Gaza conflict key driver behind Türkiye's move to unblock Sweden's NATO accession

(Xinhua) 08:13, October 31, 2023

ANKARA, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- Türkiye has unblocked Sweden's NATO accession protocol after more than a year of delays, a move that analysts say is driven by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Ankara's efforts to secure a fighter jet deal with the United States.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan submitted the protocol to parliament for ratification on Oct. 23, with the parliament's foreign relations committee set to review it before a final vote at the Grand National Assembly, where Erdogan's ruling coalition has the majority.

In July, during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Erdogan was committed to presenting Sweden's NATO membership bid to the parliament, but no progress had been made until recently.

Sweden abandoned its long-standing policy of non-alignment and applied to join NATO last year following the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Türkiye and Hungary are the only NATO members yet to ratify its accession.

A source in parliament, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Xinhua that the protocol could be voted on in 15 days "if everything goes according to plan," but warned of possible "complications" that could delay the ratification.

Analysts point out that the Gaza conflict is a significant factor in Erdogan's decision to push forward the ratification process, noting that the Turkish leader is trying to balance his support for Palestine, popular among his ruling party's base, with Western capitals' views of his government.

"Erdogan is very keen on a mediator role in the conflict. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken skipped Ankara in his recent Middle East trips, and the U.S. has signaled its willingness to involve Türkiye in issues concerning Gaza only if Sweden's NATO entry is ratified," said Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Türkiye at the Washington Institute.

Serkan Demirtas, an Ankara-based analyst and journalist, also noted this decision to ratify Sweden's NATO accession can be seen as a way to balance relations with the West at a time when Erdogan is openly critical of Israel's military actions.

Erdogan has repeatedly accused the West of failing to stop the Israeli offensive in Gaza and criticized Israel's attacks on Gaza since the conflict broke out on Oct. 7.

Erdogan also opposed the U.S. deployment of two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean and said the NATO ally has no role in the conflict.

The Turkish leader's public criticism of Israel and Western countries has found favor among many in Türkiye but has faced opposition from the Israeli government, setting the country apart from the positions of most NATO members.

Moreover, Türkiye also tries to link its request to buy 40 new F-16s from the U.S. with the advancement of Sweden's NATO membership.

Cagaptay said if the Biden administration requested to sell F-16s to Türkiye soon, the Turkish parliament would likely ratify Sweden's NATO membership quickly. But he said it was unclear whether this would secure the 20-billion-dollar deal for the 40 new F-16s that Türkiye wants.

The situation is complicated by several key U.S. lawmakers who have raised concerns about authorizing the sale of fighter jets to Türkiye over issues unrelated to Sweden's NATO accession.

In addition to the NATO accession of Sweden and the Israel-Hamas conflict, Ankara and Washington face other challenges, particularly in Syria, where Türkiye considers Kurdish fighters, supported by the U.S. in the battle against the Islamic State, as terrorists.

Tensions escalated on Oct. 5 when a U.S. F-16 downed a Turkish drone approaching U.S. forces in northern Syria.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


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