US lawmakers look to block sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey

Author of bipartisan bill slams Ankara for ‘thuggish, reprehensible’ crackdown on free speech, ties with Russia; Israel has also reportedly expressed concerns

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plane (photo credit: Liz Kaszynski/Flash 90)
An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plane (photo credit: Liz Kaszynski/Flash 90)

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers has introduced a motion to stop the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, arguing that Ankara is growing “increasingly hostile and authoritarian by the day” and expressing fears that the country was growing closer to Russia.

Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, filed the bill along with six colleagues from both parties last Thursday, saying the US “cannot turn a blind eye to Turkey’s thuggish, reprehensible behavior.”

Turkey, a key US ally in the Middle East, is slated to purchase more than 100 of the ultra-high tech aircraft.

“The Turkish regime, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has grown increasingly authoritarian in recent years, cracking down on dissent and free speech. They have even held American citizens in captivity in order to use them as bargaining chips with the US Government,” Cicilline said in a statement.

“There have to be consequences for any regime that commits such horrific human rights abuses and constantly steps out of line with our own interests,” said Cicilline, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The bill, officially called the Ban F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Sales to Turkey Act, prohibits the sale or transfer of F-35 aircraft and any related intellectual property or technical data to Turkey.

The bill, which sets a number of conditions on Turkey to allow the sale through, faces little chance of passing or being signed by US President Donald Trump. Despite being at loggerheads over support for Kurds, Syria and other issues, the US views Turkey as an important NATO partner in the region and and houses an air base in the country.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May (unseen) during their meeting inside 10 Downing Street in central London on May 15, 2018. (AFP/Matt Dunham)

Israel, which also has a strained relationship with Turkey despite officially being allies, has also reportedly expressed concerns about the sale of the fighter jets to Ankara.

Israel worries that Turkey may leak secret details of the planes to Moscow or they may be sold on to enemy nations, Hadashot news reported.

Sources in Israel were also concerned because the sale of 100 planes to Turkey will give Ankara a numerical advantage. Israel is only slated to receive 50 of the F-35 jets with the option of purchasing another 25, the report said.

Israel received its first two F-35 fighter jets in late December 2016, and declared them operational a year later.

The fifth-generation fighter jet has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the Israeli military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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