RISING TENSIONS Berlin Threatens Withdrawal from Turkish Air Base

Ankara’s refusal to let German MPs visit German troops at Incirlik has sparked calls for Berlin to pull out altogether, but a withdrawal could complicate the fight against IS.
Parliamentarians are furious that they cannot visit German troops. Picture source: Reuters.

Berlin may have finally lost its patience with the Turkish government. For the second time in a year, Ankara has refused to let German parliamentarians visit 250 troops stationed at Incirlik air base. This time, German officials are openly threatening to pull the plug on the deployment if Ankara does not change its tune.

Ankara’s decision apparently came in retaliation for Germany granting asylum to several Turkish soldiers, who are fleeing the country amid a crackdown in the wake of a failed military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A year ago, the Turkish government refused to let German parliamentarians visit the troops at Incirlik, after the Bundestag approved a resolution calling the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during WWI genocide.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Turkish decision unfortunate and said Berlin had made it clear to Ankara through multiple channels that parliamentarians must be able to visit German troops at the air base. Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer said Turkey's actions are "absolutely unacceptable." Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel plans to raise the issue at a meeting of the anti-IS coalition in Washington in the coming days. Mr. Gabriel has already personally broached the issue with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, apparently to no avail.

The federal government has run up against a wall with its soft course and has squandered a lot of credibility and clarity. Agnieszka Brugger, Green Party MP, Defense Expert

While Germany's coalition government tries to convince Turkey through diplomatic channels, parliamentarians are saying enough is enough and are calling for Berlin to redeploy the troops to another country in the region. "Our soldiers cannot remain stationed in Turkey under these circumstances," said Christine Lambrecht, a senior MP with the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD. The Green Party's defense spokesperson, Agnieszka Brugger, said a withdrawal is long overdue given Turkey's attempts at blackmail.

The German military, the Bundeswehr, has already been commissioned by parliament to look at alternatives to the Incirlik air base. Jordan, a non-NATO state, is considered the best candidate, but a redeployment would take up to three months, and the move to Jordan could complicate the German military's mission. The 250 troops, with their six Tornado jets, are flying reconnaissance missions over Iraq and Syria to help target Islamic State positions. Defense ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said Incirlik is the best site for the mission from a military perspective. The German military will now take a closer look at Jordan, Mr. Flosdorff said, but "nobody is planning immediate or quick measures. The political groundwork would also take a considerable amount of time," he added.

But Ms. Brugger, the Greens Party's defense expert, said Berlin's current policy toward Turkey has not been working and suggested adopting a harder line: "The federal government has run up against a wall with its soft course and has squandered a lot of credibility and clarity."


Ozan Demircan has been part of Handelsblatt's investigative team, covering primarily financial firms, since July 2014. Donata Riedel covers economic policy for Handelsblatt.  To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected]