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NATO's Libya air operations center moves to Turkey

As NATO prepares to take over the command of Libya air operations, NATO spokesman has indicated on March 25 that the İzmir NATO Airbase in Turkey will act as the command and communications center for further air operations. With this capacity a Turkish major-general and an American lieutenant-general will have the ‘authority and responsibility’ for all NATO air-only operations through the NATO’s İzmir airbase. It is understood that NATO will take over the command of the air operations “either on Sunday or Monday” – March 27 or 28, respectively for a tentative period of 90 days, which can be “extended or shortened depending on circumstances”.

Turkish commentators indicate that the designation of the İzmir NATO airbase as the command center of Libya air operations was an ‘expected’ decision. Today, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters that the decision is ‘positive, because it fades France out of the equation‘. This position is also supported by Turkish defence analysts and stratèges who claim that “the operation is now legal and ‘normal’ after the NATO’s takeover“. Turkish analysts emphasize three humanitarian aspects of NATO’s utility in the Libya operation, directed towards Turkey’s primary objective: imposing a fast ceasefire.

1- Establishing a naval blockade to impose the arms embargo on Gaddafi’s forces

2- Providing security for a possible and probable international humanitarian mission

3- Enforcing the no-fly zone to prevent further human cost.

‘Civilian casualties’ argument and the subsequent assertion that any NATO involvement in Libya should be as fast and as decisive as possible, are likely to be the primary drivers of Turkish policy with regard to NATO’s operation and its aftermath. This isn’t so much of an ideological or philosophical concern; rather Turkey’s arguments are based on the fact that prolonged conflicts that end up creating civilian casualties will be unpopular domestically in the countries that join the NATO operation. Turkish analysts warn that a lack of domestic support will cause these countries to waver in their NATO efforts and can end up quitting prematurely, before a final settlement can be reached in Libya.

So far, Turkey has committed 6 F-16s, to the forward airbases of Sigonella and Trapani and will strictly carry air-to-air combat load. This means that the Turkish fighter jets will not be dispatched with any bombing or otherwise air-to-ground payload. Turkey also remains strongly opposed to a land operation, as it will render the operation an invasion.

On the political front, Libya operation is likely to witness the already wide rift between France and Turkey, which mainly is a result of the Turkish diplomatic retaliations against what the Turks call the French government’s ‘negative attitude’ regarding Turkey’s European Union accession process. Secondly, Turkey has around 25 billion US-dollars-worth investment in Libya, which it intends to protect. Therefore, Turkey sees French involvement in Libya a serious threat to its current and post-operation business interests there.

NATO's Libya air operations center moves to Turkey



Akin Unver

Dr. Ünver is an assistant professor of international relations at Kadir Has University, Istanbul.

Previously he was the Ertegün Lecturer of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, Near Eastern Studies department - the only academic to retain this prestigious fellowship for two consecutive years. He conducted his joint post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan’s Center for European Studies and the Center for the Middle East and North African Studies, where he authored several articles on Turkish politics, most notable of which is ”Turkey’s deep-state and the Ergenekon conundrum”, published by the Middle East Institute.

Born and raised in Ankara, Turkey, he graduated from T.E.D. Ankara College in 1999 and earned his B.A. in International Relations from Bilkent University (2003) and MSc in European Studies from the Middle East Technical University (2005). He received his PhD from the Department of Government, University of Essex, where his dissertation, ‘A comparative analysis of the discourses on the Kurdish question in the European Parliament, US Congress and Turkish National Assembly‘ has won the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) 2010 Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award in Social Sciences.

Akın also assumed entry-level policy positions at the European Union Secretariat-General, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Eurasian Center for Strategic Studies (ASAM) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (D.C.), as well as teaching positions at the University of Essex (Theories of International Relations) and Sabancı University (Turkey and the Middle East).

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