The killing of Hamas military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, with a pinpoint missile strike yesterday has prompted condemnation from the Turkish foreign ministry and has led some Turkish protesters to gather and protest outside the Fatih mosque in Istanbul. The international community has focused its attention on the siege of Gaza and has prompted many (I think Michael Koplow’s take on his blog Ottomans and Zionists was the best) to speculate about the likelihood of further escalation.
In Turkey, the months of tension with Israel has predictably prompted anger and resentment amongst some of the population about the current Israeli action in Gaza. The twitter hashtag #Gazzeateşaltında (Gaza is on fire) is the number one trending topic in Turkey. Despite this outrage, scant attention is being paid to the likely (but unconfirmed) use of an armed drone to assassinate Jabari. After the anger in Turkey subsides, and the Turkish government turns its attention back to the chaos in Syria, Turkish citizens should begin to start asking whether or not they support the use of drones for assassination.
Despite their numerous shortcomings, drones have achieved a sort of anti-terror mythical status, and are now looked at as the weapon of choice to assassinate foreign militants. The U.S. uses them, Israel has used them in the past, and the UK is also known to have used armed drone strikes in Afghanistan. Russia and China are building armed drones, and other countries are actively seeking to purchase them. Turkey is no exception.
Turkey has approached the United States for the sale of armed drones and remains reliant on unarmed Israeli drones for its fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Ankara has also announced its intention to deepen its reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and has made plans to develop an armed drone. For Turkish citizens (both Kurdish and Turkish) living in the southeast, drones are a part of daily life. For some Turkish Kurds, who have trouble expressing themselves in Turkish, one of the few non-Kurdish words they know is Heron – the name of the Israeli drone used by Turkey for surveillance in the southeast.
[According to a piece I wrote about the subject a couple of months ago,] The domestic backdrop for Turkey’s repeated requests [for the U.S. made armed drones] has been the breakdown of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Kurdish opening and the re-militarization of the Kurdish issue. After appearing to change tactics and address the issue politically in his first term, Erodgan’s approach has reverted back to that of Turkey’s old guard: defeating the PKK militarily. This approach leads Ankara to covet armed drones as the weapon of choice for its own “war on terror.”
While I am not equating Israel and Turkey, nor the PKK with Hamas, the rhetoric surrounding the alleged effectiveness of armed drones has led many to accept the idea targeted killings. While Turks may be angry at the Israeli assassination, the fact remains that their current government is working hard to ensure that the Turkish military will have these same capabilities in the near future. (From the same drone piece I previously wrote) While Washington is the ultimate trendsetter, Turkey’s procurement and development of armed drones would add to the perceived international legitimacy of targeted killings from 10,000 meters above ground. If Turkey were to use armed drones in Kurdish areas, it would lose standing to challenge such strikes elsewhere.
How would Turkey react to Israeli drone assassinations if it were conducting similar strikes in the Kurdish majority southeast? The Turkish government, therefore, should rethink its support for armed drone strikes. The act contradicts the AKP’s campaign messages and I doubt that the country’s leadership is ready for international condemnation once it uses its first drone fired missile to assassinate a PKK leader on Turkish territory. Moreover, the armed forces and the government have not addressed what the ramifications of using targeted drone strikes on Turkish citizens would be.
As a general recommendation, Turkey should include a condemnation of armed drone strikes in its inevitable criticism of Israel. It should also re-think its policy on armed drones and argue that assassination from 30,000 feet is not a feasible solution to long-standing and difficult conflicts (That includes the Turkish state and the PKK). And in the future, Ankara should seriously re-evaluate its support for armed drones, considering that they will likely be used for similar “Jabari like” attacks at home.