Turkey Makes Ready Its Defenses Against Iraq
But it refuses to support attempts to remove the Iraqis from Kuwait
TURKEY, NATO's only Muslim member, has taken a firm stand against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and enforced economic sanctions including the shutting down of the oil pipeline. But it has also made clear that is unwilling to get involved in a possible military confrontation in the Gulf, unless its own territory is attacked.
For this reason, the Turkish government is not considering participating in a multinational force in the area, nor has it thus far agreed to allow the United States to use base facilities in Turkey (used by NATO) as a launching pad for attacks against Iraq.
President Turgut Ozal has said that at this stage, there was no question of Turkey taking on a new military commitment.
``I am confident that there will be no need to resort to a military option,'' he said. ``We are now in the phase of implementing the embargo. If necessary, the second phase will be a blockade of the Gulf.... Only if all these efforts fail, then a military intervention might be considered.... But our view is that a multinational force should be under the United Nations, like the one during the Korean war.''
Mr. Ozal stressed that Turkey has not been asked by the US to grant base facilities, and that no such request was made by US Secretary of State James Baker during his talks in Ankara on Thursday.
``The status of the bases is clear,'' he said. ``They are for the defense of Turkey, to be used by NATO in case of an attack.... If because of the Gulf crisis, Turkey is attacked, it is natural that these bases should be used accordingly.''
The Turks do not expect Iraq to attack Turkey. Ozal has pointed out that the reaffirmation by NATO Foreign Ministers yesterday in Brussels of their commitment to come to Turkey's defense would serve ``as a strong deterrent.''
Nevertheless, the Turkish armed forces are on the alert. The military has moved F-16s and other warplanes to bases near the Iraqi border, newspapers reported yesterday.
The Turkish general staff refuses to give information on specific military moves. But it confirmed last week that some Turkish air force units were in a ``state of advanced readiness.''
A Western diplomatic source said Turkey is taking defensive action, ``doing what any prudent military would do in times of high tension.'' And US bases and monitoring stations are now directed away from the north (Soviet Union) toward the Gulf area.
Turkish defense authorities have emphasized that military preparedness is just a ``precaution.''
Speculation here since Mr. Baker's visit that Turkey might have granted base facilities to the US for an attack against Iraq has been denied by senior government officials.
Ozal and other leaders have stressed that Turkey does not want to get involved militarily in the confrontation unless there is an attack on Turkish soil.
Turkish public opinion seems to be quite sensitive on the question of armed conflict in the Middle East. Opposition leaders have warned the government against any new engagement with the US that would drag the country into a new confrontation.
``We do not see ourselves as the gendarme of this region, and we don't want others to see us so,'' said Deniz Baykal, deputy leader of the Social Democratic Populist Party.
Suleyman Demirel, the leader of the right-wing True Path Party, criticized the government for the ``hasty action'' in adopting the economic sanctions and warned the government against ``adventurous acts.''
Many Turks say that any military involvement in the Gulf by Turkey would put Turkey on the spot vis-`a-vis the Arab and the Islamic world. ``When the crisis is over the West would sit back and relax, but we will continue to sit in this area, sharing common borders with neighbors who would hate us,'' the Turkish Daily News commented.
Prof. Mumtaz Soysal, a well-known political scientist, says it would be a great mistake to take part in a military action in the Middle East. ``Any such involvement would give the impression not only to the Iraqis but also to the Arab world in general that Turkey is a stooge of the Americans and is serving their interests in the region,'' he said.
Actually Saddam Hussein and his recent moves have been getting bad press here. Ozal has said that the Iraqi leader's action is unacceptable. ``I told his envoy [deputy Premier Taha Yasin Ramadan] that he will be completely isolated and will lose ultimately,'' Ozal said yesterday.
The Turks believe that the diplomatic and economic measures taken against Iraq will work and bear fruit. ``This might take months, perhaps four or five months, but I am confident that with the sanctions and if necessary the blockade, he will back down, and that there will not be any need to resort to force,'' Ozal said.
That will suit Turkey's desire to stay out of armed conflict and refrain from posing as the West's ``gendarme'' in the region.
``We are already paying a high bill for implementing the sanctions,'' an official says. ``Our losses in revenue are about $2.5 billion. No one should ask more sacrifices from us than these.''