at its American ally over two issues that have become the focus of the obsessions of the powers-that-be in Ankara. The first is Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Muslim pundit and preacher they allege to have masterminded the 15 July coup attempt and to head a terrorist organisation that they depict as more demonic than Islamic State (IS) and the PKK. Ankara has been clamouring for Washington to hand over Gulen so that he can be brought to a fair and impartial trial. The second is the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria declared in the Kurdish-controlled cantons, which President Erdogan accuses outgoing US President Barack Obama of supporting.

The Obama administration has deafened its ears to Ankara’s incessant gripes concerning Gulen. Apparently realising this, the Turkish Ministry of Justice issued a statement accusing Washington of dragging its feet with regard to the four dossiers that it sent to the Justice Department in Washington on 19 July, four days after the coup attempt, and that its claims contain conclusive evidence that Gulen masterminded and engineered the coup attempt. The authorities in Washington were supposed to study these files and respond, which so far has not happened. This, Turkish officials say, is proof of Washington’s collusion with Gulen and his designs to eliminate Erdogan.

Ankara is equally incensed at Washington’s continued partnership with the Syrian Kurdish militias. Washington not only refuses to term them “terrorist” organisations, contrary to Ankara’s wishes, it regards the Kurdish militias as the most effective forces on the ground in the fight against the IS group in Syria. The pro-Erdogan mouthpiece Star wrote that Ankara had turned down what it described as an “immoral” proposal by a US Pentagon official to the effect that the US would offer logistic and intelligence support for Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation against Al-Bab on the condition that it would not interfere with the affairs of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG). This was effectively an “admission” that the US was protecting a “terrorist organisation” that is an extension of the PKK, thereby “betraying” its Turkish ally.

The occupant of the presidential palace then held forth. Some parties that do not have the courage to confront Turkey openly are trying to bring it down through terrorist organisations that operate inside the country and abroad, but “we will resist them all,” said President Erdogan. Notching up the rhetoric, he charged a “certain power” of supporting, arming, fortifying and directing the PKK, IS, FETO (the alleged Gulen terrorist organisation) and other terrorist organisations and unleashing them against Turkey.

It required no great effort to work out which country he meant in this address delivered to a carefully selected crowd in a square in the southeast town of Sanliurfa last Friday. In more menacing tones he added, “the countries that support us during this period we will be our friends. If they do not support us, we will go our own way using our own means.”

That was the signal to the Turkish media to launch a blaring anti-Western and, above all, anti-US propaganda campaign. The ultranationalist pro-ruling party Vatan on Saturday featured a specially prepared nationwide “opinion” poll that revealed that three out of four Turks believe that the US is the world’s biggest supporter of terrorist organisations and operations. Israel came in second and the EU third.

Other media organs struck a more defiant tone. Addressing “the conspirators”, one fervently pro-ruling party writer vowed, “you will never halt the course of this people. You will not divide our streets and cities and you will not spread chaos. Regardless of the forces you unleash from the remaining covert elements you control, whether from FETO, the PKK, the PYD, the YPG, you will not be able to partition this country.”

This was Ibrahim Karagul, a palace favourite and Yeni Safak columnist. Alluding to the “crusader wars”, he continued: “We know that we are being targeted because we have grown bigger and stronger and begun to liberate ourselves from the tutelage institutions that have ruled us for a hundred years. Today, Turkey is facing the most relentless assaults since World War I. In that war they destroyed our empire. This time they are trying to halt our progress and keep us hostage for another century.” The “tutelage institutions” is a reference to the nearly 100-year-old republic that was founded by Ataturk.

The rant rambles on, but eventually Karagul gets to the point. “We must stop all who manage the terrorist groups from the military bases in our land where meetings are held in order to plan terrorist operations!” He concludes with a call on Turkish citizens to prepare for another “war of liberation.”

Then, right on cue, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Karnak announced last Thursday that his government would review the presence of the international coalition at the strategic Incirlik Airbase in Adana, near the Syrian border. Rumours that Ankara would close the base to US fighters had begun to circulate before this. The Hurriyet added that the subject would be discussed in the first cabinet session in 2017 which would be chaired by the president, not the prime minister.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials have adopted the line that terrorist attacks in Turkey began to mount ever since 20 July 2015 when the US was given permission to use the Incirlik Base to launch attacks against IS in Syria. They also claim that the jets that were used in last summer’s coup attempt took off from that base, jets tended by US marines who take their commands from the White House.

Turkey quickly took a step or two back. Foreign Minister Cavusoglu denied reports of the impending closure of Incirlik to coalition forces. “What has been mentioned in this regard is not on our agenda at present,” he said following a meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York. In a kind of face saving afterthought he added he could not see the point of the presence at that base of countries that were not giving support to the war against IS, even though that is the purpose of them being there.

What this back-pedalling signifies is that the Turkish decision makers realise that Incirlik cannot be used for bargaining or blackmail, at least not in the immediate future. It would backfire at great cost to themselves, especially given the mounting pressures from public opinion and the press in the West to expel Turkey from NATO because of its disastrous human and civil rights record. If Ankara feels it does not need Washington, it still needs NATO, which means it is stuck with the predicament of Incirlik, which appears to have become Americanised.

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