The mother of all battles has begun in the US Congress over the sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits to NATO ally Turkey. It will not be an easy one. Ankara has done its best to lose the traditional support it has in Washington but it still enjoys certain strong backers.
Many officials in the American establishment believe the West is facing a big risk of losing Turkey. This became evident ahead of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ trip to the United States in May when they sought to play down the importance of the visit on the grounds that it would irk Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It is also worth noting that many lower, albeit key, posts in the US administration are staffed by officials that still have memories of the anti-Americanism of late socialist leader Andreas Papandreou and see Greece as an unreliable ally. For these people, Turkey’s behavior – whether it’s about the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system or the alliance with Iran – is of secondary importance.
Turkey is also spending a lot of money in Washington lobbying. However, it has lost the support of the pro-Israel lobby, which used to be its main ally.
And then, of course, there’s the US defense industry which does not want to lose Turkey as a customer.
Greece has played its cards well. Mitsotakis’ visit, the reactivation of the Greek-American lobby after many years, the frequent visits by Congress members to Athens, the valuable role of Senator Bob Menendez (who is also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), have all helped strengthen Greece’s leverage.
The battle in Congress can go either way and the Greek government may need to hammer out a contingency plan. The objective must be to strike a balance at a crucial period during which Greece will be making big steps in terms of enhancing its defense capabilities. As several experts have pointed out in this newspaper, there are technical and diplomatic ways of securing that the Hellenic Air Force maintains a qualitative advantage.
Put differently, Greece must follow the example of Israel, which has always managed to secure a strong advantage vis-a-vist other clients of America’s defense industry.