The often unruly relations between Germany and Turkey is now impacting undermining the war against ISIS in Syria.
German warplanes that are part of the anti-ISIS coalition have begun relocating from the Incirlik Air Base in Southern Turkey to Jordan from July.
The German withdrawal was ostensibly sparked by Turkey’s refusal to allow German parliamentarians access to the base.
Turkish opposition politicians have called for ending the American presence there as has Charles Wlad, the former Deputy Commander of United States European Command.
Wlad has previously called for closing the US base in Qatar. Wlad believes Qatar’s ties to terrorist groups like Hamas. The UAE is one possible place where US forces could be transferred.
“My contention is, we’ve got a lot of friends in the Middle East, we’ve got places we can go to, from a military perspective to operate from, we can go back to Saudi Arabia, we can go back to the UAE, but until everybody is on the same sheet of music, we need to stop turning a blind eye to bad behavior and supporting people that want to kill our people and our nation,” Wlad said in May this year.
The US is also currently renegotiating its lease regarding access to an airbase in the British colony of Diego Garcia. An increasing number of British politicians want a new agreement to include language which would allow the native islanders to return.
All of these controversies concern bases vital to various anti-terrorism campaigns in the Middle East and Africa, though at present the swirling controversies have had relatively little operational impact.
Germany has already re-deployed some units to Jordan as part of its swirling dispute with Ankara.
A Luftwaffe Airbus MRTT tanker used for mid-air refueling has already arrived in the Arab kingdom and is to be supported by six Tornado fighters. The forces will now operate out of an airbase near the city of Azraq in Jordan.
Turkey’s decision in June to not allow a group of German parliamentarians access to the base, where 250 German military personnel were stationed was followed by a July vote in the German parliament to end its mission at Incirlik.
The crisis has abated somewhat with the Turkish government agreeing to a face saving measure through which a group of German parliamentarians chaperoned by a NATO officialwill visit an airbase near the Turkish city of Konya where a couple dozen German soldiers are stationed.
Germany’s redeployment to Jordan is not just a byproduct of tensions between Berlin and Ankara. The move is part of a broader NATO strategy to develop new relationships and change regional force posture.
Jordan is both a frontline state and a vital ally in the area on ISIS. NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has called for more NATO involvement in Jordan as the country is one of the region’s “islands of stability.”
Jordan’s stability has been maintained at a high cost. The kingdom is the second largest recipient of US economic and military assistance and has struggled over the years to manage waves of Palestinian, Iraqi and now Syrian refugees.
General James Conway, the retired former commandant of the U.S Marine Corps, said he doesn’t expect American forces to join the Germans in leaving Turkey for Jordan.
“My experience has been unlike what we have seen in Europe and the Pacific Middle Easterners are more reticent to have a US [military] presence,” Conway said, “Now even the King of Jordan might have significant objections [to a larger US presence].
Indeed, the crisis, which raises questions about the fractions within the anti-ISIS coalition, has long been brewing. German Chancellor Merkel facing re-election this year has taken a tough line Turkey. Germany is home to millions of citizens of Turkish descent.
The current crisis dates to June 2016 when Germany’s parliament decided to declare a historical event -the 1915 massacre of Ottoman Armenians - as a “genocide.”
The move was championed by Cem Özdemir – a German politician of Turkish descent. The Turkish government decried the move as the politicization of history and point out the term “genocide” was invented more than 30 years after the events of 1915.
German Turkish relations further deteriorated following a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Turkey responded in part with a crackdown on individuals and groups affiliated with that attempt.
“Some of Germany’s biggest industrial companies briefly appeared on a list forwarded by the Turkish government to Interpol, apparently for sponsoring terrorist activities in Turkey,” said Alexander Gorslach a visiting scholar at Harvard University, “Only after increased pressure from Berlin and the fear of reduced German investment in Turkey, did Ankara withdraw the list.”
The German-Turkish tensions are having an economic impact as well. German investors and tourists are now reticent about Turkey.
“I think it was the right decision to take and to leave Turkey. Because if the roles were reversed a similar situation would be unacceptable,” said Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger who served as Germany’s Minister of Justice from 2009-2013 and is a member of the Free Democrat Party, “In Germany you couldn’t deny access to visits by politicians from say Italy because of a political move. The German military is a parliamentarian controlled force so we always need parliamentarian to decide important issues. Defense should be above politics especially for NATO allies.”
Around Incirlik there seems to be little concern about the Germans departure. Security precautions in place since the war against ISIS began have prevented Germans and other military personnel stationed at the NATO base from leaving the base and interacting with the local population.
“If the Germans want to go that’s fine,” said Mehmet Ozel, who runs a small restaurant on the main road between the tiny community of Incirlik and Adana. As his busy kitchen prepared Adana kabobs – a spicy meat dish of which the region is famous - he observed, “we don’t have to agree on everything in [NATO] but, we are sad to see them go.”