In a sharp departure from the West's clamor over Iran's pursuit of a nuclear bomb, Turkey has simply decided to join the race.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Ankara reveal that Turkey's government and military leaders have decided to jump-start their nuclear program the moment their intelligence confirms Iran's arrival at nuclear bomb capability – forecast for 2009 or 2010. They expect to catch up three or four years later.
In short, Ankara is joining the Middle East nuclear race kicked off in late 2007 by Iran.
Ankara is not contemplating a confrontation with its next-door neighbor Iran, according a Turkish general talking to our sources this week. “We won't tell Iran it has got to dismantle its nuclear program or join the American, European and Israeli effort to force Tehran to suspend enrichment,” he said. “We'll just make our own.”
Ankara expects the incoming US president Barack Obama's people to officially rap Turkey's nuclear bomb program as a matter of form – but to stop there. After the Bush administration came to accept the inevitability of an Iranian nuke, the next man in the White House can hardly put the brakes on Turkey, especially when Egypt and Saudi Arabia are further along with their programs than is generally known.
Moscow will play along
The Europeans are a non-factor for Turkey after they virtually vetoed its admission to the Union.
Several sources in Ankara told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that all Brussels has done for Turkey so far was to talk big and drag out the membership talks hoping Ankara would give up and go away.
“Well, they have succeeded,” said the sources.
President Abdullah Gul and prime minister Tayyep Recip Erdogan have turned their backs on Europe. “The farther Turkey pulls away from Europe, the less clout its leaders have in Ankara,” they said.
Moscow may not relish having two powerful Muslim neighbors going nuclear – one a Black Sea littoral and the other with a Caspian coast, but Turkish leaders expect the Kremlin to mete out the same sort of realpolitik to them as to Iran. Keeping up the pretence that Iran's nuclear program is purely civilian, Moscow is building a reactor and providing the technology for supporting that program knowing its real purpose. When they see Turkey heading in the same direction, the Russians are expected to jump at the chance of selling reactors along with technicians and engineers and grabbing the business away from the Americans and French.
Just as Moscow built Iran's reactor at Bushehr without being bothered by the knowledge that it was an integral part of Tehran's military nuclear program, it is not expected to stall at building one for Turkey.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Ankara sources disclose that Ankara and Moscow are already well on the way to collaboration.
Turkey started stocking materials in the nineties
On Dec. 19, the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK) approved a consortium headed by Russia's Atomstroyexport together with Inter RAO and Turkey's Park Teknik, as the sole bidder for a tender to build and operate Turkey's first nuclear power plant.
Can Turkey move fast enough to come up with a nuclear weapon capacity in the space of three to four years?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence experts believe it can. The tender did not come out of the blue.
From the late 1990s, international concerns have focused on Iran's drive for an atom bomb – and from 2007 on Syria's clandestine nuclear activities. But aside from a few nuclear experts in the West, no one noticed that Turkey had been quietly putting in place an infrastructure ready for its first major leap forward to a full-scale weapons program.
Very discreetly, Ankara followed a similar path to Tehran. Like Iran, Turkey was in touch with Pakistan's nuclear black marketer A. Q. Khan in the late 1990s and early 2000, except that here the Turks had the edge: The Pakistani prime minister at the time, Nawaz Sharif, secretly ordered Khan to hand over most of Pakistan's weapons technology to Ankara with whom he had close ties. Sharif in fact cherished the dream of a union between the two countries which would be armed with the first Muslim nuclear bomb.
Turkey boosted its Pakistani windfall by capitalizing on the roaring nineties of nuclear smuggling from former Soviet bloc nations until mid-2003.
Up until 2001, more than a hundred attempts to smuggle nuclear materials into Turkey were recorded. The materials made their way from Russia itself and former satellites such as Romania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Moldova, many of whose undercover officials were more than willing to dip their hands in the thriving traffic.