10 reasons to tank the F-35 jet sale to Turkey
Prof. Efraim Inbar: Israel Hayom May 23, 2018
The F-35 is a U.S.-manufactured fifth-generation combat platform with
stealth capabilities, probably the best fighter jet in the world. (Israel
just received its first F-35 jets, and has used them operationally over
Turkey is planning to acquire at least 100 F-35 fighter jets, the first of
which is scheduled to be delivered in 2019. Delivering such a war machine to
Turkey – an authoritarian, Islamist-leaning state that undermines Western
interests in the region – would be a big mistake.
Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has long
stopped behaving as a reliable Western ally, even though it is still a
formal member of the NATO alliance. Instead, Turkey has succumbed to
Ottoman and Islamist impulses, and it seems to have imperial ambitions.
Turkey is spending large amounts on arms procurement and on building a
domestic military industry intended to bolster its ability to project power
beyond its border. It is intervening militarily in Iraq and in Syria. It has
used military force against Kurds in Syria (an important American partner in
the war against ISIS). Turkish-sponsored militias may yet confront American
forces in Syria.
Ankara is also very hostile to American allies in the region. Turkish
fighters regularly violate Greek airspace, underscoring Turkey's desire for
a revision in the international border. It bullies Cyprus (a third of which
is occupied by Turkey) by sending its navy to intervene with gas
explorations in Cypriot continental shelf waters. Turkey is also challenging
the legitimacy of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt (who deposed the
Muslim Brotherhood former President Mohammed Morsi). Ankara opposes the
Saudi attempt to isolate Qatar (a country that supports the Muslim
Brotherhood and that is cozy with Iran). Similarly, Turkey's relations with
Israel have been strained. And at the same time, Turkey is nurturing good
relations with Russia, China and Iran.
The Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations have failed to
significantly signal their displeasure with Ankara, allowing Turkey to
pursue policies that are inimical to the American interest. It is time to
change that. It makes no sense to strengthen Turkish military capabilities,
and therefore the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey should be halted.
Telegraphically, here are 10 reasons why the F-35 sale to Turkey should be
1. The sale by America of F-35 fighter jets abroad is meant to be a booster
for the capabilities of U.S. allies. Turkey hardly qualifies any longer for
2. Delivering the F-35 to Turkey would indicate American support for
Erdogan's Turkey. Yet, Turkey is an increasingly authoritarian Islamist
regime. Under Erdogan, infringements on human rights have gradually
increased resulting in a "Putinization" of the Turkish political system. The
military, once the defender of the Kemalist secular tradition, has been
successfully subordinated by the Islamists.
3. Supplying F-35s will significantly strengthen the capabilities of the
Turkish military to make mischief in the region. Erdogan may decide to use
the upgraded air force to establish himself as arbiter of developments in
the eastern Mediterranean and other parts of the Middle East, or to
interfere with Israel's air supremacy, or even to attack Israel.
4. The planned delivery of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system to
Turkey, a procurement that has antagonized NATO members, makes the F-35 deal
very problematic. If Turkey integrates the American-made F-35 and the
Russian-produced S-400, details about the airplane operating systems might
leak to the Russians. Thus, F-35 security could be compromised in other
arenas where the jet is deployed.
5. Turkey might facilitate Russian access to data about American weapon
systems on the F-35.
6. Leakage of sensitive information and technical details of U.S. weapons
systems to Tehran is also a distinct possibility since Turkey is developing
warmer relations with Iran.
7. Eskisehir, in Turkey, has been chosen as an industrial hub for the
production of F-35 engines and as a maintenance hub for all European
operators of the F-35. This too is a mistake. It could create a problematic
logistical dependency upon a country whose political direction is uncertain.
8. This could result in the transfer of state-of-the-art technology to
Turkey and increase the capabilities of the Turkish domestic arms industry.
This would reduce Turkey's dependence upon foreign suppliers, enhancing its
freedom of action.
9. The economic benefits of the F-35 deal for Turkey are evaluated at over
$12 billion, thus aiding the fortunes of an Islamist regime. It is unwise to
confer such advantages on a country whose behavior is not helpful to the
10. Arms sales should be subordinated to paramount political and strategic
considerations. American economic fears of losing the Turkish arms market
should not supersede the negative strategic ramifications of the
In sum, the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey must be stopped.
Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic
Studies and Fellow at the Middle East Forum.