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Turkish officials are keen to speak of the centuries old ties with their Middle East neighbours, but less keen on talking about the new multi-million dollar arms trade that link the regions

Turkey's old Ottoman Empire at one time extended through Iraq and Iran, southward through the Arabian peninsula to Yemen and south-west into North Africa. Modern-day Turkey still feels the sometimes uncomfortable tensions between its secularist and Islamic influences. One of the less obvious areas where this shows is in its arms ties with Middle East states, which currently account for about half of Turkey's $200 million annual arms exports -- an amount set to increase both in absolute and proportional terms, not least because some Gulf states are funding a major part of the investment in Turkey's arms industry.

Turkish diplomacy over the past two decades has concentrated on the Middle East to a considerable degree. Turkey has tried to mediate in disputes between Iran and Iraq, and between Iraq and Kuwait. It provided useful support to the anti-Saddam Coalition Forces defending Saudi Arabia and liberating Kuwait, including the provision of air base facilities during the 1991 Gulf War.

Subsequently, it has provided a base of operations for United Nations missions relating to Iraq in respect of Kurdish "safe havens" and "no-fly zones" applying to Iraqi military aircraft. However, Turkey has not always allowed its bases to be used in support of retaliatory bombing missions against Iraq for violations of Iraqi undertakings to the UN. Turkey itself has violated Iraq's Kurdish safe havens -- most notably in early 1995 when the Turkish military made a deep incursion into these areas in northern Iraq to hunt down and destroy Turkish Kurdish separatists; an action which has to be seen in the wider context of a near civil war in Turkey that has claimed the lives of some 26,000 since 1984.

Turkey's trade connections with the Middle East include an oil pipeline from Iraq to the Turkish Mediterranean coast -- shut down in the run up to the 1991 Gulf War through till late 1996, when the UN agreed a limited lifting of sanctions against Iraq (now further extended) to allow Iraq to pay for food and medical supplies and fund compensation payments for the annexation of Kuwait and associated damage done. Turkey receives royalty payments from Iraqi oil exported in this way; the loss of this revenue while UN sanctions were in force swelled Turkey's foreign trade gap to around $15 billion per annum.

Partly to offset the impact on the Turkish economy of the UN oil embargo against Iraq, and partly as a thank you gesture for Turkey's Gulf War support, the country is receiving around $5 billion in compensation payments from the Gulf states and the US. In fact 90 per cent of this money comes from the Gulf states -- Kuwait and Saudi Arabia being the first and second largest contributors respectively -- with the remaining 10 per cent coming from the United States, in addition to other economic and military aid previously committed to Turkey by its leading NATO partner.

Virtually all of this $5 billion compensation package -- with payments into early next decade -- is pledged to the Turkish Defence Fund -- a spending account designed to improve Turkish defence capabilities, including investment in Turkey's indigenous arms industries. This fund is administered by the Undersecretariat for Defence Material (SSM), which since 1985 has also operated Turkey's Defence Industry Support Fund -- raised from duties on alcohol, tobacco and gambling as well as payments in lieu of conscripts avoiding military service, transfers from military foundations, and even private voluntary contributions.

About 50 per cent of the $5 billion compensation package is in fact being spent on the acquisition of 80 advanced US F-16 fighters -- a second batch for the Turkish Air Force off the production lines of Turkey's Tasus Aerospace Industries (TAI), a company initially part-financed in the mid 1980s by the Turkish Air Force Foundation. This procurement will also provide associated benefits to other Turkish companies like MIKES, who manufacture electronic warfare equipment -- including the electronic countermeasures (jamming and decoying) systems for Turkish-produced F-16s -- equipment that countries in the Middle East often find it difficult to purchase without any strings attached from the main Western suppliers.

Turkey ordered 160 F-16s in 1984; with this second batch of 80 ordered post-Gulf War, making it the biggest customer for the F-16 outside the USA and the only licensed producer of the F-16 who has ever delivered this advanced aircraft complete to a third country -- Egypt. TAI was given permission to build 46 F-16C/Ds for the Egyptian Air Force under a separate agreement which ran between 1993 and 1995. A subsequent order for a further 21 F-16s for Egypt, however, is now being satisfied out of US plants -- the aforementioned agreement having expired.

Certainly, there is no question as to TAI's technical competence or the desirability of its product, with F-16 wings plus aft and centre fuselages being exported from Turkey to the US for the US Air Force and for the Egyptian follow-on order, as well as for an F-16 order from the Taiwanese Air Force. Indeed, TAI is currently providing technical assistance to South Korea, helping Samsung with its local manufacture of F- 16s for the Korean Air Force.

Turkey's 1990 agreement with the Spanish plane-makers CASA, for TAI to produce 46 out of a total of 50 CN-235 medium military transport aircraft ordered by the Turkish Armed Forces, opens similar -- if not greater -- export opportunities for TAI. TAI's license agreement with CASA gives it the right to export the CN-235 to its near-neighbours and countries of the Middle East and Far East. TAI officials thought they had clinched their first export order for two CN-235s for Croatia last year -- having played the brother Muslim card, previously having pressed for the lifting of the UN arms embargo against Muslims in the former Yugoslavia and subsequently supplying arms and training to them under NATO supervision. But the deal fell apart this Summer because Croatia was unable to pay without a soft loan facility which the Turks were not geared up to offer.

The Turkish Government is now preparing plans for an export guarantee/soft loan scheme to assist future foreign arms sales -- even oil rich Gulf states are keen to take advantage of such facilities on bigger arms deals. Turkish CN-235s -- with a load capacity of some 50 troops plus their full combat equipment -- could fulfill the medium-lift military transport requirements projected in a number of Middle East countries, as well as those in respect of the Gulf Co-operation Council's embryo 10,000-man Peninsula Shield rapid reinforcement multinational defence force, and the airframe requirement for a medium-range submarine hunting Maritime Patrol Aircraft which the GCC wants 46 of under another related initiative.

Turkish soft loan/export guarantees might also help other Turkish defence exports to the Middle East, though the US-Turkish joint venture company FMC-Nurol has done very well to date without such assistance with its Armoured Combat Vehicles based on the US Army's M 113 range of tracked ACVs.

The company was formed in 1988 on the back of a Turkish Army order for 1698 ACVs in four types: an Advanced Armoured Personnel Carrier (AAPC), which is an all-terrain amphibious infantry transport and support vehicle with a 12.7mm gun; an anti-tank version -- the Armoured Tow Vehicle (ATV) -- which adds a turret for firing TOW II missiles; an Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle (AIFV) with a stabilised turret and a 25mm gun; and an Armoured Mortar Vehicle (AMV), which the Turkish Army ordered with an 81mm smooth bore mortar and a 12.7mm machine gun.

Last March, FMC-Nurol won its biggest ever export contract with a $75 million order from the Army of the United Arab Emirates for 136 AAPCs.

Previously the company had sold smaller unspecified quantities of its AMVs to Egypt and Bahrain -- the former taking it with a 120mm turreted mortar firing post, while Bahrain took upwards of 40 with a semi-automatic 120mm recoiling rifled mortar. As with the Turkish F-16, exports of these armoured vehicles open further export opportunities for other Turkish defence companies, like the State-run ordnance and gun-makers MKEK, and defence electronics company Aselsan, whose new 9600 series frequency hopping radios are fitted to all FMC-Nurol AAPCs.

Aselsan, created in 1975 by the Turkish Ground Forces Foundation, produces a broad range of military communications, microwave and electro-optic equipment for land, sea and air, including the 4600 series tactical radios in all Turkish Army tanks, Askarad ground surveillance radars, various naval electronics countermeasures systems and the inertial navigation systems on the Turkish F-16s. Aselsan also has a subsidiary specialising in rocket motors, propellants, and missile parts, supporting Turkish orders for the European/NATO Stinger missile and the 122mm missiles of the Multiple Launch Rocket System, MLRS, which is now developing two types of Unmanned Air Vehicle with TAI.

Both MKEK and Aselsan now claim significant export success, the former annually shipping abroad some $50 million worth of light arms and ammunition, and the latter some $30 million worth of military radios each year -- both claiming to export to ten countries; a high proportion of their product going to the Middle East.

Another big exporter on the Turkish defence scene is the wheeled armoured vehicle manufacturer Otokar, similarly boasting $30 million worth of exports annually. From its launch in 1988, Otokar has developed a comprehensive range of 12 different 4x4 wheeled vehicle types, including the Akrep internal security vehicle and the heavier newly designed Cobra armoured vehicle in six variants.

The Cobra can be fitted as a TOW missile launcher or a reconnaissance vehicle; it can also carry a 25mm gun or be configured as a mobile command and control post. All Otokar vehicles utilise a hull construction which provides all-round protection from small-to-medium calibre projectiles and land mines. Not surprisingly, Otokar is making a big sales push in Kuwait and Iran, which together have about 20 million uncleared land mines on their territory.

Turkey's defence contacts with Israel, however, pose an interesting counterpoint to the nation's growing arms ties to the rest of the Middle East. In September 1996, Turkey and Israel concluded a defence technology co-operation agreement -- a major part of which concerned Israel Aircraft Industries provision of $650 million worth of technical assistance and project leadership to TAI regarding an upgrade to Turkey's 54 F-4 Phantom fighters; a close commercial, technical and military contact which is likely to be extended to the upgrade of Turkish Air Force F-5 fighters and an expected Turkish Navy acquisition of Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Israel Military Industries is also a front runner in the current competition for a huge contract to upgrade Turkey's 1000 US-built M-60A3 Main Battle Tanks, having undertaken a similar upgrade of the Israeli Army's M-60A3 MBTs.

The two countries are now engaged in co-production for the Turkish Air Force of the Israeli Popeye missile; and the Israelis are providing the Turkish Air Force with training and technical support regarding aerial reconnaissance -- essentially Israeli pilots are flying from Turkish air bases to spy on the terrorist bases of Kurdish separatists in Turkey and northern Iraq, as well as Islamic militants in northern Lebanon and Syria.

Close defence ties with Israel are now highly prized by the Turkish military, who forced the head of the Islamist Welfare Party, Necmettin Erbakan, to resign as Turkish Prime Minister last year, subsequently producing alleged evidence of the illegal funding of Erbakan's party by Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iran, plus certain Islamic fundamentalist connections. Moreover, this January, Turkey joined Israel and the US in joint naval and air manoeuvres in the south-eastern Mediterranean -- twice postponed; once following an assassination attempt against the Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel, in May 1996, by a gunman justifying his action as a protest against Turkish/Israeli defence co-operation. Crucially, there is no evidence so far of these Turkish/Israeli defence ties harming Turkey's Middle East arms trade.
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Author:Smith, Dexter Jerome
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Feb 1, 1998

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