Sheryl Saperia: Turkey — Friend or Foe?

Source: Sheryl Saperia, National Post | 24/10/13 | Last Updated: 23/10/13 3:53 PM ET

Is it time for Canada to designate Turkey as a state sponsor of terror?

The question may strike some as surprising. After all, Turkey is a member of NATO; it conducts joint security operations with Western allies; it has contributed to a $200-million fund to combat violent extremism; and it co-chairs the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

Yet under the rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is heading in a troubling direction.

Perhaps most striking are the ties Erdogan’s AKP government has forged with Hamas – a group that promotes a violent Islamist agenda, has links to Iran, and is listed as a terrorist entity in Canada.

In December, 2011, Erdogan’s Ministry of Finance reportedly set aside $300-million for the Hamas government in Gaza. He has so far welcomed Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to Ankara three times this year.

A September 17 article by Jonathan Schanzer in Foreign Policy notes that Turkey is now the headquarters for Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, the founder of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ armed wing).

Arouri is not living secretly in Turkey. In March, 2012, he took part in a Hamas delegation with high-ranking Turkish officials, and in October, 2012 he traveled from Turkey to Gaza to be present for the arrival of Qatar’s emir. According to analyst Ehud Yaari, Turkey is allowing Arouri to rebuild Hamas’ West Bank terrorism infrastructure.

If Arouri is supporting Hamas-related terrorist activity while living in Turkey, with governmental approval (however implicit), this could meet the criteria of a foreign state supporting terrorism under section 2.1 of Canada’s State Immunity Act. Even without Arouri’s involvement, Turkey could arguably be listed as a state sponsor of terror in Canada solely on the basis of its financial contributions to Hamas.

Turkey should also be held to account if it is backing Iran, whose regime sponsors acts of terror abroad, commits brutal human rights violations at home, and defies UN Security Council resolutions. There are concerns that Turkey allowed its state-owned bank, Halkbank, to help Iran evade international sanctions in order to pursue its illicit nuclear program. While these “gas-for-gold” transactions with Iran likely stopped in July, the damage has been done: Between January and July 2013, Iran received about $2.5 billion in gold from Turkey.

Thousands of Iranian-funded companies have been established in Turkey in recent years. It is unclear how Turkey is ensuring that these companies are not operating as fronts for Iranian proliferation or terrorism.

Taken together with Turkey’s decision to select a Chinese firm under U.S. sanctions to build its long-range air and missile defense system, Erdogan’s true alliances should be called into question

It was reported last week that Turkey’s intelligence chief disclosed to Tehran the names of 10 Iranian agents working with the Mossad in Turkey. Insofar as these agents were seeking to undermine Iran’s nuclear program, Turkey’s actions directly destabilized those efforts and strengthened Iran’s hand. The U.S. Congress seems to grasp this, and has reportedly canceled the delivery to Turkey of 10 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The Erdogan government’s close associations with the IHH – which itself should be examined by Ottawa for terrorist ties – also warrant scrutiny. The IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi, or Humanitarian Relief Foundation) is a member of the Union of Good, an umbrella organization of more than 50 Islamic funds and foundations, which (despite its name) was banned by the U.S. Treasury in 2008 for transferring funds to Hamas. The Treasury press release notes, “In addition to providing cover for Hamas financial transfers, some of the funds transferred by the Union of Good have compensated Hamas terrorists by providing payments to the families of suicide bombers.”

Taken together with Turkey’s decision to select a Chinese firm under U.S. sanctions to build its long-range air and missile defense system, Erdogan’s true alliances should be called into question.

Undoubtedly, a strong bilateral relationship with Turkey has strategic and economic value for Canada. But Erdogan has taken his country in a direction increasingly at odds with Canadian national security and foreign policy interests. Canada should pressure Turkey to change course, or let it be known that the country risks being labeled a state sponsor of terror.

National Post

Sheryl Saperia is the Director of Policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank specializing in national security and foreign policy.