Erdogan set to push Scholz for Eurofighter jet sales in Berlin meeting

Erdogan set to push Scholz for Eurofighter jet sales in Berlin meeting
A German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon. The first Typhoons, designed to be effective dogfighters, entered service in Nato countries 20 years ago. / Krasimir Grozev, cc-by-sa 3.0
By bne IntelliNews November 17, 2023

Turkey’s Defence Minister Yasar Gular said on November 16 that Ankara is in talks with Britain and Spain to buy 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, but at the same time there were reports that Germany would block any such sale.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due in Berlin on the afternoon of November 17 (Friday) and it is expected that he will ask German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to lift opposition to the sale of the fighter aircraft he says are needed to refresh an ageing air force. However, according to a report by Bloomberg, Scholz is not expected to consent due to a number of tensions between Turkey and its Nato allies, including Erdogan’s stark condemnation of Israel since the October outbreak of its war with Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"We are working on procurement," Gular said at a parliamentary hearing in Ankara. "Now the UK and Spain are making efforts to convince Germany, [though] we are not in talks with Germany... If possible, we plan to purchase 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets."

Turkey has also asked to buy US F-16 fighter jets though that purchase order has been delayed, partly given bipartisan opposition in Congress, which runs a de facto ban on major arms sales to Turkey given issues including Ankara’s acquisition of S-400 advanced missile defence systems from the Kremlin—which are seen as a threat to the performance data of the world’s most advanced fighter jet, the F-35, an aircraft that Washington has steadfastly refused to sell to Turkey since it went ahead with the S-400 deal—and the Erdogan administration’s human rights record.

Turkey’s failure to adhere to EU demands on human rights and the rule of law is also a concern for Berlin. German public media outlet DW reported on November 16 that Turkish asylum seeker numbers are surging in Germany with a 200% increase in applications compared to last year, making Turks only second to Syrians for asylum requests. 

DW also wrote: “Turkish-German relations have reached a low point. War in the Middle East is the chief cause, given the countries' divergent views on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resorted to harsh rhetoric criticizing Israel and defending Hamas, which Turkey's Western allies like Germany consider a terrorist organization.”

Erdogan has described Israel as a “terror state”, while saying Israel’s legitimacy has been called into question by its “own fascism”.

At a news conference in the German capital on November 14, Scholz labelled Erdogan's comments as "absurd," stressing that Israel is a democracy.

Germany is home to around 1.5mn people with Turkish citizenship. Two-thirds of them officially voted for Erdogan in Turkey’s May presidential election, in a vote that international observers described as free but unfair.

Erdogan’s bid for Eurofighter Typhoons and F-15s is given added urgency by the fact that regional arch-rival Greece is acquiring Typhoons, and is in line to obtain both F-15s and F-35s.

As Turkey pushes the Western powers to facilitate the fighter jet sales, Sweden’s application to join Nato continues to languish in the Turkish parliament, where it needs to receive a ratification prior to Erdogan being able to sign off on the membership.

 On November 16, there were more reports of Turkish lawmakers holding up approval of the bill that would grant ratification. Many observers think Erdogan could use the threat of major delays in ratifying the Nato status Sweden desires—and which all Nato members with the exception of Turkey and Hungary have approved—as he lobbies for the plane sales and other concessions.