Lapid calls on US to boot Turkey from F-35 program over Russian missile deal

Blue and White MK warns that Turkey, Iran can ‘learn how to neutralize America’s most advanced weaponry’ if delivery of stealth fighters goes forward

Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid at the opening session of the new Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid at the opening session of the new Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Blue and White party No. 2 Yair Lapid on Saturday called for the United States to carry through on its threat to boot Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter program for taking delivery of advanced Russian air defense systems in defiance of US warnings.

“The US has to cancel the F-35 deal with Turkey, otherwise nothing will stand in Turkey and Iran’s way as they learn how to neutralize America’s most advanced weaponry,” he tweeted.

Lapid, a vocal critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he had warned US congressmen about Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system.

Though once close security partners, ties between Israel and Turkey have been fraught since Erdogan’s ascension to power. Lapid has chided Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not taking a firmer stance toward Turkey’s leader, who is known for lobbing broadsides at Israel.

Any implications Turkey’s deployment of the S-400 could have on the operational capabilities of the produced F-35 would also impact Israel, which has its own fleet of the Lockheed Martin produced fighter jets.

An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet performs during an air show over Tel Aviv on May 9, 2019, as Israel marks its 71st Independence Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Turkey continued receiving S-400 components on Saturday, despite Washington’s warnings that it will impose sanctions on the NATO-member country.

Turkey’s defense ministry tweeted the landing of a fourth Russian cargo plane in Murted Air Base, near the capital, Ankara. On Friday, the ministry announced the much-awaited delivery of S-400 components had begun.

The US has repeatedly warned it will impose economic sanctions and kick Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter jet program if Ankara does not drop its S-400 purchase. Turkey has refused to bow to US pressure, saying its defense purchase is a matter of national sovereignty.

The US administration was publicly silent Friday on how it would respond to the delivery, with the Pentagon postponing a news conference.

Acting US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke by phone. While the Pentagon declined to discuss the call, the Turkish ministry released a statement late Friday, saying Akar stressed that the purchase of S-400 defense systems “was not an option but rather a necessity” due to Turkey’s security concerns.

Military vehicles and equipment, parts of the S-400 air defense systems, are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft, at Murted military airport in Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

The statement said there was no change in Turkey’s “strategic orientation,” adding that a deterioration in relations would not serve the interests of Turkey, the US or NATO.

The minister also emphasized Turkey’s commitment to the F-35 program and repeated a proposal for a joint working group to study how the S-400 system would interact with the fighter jets.

Members of the US Congress have repeatedly voiced opposition to the move and threatened sanctions.

“President Erdogan was given a very clear choice. Unfortunately, he has clearly made the wrong one,” said Eliot Engel and Michael McFaul, the top Democrat and Republican respectively on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The US is concerned the S-400 could be used to gather data on F-35 capabilities if Turkey has both.

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