I recently swam from Asia to Europe. It took me just over an hour. This is not a boast of my anemic aquatic abilities. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that one country, Türkiye (commonly referred to as Turkey in the U.S.), and one city, Istanbul, are physically straddling that philosophical East-West divide. Similarly, while war rages in Ukraine to the north and ravages Gaza to the south, here sits Türkiye — once again, smack dab in the middle.  

Governments in both countries may change, but geography doesn’t. That’s why Congress’ decision last week to approve Türkiye’s acquisition of 40 new and 79 upgraded F-16 aircraft is so important and so significant for both the United States and Türkiye. It signals a commitment by both countries that a strong bilateral relationship is in our collective self-interest.

Türkiye’s F-16 fleet is critical to NATO’s strength, ensuring future interoperability among allies and giving Türkiye, with NATO’s second-largest military, greater capacity to share in our collective security.  

But our relationship is based on more than that. Since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Türkiye has been unflinching in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Its commercial sales of highly effective drones to Ukraine frustrated Moscow’s early ambitions for its full-scale invasion in 2022 and continue to undermine Russia’s war effort. Türkiye’s implementation of the Montreux Convention — an international agreement that limits passage of certain military vessels through the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits — has kept additional Russian warships from transiting into the Black Sea. 

When the war imperiled global food security, Türkiye’s diplomats negotiated the Black Sea Grain Initiative, enabling the safe passage of almost 33 million tons of grain to more than 40 countries. As one of the powers of the Black Sea, Türkiye has helped keep the sea lanes open and safe, minimizing the impact of mines on the continued transit of grain and other essential commodities.  

We look to Türkiye to use its influence, historic ties and economic muscle in many corners of the world, as Türkiye is unique in its ability to open conversations with our adversaries in ways and in places we simply cannot. For instance, Türkiye is well-placed to play a role in the resolution of the conflict in Gaza. Like the United States, Türkiye supports the establishment of a Palestinian state as the best pathway to a durable peace. Also, it has proven itself a viable alternative to the PRC in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia for countries looking for high-quality infrastructure, without the accompanying debt trap. 

Improved U.S.-Türkiye relations advance a range of issues essential for American security, strength and prosperity. In addition to this $23 billion F-16 deal, Türkiye’s ongoing defense sector transformation — from drones and high-tech components to engines and artillery shells — is integral to the U.S. defense supply chain and the strength of our NATO alliance. We are partnering with the Turkish defense industry to boost our critical munition stockpiles, which must be replenished following our unprecedented assistance to Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s full-scale invasion. In Texas, the Department of Defense is building three munitions lines purchased from a Turkish defense firm.  

By next year, an estimated 30% of all 155 mm rounds made in America will come from these Texas factories, thanks to the U.S.-Türkiye defense partnership.  

In commercial aviation, we are looking forward to Turkish Airlines’ major expansion of its Boeing fleet as it continues to announce new routes in the United States, bringing Turkish students, business leaders and tourists to learn, invest and enjoy all we have to offer. 

There are certainly matters on which the United States and Türkiye disagree. Our approaches to countering ISIS do not always align, but Türkiye is an essential member of the anti-ISIS coalition. We will continue to work collaboratively on these and other difficult issues to bridge those gaps.  

During my confirmation hearing in September of 2021, I said that Türkiye was an indispensable ally. Events since then have reaffirmed that this country — always in the middle of it — is just that.  

My former colleagues in Congress, by making this F-16 sale a reality, particularly in such a bipartisan manner, have created the opportunity to reenergize this key relationship. They did the right thing.  

Jeff Flake currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Türkiye. He formerly represented Arizona in the U.S. House and Senate.