U.S. President Donald Trump could be making the biggest mistake of his term if he sells stealth F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, according to Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Turkey, a NATO member, is a security risk because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an Islamic authoritarian, supports radical groups such as Hamas and the remnants of al-Qaeda and his senior officials pass on important intelligence to Washington’s enemies, Rubin wrote in the Washington Examiner.
Former President Jimmy Carter may be excused for selling F-14 jets to Iran in the 1970’s because no one saw the Islamic Revolution coming. But Turkey is not Iran and its revolution has been slow burning, taking years rather than days or weeks, Rubin said.
“If Trump and his administration or, more broadly Congress, allow delivery of F-35s to Turkey, they will be betraying U.S. intelligence to America’s enemies and putting American lives at risk,” he said. “That is not how anyone on either side of the aisle can claim to be making America great.”
Relations between Turkey and the United States have taken a nose dive over the past year after Turkey invaded northern Syria and threatened to attack U.S. troops there should they continue to support Kurdish fighters. Legal proceedings against senior Turkish officials, including bankers, for breaking sanctions on Iran and the continued presence in the United States of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey blames for a failed coup in July 2016, have also strained ties severely.
Time is running out to cancel delivery of the fighters – F-35s designated for Turkey made their first test flight in Texas last week. Turkey is due to receive the first of up to 100 of the planes in just over a month, according to a delivery schedule.
Although three U.S. senators have threatened to block the handover so long as Erdoğan holds a U.S. pastor in a Turkish jail, the dangers of providing the aircraft to Ankara run far deeper than the Turkish president’s hostage diplomacy, Rubin said.
Turkey has ordered S-300 air defence missiles from Russia, held unannounced air force war games with China and Erdoğan has urged war against Israel and personally backed an al-Qaeda financier, Rubin said. Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan also allegedly revealed the identities of Israeli agents spying on Iran’s nuclear programme, he said.
“Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, there is hardly an American enemy to which Turkey did not leak intelligence or partner with in order to subvert U.S. security,” Rubin said.