Leave Iran and Israel out of Turkey’s Patriot Request

Al Monitor translated an article by Fatih Altayli about the future deployment of Patriot interceptors in Turkey. The article, while filled with factual inaccuracies, is actually a decent representation of the debates taking place in Turkey about Patriot. While I would normally dismiss the inaccuracies, the article’s conclusions are so bad, that I feel like I would be doing my Turkish readership a disservice if I did not address them one-by-one.  Here goes:

[Sections from the article are in italics] Despite all the turbulence around us, we don’t have our own Patriots. Holland has them; we don’t. Nobody thought of acquiring them. We just ask for them when we need them. As usual, the German parliament dragged its feet, so we have to get them from Holland.

Clearly Fatih Bey is not a reader of the blog because he seems unaware of Turkey’s current tender for Patriot, as well as its discussions with Israel for the sale of the Arrow interceptor and Green Pine radar in late 1990s and early 2000s. Turkey has identified missile defense as priority, but has not yet awarded a winner for its current tender. Turkey is expected to re-visit the tender in mid-December and may make a decision. (Click here, here, here, and here for more information).

As for the current plans, Fatih Bey is correct when he says that German parliament appears uncomfortable with Turkey’s request for a reported 10 missile batteries. (If true, it is an awfully large number of missiles and would necessitate deployments from the U.S.. Holland, and Germany) However, NATO is moving rather swiftly on this issue, given the bureaucratic complexities involved. The issue has to do with the number of Patriots that are to be deployed, not the deployment itself. There is a difference.

You may remember what I wrote about the Dutch missiles the last time they were here: Their computer systems were defective. They sent them to Turkey to see if they would work. Now we are getting them from Holland again. One hopes they have repaired their computers.

Fatih Bey, again, confuses the issue. Luckily, Turkey has never had to use its NATO deployed Patriots in combat. However, if he is referencing the PAC-2’s problems during the first Gulf War, then he would be right in saying that the interceptor was confused by the break up of Iraqi missiles upon atmospheric re-entry, their unusual ballistic trajectories, and the speed of the warhead’s fuze was too slow. Thus, the PAC-2 deployed in Israel had trouble intercepting Iraqi Scuds. (The interceptors hit the back end of the Scud – not the warhead  – and if you design success as the destruction of the warhead then the system, arguably, had a zero percent success rate)

As for the second Gulf War, Patriot did intercept all 9 of Iraq’s Al-Samoud ballistic missiles. However, it is critical to remember that the missiles fly lower and slower than a typical Scud.  It is important to note that the PAC-3 missed all of Iraq’s shoddy cruise missiles – luckily Syria does not have land attack cruise missiles. As for the faulty computer system, I am not prepared to comment on that, though I would suspect that the computers were probably ok. In the first Gulf War it was the interceptor’s warhead, not the computer. However, I may not have given Fatih Bey enough credit, software issues during the second Gulf War led to two friendly fire incidents. However, the computer was  functioning properly. In any case, those were American operated Patriots in Kuwait.

We are going to deploy the Patriots to defend ourselves, but look at the fury around us. Russia and Iran are saying we should not deploy the Patriots. Naturally, nobody understands their objection. We say, “This is a defensive system. How can we use them to attack you?” But they don’t listen. We ask, “How are we going to defend ourselves if Syria fires missiles at us?” But they don’t care. And I am thinking, “why are these people so strongly opposed to a defensive system that will block a possible attack?”

I will leave Iran and Russian objections for another post, but will say briefly that Russia’s objection to missile defense in general is about internal fears about strategic stability. Moscow argues that U.S./NATO conventional superiority – combined with the growing capabilities of “smart weapons”- could destroy Russian ICBM silos. Thus, the unchecked growth of missile defense interceptors – particularly the more advanced models slated for deployment as part of phase 4 of the United States phased adaptive approach, when combined with systems like tomahawk – could threaten Russian second strike capabilities. I have a number of problems with this argument, not the least of which has to do with the idea that tomahawk could destroy a Russian ICBM silo. In any case, the Russian argument, as described to me by an expert on Russian nuclear weapons and missile systems, is a red herring for a nuclear and missile complex desperate for money. He also told me (and I completely agree) that no serious analyst thinks that missile defense can protect against Russian ICBMs. Fatih Bey should read up on that.

Anyways, back to Syria, both Russia and Iran worry that the Patriot deployment are the first step towards NATO intervention. Thus, they are against the deployment. Turkey really has nothing to do with it, other than the fact that they were the country who asked for them. I seriously doubt that the deployment will have any tangible affect on current relations.

I think I solved the riddle.Why are we deploying the Patriots? Against a possible attack from Syria. OK, what is the probability of Syria launching a missile attack against Turkey? About zero percent. It has neither the capacity nor the intention of doing it. Occasional artillery rounds from Syria fall on our soil, but this because of the proximity of the Free Syrian Army to our border. Patriots cannot stop artillery shells.

Fatih Bey also makes a rather large mistake with this line of analysis. For one, Syria is known to have Scuds that have the necessary range to strike Turkish targets. As for intent, it is anybody’s guess, though I would tend to agree that Bashar al Assad is eager to keep Turkey on the sidelines. However, if I were in Ankara, and I was bordering a collapsing state known to have WMD and delivery vehicles, I would certainly be making preparations to defend my citizens. (Though I would be careful not to treat missile defense as a panacea – it is not)

In that case, why do we want a missile shield against Syria, which is not likely to fire missiles at Turkey? If the Patriots are not against Syria, who are they for? There is no clear answer to this yet, but surely those who oppose their deployment have already decided. Iran and Russia think the Patriots are not against Syria, but something else. These missiles are protection against a potential Iranian response to an attack against it. Israel or the US will hit Iran. In response, Iran will hit Israel and the West. Naturally, the radar base at our Kurecik will be among the installations Iran is likely to target.

Really? I am always amazed at this type of analysis, especially when one considers that Israel has deployed the Arrow II – a missile defense system designed especially to counter Iranian Scuds. Even if this was the case (more on that in a second), Israel is already well defended.

I find it absurd to suggest that Turkey asked NATO to deploy Patriot on its border to defend against a future Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. I find it even more absurd to suggest NATO complicity in such a scenario. However, it is important to remember that NATO is also putting in place an alliance wide network of sea based SM-3 interceptors that are ostensibly aimed at providing the alliance with protection from Iranian missile attacks. Turkey’s decision to allow NATO to deploy a radar for the system at an air force base in Kurecik is its contribution. Israel, which is not a NATO member, is not really included in the plans. Moreover, Israel is also home to the same radar that is currently in Kurecik. While Patriot would augment NATO’s current capabilities, I dont think that the two issues are linked.

I understand the need to write a column every day and the pressure one feels when writing about a technical topic like Patriot. However, sometimes there is no conspiracy. Israel and Iran – while frequent targets for all of the world’s media – really have nothing to do with it. The Patriot request seems to be a prudent Turkish response to the threat of Syria’s chemical weapons. Nothing more, nothing less.  Apologies to Fatih Bey.

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About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
This entry was posted in Missile Defense, Turkey and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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