Germany Blocked A Eurofighter Sale To Saudi Arabia, Then Lifted It. Will Berlin Do The Same With Turkey?

Turkey recently received approval from the United States to buy 40 brand new F-16 Block 70 Viper fighter jets. Ankara also hopes it will win approval for a purchase of an equal number of Eurofighter Typhoons.

“While Ankara secured the F-16 sale, it still needs modern Eurofighters to diversify its fighter fleet,” Suleyman Ozeren, a professorial lecturer at the American University and senior fellow at the Orion Policy Institute, told me.

“Also, purchasing Eurofighters will elevate Turkey’s military cooperation with Europe.”

However, Turkey will need Germanys approval for this deal, and Berlin might not be forthcoming anytime soon.

Turkey wants to buy 40 Eurofighters and was revealed in late 2023 to be in talks on a deal with the United Kingdom and Spain. While London and Madrid would happily sell Ankara Typhoons, they can only do so with German approval since Germany is a member of the consortium that developed and built the Eurofighter.

Germany is reluctant to approve any deal given its opposition to numerous Turkish government policies, including Ankara’s condemnation of Israel, attacks against Syrian Kurds, acquisition of advanced Russian missiles, and natural gas drilling in the East Mediterranean.

Ankara is discussing the deal with British and German officials and believes “positive results will be achieved,” a Turkish defense official told a press briefing on Mar. 14.

NATO member Turkey has criticized fellow alliance member Germany for holding up the deal. “There cannot be an explanation for an ally saying, ‘I won’t give you the aircraft,’” Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler said in a December interview.

Berlin previously blocked a British sale of 48 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia in 2018, objecting to the Saudi air campaign against the Houthis in Yemen. As recently as last July, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there would “be no decision on the delivery of Eurofighter jets to Saudi Arabia anytime soon.”

In the end, Germany decided to lift its ban by January 2024, and the deal is expected to proceed. It’s unclear if it will make the same decision in Turkey’s case.

If Ankara does receive Berlin’s approval, a Eurofighter order will mark Turkey’s first acquisition of modern, non-American fighter jets.

Dr. Ali Bakir, a Turkey expert at Qatar University’s Ibn Khaldon Center and nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative, explained there are several “strategic motives” behind Turkey’s interest in the Eurofighter.

“Firstly, it aims to diversify its military assets and reduce its long-standing dependency on the United States, a move towards greater autonomy in defense,” Bakir told me.

“Secondly, the acquisition of more advanced and capable fighter jets like the Eurofighters serves as an interim solution until Turkey can develop and deploy its own advanced 5th-generation fighter jets, thereby closing the technological gap,” he said. “Thirdly, pursuing Eurofighter deals tests Europe’s willingness to collaborate on defense, an area of critical strategic interest.”

“Such deals foster long-term commitments that extend beyond defense to enhance political and economic ties,” he added. “Conversely, rejection could put on display the hypocritical nature of some European nations, potentially pushing Ankara towards collaboration with non-NATO allies.”

Ozeren pointed out that conditions for Turkey to secure a Eurofighter deal are more “conducive” in light of developments in the Ukraine conflict, which he noted has become a “pressure point” for the European countries.

“As an indication of changing positions, Germany lifted its objection to Turkey becoming a European Sky Shield Initiative member,” he said. “While ESSI is expanding with Turkey and Greece joining the initiative, it could open the doors to new military partnerships between Germany and Turkey, including green-lighting the Eurofighter sale to Ankara.”

“The potential exodus of refugees from the Middle East, including from Gaza, could be another factor that could soften Germany’s position against Ankara,” he added.

On the other hand, Bakir believes predicting Germany’s ultimate response to the Eurofighter sale is challenging due to “complex regional and international dynamics.”

Even though Turkey and the UK have been lobbying for Germany’s approval, Bakir argued that “historical context” suggests that some Western states are “cautious” about contributing to enhancing Turkey’s military capabilities. These states have “actively sought” to constrain Turkey’s capabilities under different pretexts all aimed at undermining its “autonomous ambitions.”

According to Bakir, this cautiousness predates the founding of Turkey’s incumbent AKP political party and “reflects a long-standing policy” toward Turkey, regardless of its government’s orientation towards the West.

“This contrasts with the European view of Gulf countries as lucrative markets without the potential to pose significant strategic challenges,” he said. “Therefore, the recent decision to lift the ban on a Saudi Eurofighter sale does not necessarily indicate a similar willingness to approve the sale to Turkey.”

Ozeren recalled that Berlin’s blockade of the Saudi Eurofighter was over human rights concerns and Riyadh’s controversial air campaign in Yemen.

“However, the post-Oct. 7 terrorist attack environment dictated new conditions in the region in which Riyadh emerged as an actor to align with the West against Houthi in Yemen,” he said. “Berlin anticipates Riyadh to be further involved in preventing Houthi’s attacks in the Red Sea and against Israel, which is one of the primary motivations for Berlin to approve the Eurofighter sale to Saudi Arabia.”

Ultimately, if Turkey and the UK cannot successfully persuade Germany to green-light the sale, Bakir believes Ankara will explore other options, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. However, its “underlying strategy” will not solely be the acquisition of another comparable fighter jet.

“Turkey is determined to pursue two parallel objectives: reducing reliance on a single supplier and enhancing its technological independence,” Bakir said. “This could involve joint ventures or independent efforts aimed at developing domestic defense capabilities.”

“Ultimately, the goal is to increase Turkey’s autonomy in defense and technology development, reflecting a broader strategic vision beyond the immediate acquisition of fighter jets.”

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