Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Double Standards: Who In Washington Is Targeting Turkey’s Drone Programme? And Why?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Turkey's rise to a global drone power has drawn attention from all corners of the world. While it can be argued that there have been few developments in the past years that have benefited NATO as much as the profileration of the Bayraktar TB2, others maintain that Turkish drones pose a threat to NATO or even world peace. Setting aside the fact that two NATO countries have so far ordered the TB2 and five more NATO member states are presently considering their acquisition, some of the claims from certain American politicians seem to be made as a result of their personal background or family ties rather than the actual threat posed by these systems. [1]

We previously covered one such back-and-forth after two Members of the United States Congress called for an investigation into Turkey's deployment of unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UCAVs) in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. [2] The authors of the letter, David Cicilline and Gus Bilirakis, have frequently lobbied on behalf of Armenia and are vocal critics of Turkey. [2] Gus Bilirakis is also of Greek descent and the presence of Greek flags on his website and in his campaign posters leaves little doubt with regards to his political allegiance. [3]
The letter, which can be read in its entirety here, was characterised by a lack of neutrality and a poor understanding of the way Turkish drones have been deployed. [4] One particularly concerning claim regarded the use of Turkish drones against Armenian civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Not even Armenia has brought substantiated claims of any of its citizens being killed by Azerbaijani drone strikes. The fact that U.S. Members of Congress make such a claim without feeling the need to provide as much as a source is a blatant disregard for the concept burden of basic political norms, and suggests a disingenuousness about the topic at hand.
In the latest back-and-forth, Bob Menendez, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, introduced a piece of legislation that requires the Biden administration to issue a report on Turkish drone exports dating back to as early as 2018 and assess whether Turkey's drone exports are in violation of the US Arms Export Control Act or any other law. [5] [6] The rationale behind the legislation was stated as ''Turkey's drone sales are dangerous, destabilizing and a threat to peace and human rights'', according to U.S. senator Menendez. [7]
While one could brush off Menendez's vocal criticism as another attempt by a member of the United States Senate at taking a foreign policy position based on personal background or family ties (his wife being of Armenian nationality), it can't be denied that a pattern emerges in which Turkey is frequently criticised for exporting drones to nations such as Azerbaijan, while Israeli drone exports to Azerbaijan and several other countries are completely ignored. Preferential treatment amongst allies is one thing, but double standards another entirely: No country should have a monopoly on violence or arms exports.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev poses with Israeli-made IAI Harop and SkyStriker loitering munitions. These munitions destroyed at least 74 Armenian armoured fighting vehicles during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. [8]

Israel is Azerbaijan's largest arms supplier, accounting for 69% percent of Azerbaijan’s arms imports in the last five years. [9] [10] While Turkey is often thought to be a major exporter of military items to Azerbaijan, Turkey accounted for only 2,9% percent of Azerbaijan's imports of major arms from 2011 to 2020. [11] Israel has also helped Azerbaijan circumvent the OSCE arms embargo placed on the country on several occasions by acting as the consignee of weaponry ordered from EU countries, which is then flown to Azerbaijan onboard Azerbaijani cargo aircraft. [12]

Armenian soldiers run to safety as an Israeli-made IAI Harop loitering munition is about to strike their location. [13]

In no area of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces is the presence of Israeli-made weaponry so evident as in its inventory of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Out of the 21 UAV types operated by Azerbaijan, no less than nineteen are Israeli (90%) and only two are Turkish (10%). Six of the Israeli UAVs are so-called loitering munitions, which engage ground targets with an explosive warhead. Even when excluding the five Israeli drone types produced in Azerbaijan (through a joint venture between Israel and Azerbaijan known as Azad), Turkish drone types still make up only 15% of Azerbaijan's drone types. A complete overview of Israeli armament and equipment delivered to Azerbaijan can be seen here.
(Click on the UAV to get a picture of them in Azerbaijani service)

A complete list of Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles in service with Azerbaijan


A complete list of Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles in service with Azerbaijan

The question thus arises with respect to why none of David Cicilline, Gus Bilirakis or Bob Menendez (or anyone else, for that matter) have called for an investigation into Israeli drone exports to investigate whether these are in violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, and to assess if Israeli drone sales are ''dangerous, destabilizing and a threat to peace and human rights''. The answer to this question is perhaps answered by the fact that Bilirakis is the founding Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance while Cicilline's remarks about U.S.-Israel relations are an explicit expression of his warm feelings towards the country. [14] Menendez in turn has been referred to as ''perhaps the most ardent Democratic supporter of Israel in the Senate''. [15]

In October 2009, Menendez sent a letter of protest to Cyprus' President Dimitris Christofias for his praise of Cuba's system of governance. [16] In his letter Menendez wrote: "you cannot claim human rights violations by Turkey in your country and then ignore such violations in Cuba'' and ''you cannot take issue with the militarization of northern Cyprus and then ignore the state security apparatus that oppresses the Cuban people." By applying Menendez's own logic to his critism of Turkish drone sales, he cannot take issue with Turkish drone sales to Azerbaijan and then ignore Israeli drone sales to Azerbaijan.

The charred remains of an Armenian bus after it was struck by an Israeli IAI Harop loitering munition. This bus was used to ferry reservists to Nagorno-Karabakh. The impact of the IAI Harop was actually filmed.

Whoever thinks that the duplicity in dealing with this topic is limited to Azerbaijan is sorely mistaken. In 2021, Turkey delivered Bayraktar TB2s to Turkmenistan and Morocco and also concluded a deal with Kazakhstan for TAI Anka UAVs. [17] [18] [19] Also in 2021, Israel delivered SkyStriker loitering munitions to Turkmenistan and established a joint venture with Morocco to produce loitering munitions in the North-African country, the current UAV arsenal of which consists almost entirely of Israeli UAVs. [20] [21] [22] Kazakhstan simirarly operates several Israeli drone types, and has signed a deal for their production in Kazakhstan. [23] [24] In late 2021, Ethiopia acquired several TB2s for use in the Tigray War. [25] In this case Turkey doesn't hold a monopoly on drone sales either, as Ethiopia also operates a number of (unarmed) Israeli drones. [26]

An Israeli Aerostar UAS in service with the Ethiopian Air Force.

The constant disregard of Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan and other countries means that U.S. senators like Menendez, Cicilline and Bilirakis are either grossly un- or misinformed, or there is a different agenda at play that prevents them from criticising Israeli arms deliveries to Azerbaijan while taking an anti-Turkish stance. Now that Israel's role in arming Azerbaijan is clearly established, one should hope that Menendez, Cicilline and Bilirakis will soon introduce legislations calling for the investigation into Israeli arms exports to Azerbaijan and other countries Turkey is also delivering armament to. If this fails to materialise, perhaps one should see their actions for what they really are: serving the agenda of foreign governments instead of U.S. interests. In this sense they are guilty of precisely what they're accusing Turkey's drone sales of causing: dangerous and destabilising behaviour – that could pose a threat to the U.S.-Turkey relationship.

[1] An International Export Success: Global Demand For The Bayraktar TB2 Reaches All Time High https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/09/an-international-export-success-global.html
[2] An Analyst’s Perspective: Cicilline and Bilirakis’ Turkish Drone Letter Rebuked https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/08/an-analysts-perspective-cicilline-and.html  
[3] ''Help Gus Fight For Greece, Cyprus and Greek Orthodoxy in the U.S. Congress!'' https://secure.anedot.com/bilirakis-for-congress/c27255c680197e0b74bb1
[5] US Senators file amendments to hold Azerbaijan and Turkey accountable https://en.armradio.am/2021/11/04/us-senators-file-amendments-to-hold-azerbaijan-and-turkey-accountable/ 
[6] Top US senator introduces amendment to track US drone parts to Turkey https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/top-us-senator-introduces-legislation-track-us-drone-parts-turkey
[8] The Fight For Nagorno-Karabakh: Documenting Losses On The Sides Of Armenia And Azerbaijan https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2020/09/the-fight-for-nagorno-karabakh.html
[9] Did Azerbaijan’s use of Israeli weapons make the war worse or better? https://www.jpost.com/international/did-azerbaijans-use-of-israeli-weapons-make-the-war-worse-or-better-662442
[12] Czech Weapons in Azerbaijan: How a Chassis Turned into a Howitzer https://www.investigace.eu/czech-weapons-in-azerbaijan-how-a-chassis-turned-into-a-howitzer/
[13] Əsrə Bərabər İl https://youtu.be/20oKGIpIVdc?t=534
[15] Pro-Israel Senator Menendez Issues Rare Rebuke Over Gaza Media Offices Strike https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-pro-israel-senator-menendez-issues-rare-rebuke-over-gaza-media-offices-strike-1.9811952  
[16] US Senator calls Christofias' Cuba remarks 'disrespectful and insensitive' www.cyprus-mail.com/cyprus/us-senator-calls-christofias-cuba-remarks-disrespectful-and-insensitive
[17] Turkmenistan Parades Newly-Acquired Bayraktar TB2s https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/09/turkmenistan-parades-newly-acquired.html
[18] Morocco’s Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs Break Cover #Shorts https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/11/moroccos-bayraktar-tb2-ucavs-break.html
[19] Kazakhstan Orders 3 Turkish 'Anka' Medium-Altitude-Long-Range UAVs https://www.defenseworld.net/news/30864/Kazakhstan_Orders_3_Turkish__Anka__Medium_Altitude_Long_Range_UAVs
[21] Morocco Partners With Israel to Develop Local Loitering Munitions Industry https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2021/09/344481/morocco-partners-with-israel-to-develop-local-loitering-munitions-industry
[22] Operating From The Shadows: Morocco’s UAV Fleet https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/10/operating-from-shadows-moroccos-uav.html
[24] Elbit Signs Deal to Manufacture UAVs in Kazakhstan https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/39753
[25] Turkish Drones Join Ethiopia’s war, Satellite Imagery Confirms https://paxforpeace.nl/news/blogs/turkish-drones-join-ethiopias-war-satellite-imagery-confirms
[26] From Mohajer-6s To Wing Loong Is - Listing Ethiopia’s Growing Drone Arsenal https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/10/from-mohajer-6s-to-wing-loong-is.html

The Fight For Nagorno-Karabakh: Documenting Losses on The Sides Of Armenia and Azerbaijan