Author:Smith, Dexter Jerome

Turkish officials are keen to speak of the centuries old ties with their Middle East neighbours, but less keen on talking about the new multi-million dollar arms trade that link the regions

Turkey's old Ottoman Empire at one time extended through Iraq and Iran, southward through the Arabian peninsula to Yemen and south-west into North Africa. Modern-day Turkey still feels the sometimes uncomfortable tensions between its secularist and Islamic influences. One of the less obvious areas where this shows is in its arms ties with Middle East states, which currently account for about half of Turkey's $200 million annual arms exports -- an amount set to increase both in absolute and proportional terms, not least because some Gulf states are funding a major part of the investment in Turkey's arms industry.

Turkish diplomacy over the past two decades has concentrated on the Middle East to a considerable degree. Turkey has tried to mediate in disputes between Iran and Iraq, and between Iraq and Kuwait. It provided useful support to the anti-Saddam Coalition Forces defending Saudi Arabia and liberating Kuwait, including the provision of air base facilities during the 1991 Gulf War.

Subsequently, it has provided a base of operations for United Nations missions relating to Iraq in respect of Kurdish "safe havens" and "no-fly zones" applying to Iraqi military aircraft. However, Turkey has not always allowed its bases to be used in support of retaliatory bombing missions against Iraq for violations of Iraqi undertakings to the UN. Turkey itself has violated Iraq's Kurdish safe havens -- most notably in early 1995 when the Turkish military made a deep incursion into these areas in northern Iraq to hunt down and destroy Turkish Kurdish separatists; an action which has to be seen in the wider context of a near civil war in Turkey that has claimed the lives of some 26,000 since 1984.

Turkey's trade connections with the Middle East include an oil pipeline from Iraq to the Turkish Mediterranean coast -- shut down in the run up to the 1991 Gulf War through till late 1996, when the UN agreed a limited lifting of sanctions against Iraq (now further extended) to allow Iraq to pay for food and medical supplies and fund compensation payments for the annexation of Kuwait and associated damage done. Turkey receives royalty payments from Iraqi oil exported in this way; the loss of this revenue while UN sanctions were in force swelled Turkey's foreign trade gap to around $15 billion per annum.

Partly to offset the impact on the Turkish economy of the UN oil embargo against Iraq, and partly as a thank...

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