There has not been a shift in Nato’s stance towards the Arabian Gulf, the alliance’s top European commander said on Friday, amid heightened tensions in the region over Iran.
General Tod D Wolters, the Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe, also said the Russian-made missile defence system Turkey plans to buy was not compatible with Nato’s military infrastructure or American-made planes.
The Russian S-400 system is “not Nato interoperable”, the general said at the Globsec meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, meaning that it does not speak the same “language” as the alliance’s other technology.
Gen Wolters, an American general who is also the United States’ top commander in Europe, repeated concerns that the S-400 system might compromise the security of the US-made F-35 fighter jets, which Turkey is seeking to buy.
“You cannot operate an F-35 in the vicinity of an S-400, they won’t talk to each other, and what the two systems will attempt to do – certainly the S-400 against the F-35 – is attempt to exploit the F-35’s capabilities, and I will tell you we are not interested in sharing the F-35 capabilities … with the Russians,” Gen Wolters said.
The United States has been pressuring Turkey to cancel its S-400 order, deliveries of which are to start next month, and instead to buy US-made Patriot missiles. It has also threatened to cancel Turkey’s order of the F-35 jets on security grounds.
But Turkey is still a strong Nato ally, the Gen Wolters said. “There is a lot more convergence than there is divergence”, in Turkey’s relationship with the post-Cold War alliance, he said.
In what was his first public sit down conversation since taking office last month, the general also said he does not see Nato getting involved in the Arabian Gulf, as it did in Afghanistan, despite US concerns about the security threat posed by Iran.
“I do not envision direct involvement of Nato in the Middle East,” Gen Wolters said, qualifying the remark by saying that if there was a threat to Europe, the alliance might have to operate in “terrain that is a little further away than is of the norm”.
He said “time will tell” what happens in the Middle East but for now, “you do not see a large shift with respect to any Nato conversations”.
Iran has been accused of funding proxy warfare against countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Last month drones launched by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels attacked Saudi oil installations. The United States has moved 1,500 troops, B-52 bombers and an aircraft carrier to the region, as an act of deterrence.