When Turkey, while it was a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2010, voted “NO” to the resolution to impose sanctions on Iran, western media brought the discussion about Turkey changing its axis, once again. Such talks were outtalked after Turkey accepted the deployment of NATO Ballistic Missile Defense System early warning radars in Kürecik, Turkey. Nowadays, with the delivery of S-400 missile system, the future of Turkey-NATO and Turkey-US relations are being exclusively discussed. Is the Kürecik radar the best trump card of Turkey, in an environment where US keeps sanctions as an option?
Kürecik hosted the US Air Force radar and communication relay station in the past. The station which was established in 1961 continued to monitor the Soviet air space until its mission ended in 1991. During the Lisbon Summit in 2010, the NATO member states decided to set a missile defence system, which can provide protection against ballistic and navigational missiles, and integrate with US national missile defence system.
Kürecik radar is the most crucial element of NATO Missile Defense System.
AN/TPY-2 early warning and detection radar, which is the most important factor of this system, was activated in Kürecik by the US in February 2012. Command and control of the system, including Kürecik radar and other elements of the system is conducted by NATO Air Force from the Ramstein Base, Germany.
Kürecik radar and its location are of vital importance because the radar’s field of view does not only include Iran, but it also includes Russia.
AN/TPY-2 radar has the capability to send information from thousands of kilometers away (this information will be obtained by detecting and following ballistic missiles fired from Russia and Iran) to AGEIS ASHORE missile defence system and the AGEIS ships, which will destroy the missiles. This will allow ballistic missiles to be shot from as far away as possible, before entering the atmosphere. Kürecik radar and its location are of vital importance for the effectiveness of NATO Ballistic Missile System. Because it’s field of view does not only include Iran but also Russia. If a missile is launched from any of these fields to Europe or US, tracking the missiles with TPY-2 radar in Kürecik and obtaining target information will be the safest way for missile defence.
Turkey’s radars cannot detect ballistic missiles.
Turkey, like any other NATO member state, don’t get information directly from Kürecik Radar Station. They get the information about missile’s location, possible impact zone and impact time which are compiled data from Kürecik Radar Station and detection satellites by Alliance Air Command in Ramstein Base in Germany, through NATO communication channels. When it is considered that Turkey’s own radars cannot technically detect ballistic and cruise missiles, contact information from Kürecik Radar Station and thus Alliance Air Command is also very important for Turkey’s defence.
Kürecik Radar Station is protecting NATO Members as well as Israel
As another point, what makes Kürecik Radar Station important is that any missile fired from Iran to Israel could be detected easily with this radar. Although Turkey has stated that it has let Kürecik Radar Station to be deployed only with the condition that any information gathered from the radar won’t be shared with Israel, due to the tension in their bilateral relations. However, the US is likely sharing radar contact information with Israel, because of their bilateral agreements made about missile defence. Therefore, it can be said that Kürecik Radar Station, although not directly, provides protection for Israel from ballistic missiles which may be launched from Iran.
Turkey, in a strange twist of fate, is again facing an axis shift argument after the delivery of S-400. This time, with its indispensability, Kürecik Radar Station is Turkey’s trump card on the bargaining table.
New sanctions for Turkey are again on the agenda. In the last instance, US President Trump has requested extra time from Congress for sanctions. Although it seems like both countries are in consensus about the secure zone that will be practiced in the east of Euphrates, the developments in the west of Euphrates might cause sanctions to be brought to discussion again at any time.
Turkey’s trump card against US sanctions is Kürecik Radar Station
In the current case, one of Turkey’s trump cards would be to end all activities of Kürecik Radar Station. Turkey -being aware that the mentioned radar is indispensable for the security of NATO members and Israel- could bring forward the fact that in case sanctions are imposed, it can end Kürecik Radar Station’s activities. Some statements were made in this direction by Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu. Although Turkey is not bringing up the Israel issue explicitly, Turkey’s most significant advantage will be that Israel Lobby will step in to pressure US about keeping Kürecik Radar Station active according to Turkey’s determination. Also, because Kürecik Radar Station is protecting mainly European territory, it could cause pressure on US within NATO to solve the issue diplomatically.
Turkey ended axis shift arguments in 2011 by letting Kürecik Radar Station to be deployed in its country. However, in a strange twist of fate, Turkey is facing an axis shift argument again after the delivery of S-400. This time, with its indispensability, Kürecik Radar Station is Turkey’s trump card on the bargaining table. At the end of the day, although ending Kürecik Radar Station’s activities by Turkey seems impossible -both because of its own needs and because this kind of action would cause a real axis shift- it still has enough competency to ensure the parties to come to terms about sanctions. The most crucial factor that makes it indispensable is that, even though there is an alternative for the Incirlik Air Base for US, Kürecik Radar Station is irreplaceable in terms of detecting ballistic missiles from distance. Time will show how Turkey will play this trump card.
* Security Analyst at Beyond the Horizon ISSG