TURKISH President Turgut Ozal's strategic gamble to permit the United States to attack Iraq from air bases here has aroused domestic controversy - but is aimed at capturing US economic and military aid, and leaving Turkey as a regional leader when the war is over. Mr. Ozal has refuted charges that his policy is reckless and risks war with Iraq. Instead, he describes his policy as a ``dynamic attitude'' compared with Turkey's past, traditional hands-off and neutral policy on the Middle East. Ozal told a reporter, ``I am no gambler. I am an engineer and a man of calculation.''
Turkey, Ozal maintains, is following a policy in accord with United Nations resolutions opposing Iraqi aggression against Kuwait.
But what lies behind this ``calculation'' is no secret. He himself has spelled out his hopes and expectations from this policy, in recent interviews and statements. In a closed session with some parliamentarians of the ruling Motherland Party, Ozal said, ``Turkey will emerge stronger, much stronger from this conflict, by siding with the allies.'' He elaborated on the ``gains'' already obtained:.
At present, Turkey is starting to receive substantial US and other military aid that was previously denied because of the 7-to-10 ratio that has been US policy in assisting Greece and Turkey. The Bush administration has decided to add $82 million in equipment and ammunition to Turkey's 1991 fiscal year assistance. Congress has approved up to $500 million in assistance. Says a Foreign Ministry official: ``Finally the 7-to-10 ratio is killed.''
Turkey also in recent days received an unspecified number of Patriot anti-missile missiles for its air-defense system as well as 48 aircraft it had requested. Other weaponry including tanks were also received and sent to the ``second front'' along the border with Iraq.
In addition to military aid, Ozal hopes trade and economic ties with the US will improve as a result of his policy. His vision includes a free-trade area with the US. Already Ozal has announced that the US has relaxed quotas on textiles shipped from Turkey.
``After all this [conflict] is over, Turkey's foreign economic relations, particularly with the US will develop greatly,'' Ozal says.
Another central expectation is that Turkey will play a major role in the ``new Middle East'' after the war. Ozal said in an interview that ``the map of the area is likely to change. Power balances will change. We must be at the [conference] table when the new situation is discussed. Turkey must be influential.''
One reason for Ozal's expectation that Turkey will once again be a valuable regional player is that Iran or Syria might also try to take advantage of the conditions after the collapse of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. Ozal and his aides do not hide concerns that the Kurdish issue might emerge and that attempts might be made for the creation of a Kurdish state - something that the Turks strongly oppose.
Diplomatic observers here see these gains projected by Ozal as the main reason for reversing traditionally neutral and cautious Turkish policy into a ``dynamic'' one, even if that means a risk of military involvement.
Still, there is a widespread feeling that Turkey is being dragged into the Gulf war and that armed confrontation with Iraq might become inevitable. The government gave the green light to the US to use the Incirlik Air Base, in southern Turkey, for raids against Iraq, after receiving authorization from Parliament, whose opposition parities strongly objected. Turkish military authorities have clamped censorship on these activities to avoid reaction from the Iraqis. Both the opposition parties and the press have been urging the government to inform the public about what is going on.
Now that Turkey's involvement is known, the people are worried about a possible retaliation from Iraq. The Turks are hardly prepared for war: They have no shelters or gas masks. At present, about 180,000 Turkish troops are massed along the Iraqi border ready for action.
Suleyman Demirel, former prime minister and now leader of the center-right True Path Party said, ``By permitting the use of the bases against Iraq, Turkey is now at war.... We must recognize that Iraq can now retaliate and send its missiles against us.''
The feeling in the Turkish administration and particularly in the inner circle of Ozal, who is the architect of this policy, is that Saddam will not retaliate.
Military and Foreign Ministry officials seem to agree. A senior Foreign Ministry official said: ``Saddam must be foolish to attack us. He cannot afford to engage Iraq into an open confrontation and a ground battle with Turkey.''
Ozal appears to have pinned his hopes for the future on the belief that Iraq will not react. But critics still say the risk is too great. Erdal Inonu, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Popular Party, says Ozal is following ``a gambler's policy.'' ``War is not a gamble,'' Mr. Inonu says.