Turkey’s drone base in Cyprus is a problem, US should respond - scholar

Turkey’s decision to move many of its attack drones to the Geçitkale airbase in northern Cyprus means its aggression and territorial violations in the region will soon become much worse, Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said in an article published in the National Interest on Sunday.

Rubin said the move to station the drones on Cyprus was as threatening to the Western alliance as Turkey’s purchase of air defence missiles from Russia in 2019.

“Turkey’s UAV actions are as dangerous to NATO as its use of the Russian S-400 defence system,” Rubin said.

The Turkish authorities have been transforming a disused military airport in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) into an airbase for the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The base will be officially re-opened on July 20, on the 47th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of northern Cyprus, which it terms as the Cyprus Peace Operation, CNN Türk television reported on May 29.

Turkey has been using the Dalaman airbase in the southern Muğla province to fly the drones, with Geçitkale serving as a temporary base for landings.

Turkey has conducted surveillance for its seismic vessels exploring for hydrocarbons around Cyprus from Geçitkale, but since it has upgraded the airport, it has moved many of its attack drones onto the base, Rubin said.

“Kind words will not bring peace to the eastern Mediterranean; the only strategy that will work in the region is to demonstrate to Erdoğan that Turkey has far more to lose from scrapping the status quo than it has to gain,” he said.

Turkey has threatened regional security by violating the waters of not only Cyprus, but also Greece and the exclusive economic zones of Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Gaza, Rubin said. These areas are all now within the upgraded range of Turkey’s Bayraktar-TB2 drones, he said. 

Washington has been praising Turkey as a strategic NATO ally to help ease fractured ties, but such praise “convinces Erdoğan that the United States is weak and will bend to further aggression”, Rubin said.

The United States should now cease exporting any parts or technology that helps Turkey build the drones, he said.

“Many Turkish drones include either technology reverse-engineered from American drones or imported American components. Congress must act to prevent the further sale or transfer of any American computer or military components to Turkey.”