Turkey-Iran rivalry in Iraq?

Turkish Premier Erdogan with the Iranian President Ahmedinejad

“The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is reordering political dynamics not only in Baghdad but also in the broader Middle East. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a number of actors are seeking to fill the outsized role that America has played in Iraq over the last eight years.” says Sean Kane in his report ‘The Coming Turkish-Iranian Competition in Iraq’. “The two rising powers in the region, Iran and Turkey, share borders with Iraq and are rapidly becoming the most influential external actors inside the country.”

In this analysis, we will focus on the rivalry between these two rising powers in Iraq. Although it seems that the relations between Turkey and Iran are getting better in recent times, Iraq has become litmus paper in order to understand the real face of this friendly relationship. After a bit the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, first signals of conflict of interests between these countries began to emerge.

Neo-Ottoman and Neo-Persian Competition?

“From the sixteenth century until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Iraqi history was largely determined by the ebb and flow of conflict between Ottoman Turks and the Safavid Persians. After Persia converted to Shiism, control of Shia holy sites in Najaf, Karbala and Samarra became symbolically significant to the Safavids, and the Ottomans tried to maintain Iraq as a Sunni buffer against the spread of the rival sect. In this centuries-long struggle, military conflict between the two empires focused on Mesopotamia rather than Asia Minor.” says Sean Kane. “The last century—the British mandate in Iraq, several decades of a strong independent Iraqi state, and the post-2003 American occupation—has been a hiatus from the historical pattern of Turkish and Iranian struggle for preeminence in Iraq. U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw by December 2011, and the Iraqi state is not yet reconsolidated. Is competition among the heirs of the Ottoman and Persian empires likely to resume?”

I do not agree with Sean Kane in his categorization and approach because it is possible to skip political categorizations of 21st century when we get to the historical roots of this competition. In other words, secular/religious and cultural Islam/political Islam categorizations are more suitable for me in understanding this issue. If we pass over the Turkish model in the region and ethnical and sectarian divisions in Iraq, historical reasons will be more attractive to us. So, we should look at the different elements of this equation.

As Iraqi foreign minister Hoyshar Zebari says, this is the fact that today, Iran and Turkey are the biggest players and rivals inside Iraq. Soner Cagaptay, from Hurriyet Daily Newspaper, witnesses to this reality so: “Although both Turkey and Iran opposed the Iraq war at first, the fact that they have supported opposing camps in successive Iraqi elections has rekindled their competition. Today, Ankara and Tehran eye each other warily; neither wants the other to have more influence in Baghdad or over the Iraqi Kurds.”

Revelation of competition after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces

“The efforts of the Shi’ite to have a control over the fate of Iraq half-opened the way going towards the split. The Shi’ite Prime Minister Maliki’s show of force, his trying to push the Sunni out of the cabinet and the political course, his lashing out at Turkey, and Iran’s using itself for Syrian politics should be assessed as the first steps in Iraq going towards split.” says Cetiner Cetin, ORSAM Advisory Board Member.

As he mentioned, in the last period, Nouri al-Maliki revealed the coldness they have had with Turkey for a long time by indicating that they are concerned about Turkey’s interfering, rather than Iran’s, in the Iraqi internal affairs. “Right after the accusing and critical statements of Maliki, who draws his strength mainly from Iran, about Turkey, his accusing political attempts against the Sunni Vice-President Tariq al Hashimi, who is known for his close relations with Turkey, and against the Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak are actually the first signals showing that there will be attempts to block Turkey’s effectiveness following the U.S. withdrawal.” he said.

Here, we want to focus on the roots of this competition.

The roots of this competition

“Eighteenth-century English statesman Lord Palmerston famously stated that nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” says Sean Kane. “The starting point for forecasting the direction of Iranian-Turkish relations is therefore to examine each country’s interests in their old battleground of Mesopotamia.”

As he said, their political sway was made clear during Iraq’s extended 2010 cycle of government formation, when they were respectively instrumental in consolidating the two leading political groupings: Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya and Nouri al-Maliki’s National Alliance. While Turkey’s preference represents ‘secularism’; Iran’s preference represents ‘religious viewpoint’.

“Although Turkey and Iran have a lot of grounds on which to cooperate — the number of Iranians coming to Turkey last year was 2 million — the two countries struggling for leadership in the region have also opposing interests.” says Aydin Albayrak. “Iran is a major actor in Iraq, where it supports Shiite groups, whereas Turkey tends to support the secular movement while still maintaining good relations with Shiite elements.”

This means that although Iran and Turkey have good relations, their viewpoints are different from each other. “The relationship between Turkey and Iran has received heightened attention in the United States since the effort by Turkey and Brazil to negotiate a deal on the handling of Iran’s nuclear fuel in mid-2010. Although Ankara argues that Turkey’s new foreign policy platform of ‘zero problems’ with its neighbors and independent stance toward Western policy in the region poses no contradiction to its traditional Western alliances, some American policymakers and analysts view this approach as a realpolitik move by Turkey to reorient itself to the Muslim world, including Iran, based on Turkish economic and energy interests. Others believe that, despite this shift, Turkish and Iranian relations remain dominated by mutual mistrust and that the two countries view themselves as competitors for influence and preeminence in the region.” says Sean Kane. “More recently, a flurry of analyses has looked at Turkish and Iranian involvement in Iraq and whether the two countries consciously consider themselves rivals there.”

In addition to these, according to Joschka Fischer, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is trying to maintain good relations with Iran, its ambition to become the leading Sunni power means that Turkey must sooner or later contest Iran’s influence in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Palestine. And that means conflict.

On the other hand, there are some commentators who reject the claims about the rivalry between Turkey and Iran. “Marina Ottaway disagrees specifically with the notion of a Turkish-Iranian rivalry in Iraq, arguing that Turkey has no interest in antagonizing Iran by playing the Sunni card in Iraq and has shown through its votes at the United Nations that it values good relations with Iran.”

What are roles of Iran and Turkey in Iraq?

“Ankara is now Tehran’s most viable rival for preeminence in the region, but compared to Iran, it has repeatedly failed to take decisive action.” said Alakbar Raufoglu. “With less than two months before American troops withdraw from Iraq, the question of whether Turkey is prepared to take the necessary actions to play a leading role in the region remains unclear. If Turkey fails, it risks ceding its influence to Iran.”

Moreover, according to Cetiner Cetin, now, we can more clearly see the fact that Iran does not intend to leave Iraq to anyone after the withdrawal of the U.S.

“The timing of the crisis shows that after the withdrawal of the U.S., Iran is not intended to leave Iraq to anyone else.” says Assist. Prof. Serhat Erkmen. “Another dimension of the timing of crisis is the fact that it came right after Maliki’s accusing and critical statements on Turkey. As it is well known, some time ago, Maliki revealed the distance with Turkey they have had for a long time by stating that he has hesitations not because of the possibility that Iran could interfere in the Iraqi internal affairs but that Turkey could do it so, in a statement he made to one of the U.S. journals.”

As we can see, many commentators and writers fear Iranian influence in Iraq. For them, Turkey is a balanced element in Iraq and they prefer secular Turkey to religious Iran.

“Turkey has the advantages of being neither Arab nor Persian and of demonstrating a newfound distance from Western powers. Its strategic goal of becoming an energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe also gives it a compelling economic interest in a unified and prosperous Iraq fueled by increased hydrocarbon production.” says Sean Kane. “Iran, on the other hand, has the advantage of religious and cultural ties with the majority of Iraq’s population, but its involvement in the country is toxic for the minority Sunni population and watched warily by all Iraqi nationalists.”

Additionally, according to him, “Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to represent the starkest opposing tendencies in Iraq, but Turkish influence is the most significant regional counterweight to Iranian preeminence. That Turkey is not identified with either pole of the region’s toxic ethnic (Arab-Persian) and religious (Saudi Wahhabi–Iranian Rule of the Jurist) divides means that it has greater acceptance in Iraq and potential for positive input. From the Iraqi Shia point of view, Turkey, despite being Sunni Muslim, is not perceived as a source of terrorist attacks in Iraq or intolerance toward Shiism in the way that the Wahhabi creed is.”

Here, it is required to look at the commonalities and differences between Iranian and Turkish policies in the region. Sean Kane summarizes these topics briefly:

“First, the commonalities. Both emphasize maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, particularly as it relates to their own restive Kurdish minorities, and avoiding a return to all-out sectarian conflict. Both also, somewhat reluctantly, accept the model of a federalized Iraq, but likely differ on the extent of decentralization this should entail.

It is on who should rule Baghdad and how that Ankara and Tehran have profound differences. As a secular democracy, Turkey publicly advocates for a genuine political process and broad, representative, and inclusive Iraqi governments in which no single group dominates. Although in practice tinged by its own Sunni orientation, particularly since the Islamist AKP came to office, Turkish political activity in Iraq does not approach Iran’s overtly sectarian approach. Tehran’s irreducible priority continues to be to ensure a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that would turn a traditional security threat into a friendly state.

Tehran and Ankara also differ in their reactions to the U.S. policy goal of a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq capable of positively influencing regional stability. Turkish officials assert that they cannot overemphasize the importance of a stable Iraq to Turkey, remarking that Turkey has paid a heavy price whenever Iraq is not stable, and that when Iraq is stable, the region is stable. The view from Tehran is radically different. Iraq has since ancient times been a rival and, more recently, a check to Iranian influence in the Middle East. This latter role encompasses the disastrous eight-year war Saddam Hussein launched in 1980, which included chemical weapons strikes against Iranian cities and the death and injury of as many as a million Iranians. Given this history, the prevalent view among Iran’s academic and political elite toward Baghdad is still one of mistrust and perceived threat. In fact, it is the veterans of that conflict that now rule Iran and they largely prefer a relatively weak, divided, and passive neighbor incapable of posing a future political or conventional military threat.

The third major area of diverging interests is trade. Both Turkey and Iran are vying to become Iraq’s leading commercial partner. Turkey sees Iraq as an integral part of its effort to become the economic bridge from the Middle East to Europe. Iran sees an opportunity to shift Iraqi trade eastward, away from its traditional orientation to the Arab world and Turkey, as part of its effort to become the connection between the Middle East and central Asia. Iran estimates its 2009 trade with Iraq at between $4 billion and $5 billion and has set a goal of increasing this to $20 billion within two years. Turkey estimates its own Iraqi trade at greater than $6 billion and expects it to grow to $20 billion within four years. In an ironic twist, the Kurdistan region has become the Turkish economic beachhead into Iraq, and Turkish companies now have leading roles in the construction, trade, and energy sectors in the north of the country. Iran, meanwhile, has the pride of place in southern and central Iraq, where it has become a leading investor in infrastructure, energy, and religious pilgrimage projects. Iranian scholar Mohsen Milani sees this as part of Iran seeking to realize a key foreign policy goal of establishing a ‘sphere of influence’ in Iraq’s southern provinces.

Despite the importance of trade with Iraq to both Iran and Turkey, the future of Iraq’s energy sector is even more significant and yet another area of difference. Turkey is not significant oil or gas producer but instead a rapidly growing hydrocarbon consumer. Moreover, a key strategic plank of its neo-Ottoman foreign policy is to become the main energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe. As a hydrocarbon consumer and transit point, Turkey stands to gain on two fronts from dramatically increased Iraqi hydrocarbon production. Consequentially, Turkish state-owned and private energy companies have directly invested in six gas and oil fields in southern and central Iraq and are major players in oil exploration efforts in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Iran is a hydrocarbon exporter, and, though it has explored gas transit deals with Iraq, its ability to tap its own vastly underexploited oil and gas reserves is precluded by international sanctions. Iraq’s ability to move forward with major international investment that Tehran cannot even contemplate for the forseeable future. Even partial Iraqi success in production increases could see Iraq overtaking Iranian production levels by 2015, and OPEC production quotas would therefore have to be recalculated.

Any possible continued U.S. military presence in Iraq is the final point of difference between the two countries. The Turkish parliament famously refused to provide permission for U.S. troops to use Turkey as an invasion route in 2003. Privately, however, they now express support for a small, continued U.S. presence in Iraq after 2011 on the basis of worries about Iranian dominance in Baghdad and the future of the trilateral security mechanism established between Turkey, Iraq, and the United States in 2008 for combating the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). This mechanism, from the Turkish perspective, has proven useful in addressing a top national security concern and provided a diplomatic channel through which Turkey was able to conduct its outreach to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). For Iran, the national security priority is the departure of ‘encircling’ U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tehran lobbied against the 2008 Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States that authorized the American military presence in the country until December 2011.”

When we compare the commonalities and differences in their policies, we can say that although it seems the direct opposite, their agenda is very different.

In that case, why many Western and American analysts emphasize the role of Turkey as a balanced element. If we can understand the expectations from Turkey in Iraq, it will be easy to show the whole picture.

What are the expectations from Turkey?

“Some suggest that the withdrawal of US troops has finally opened a new space for Iran to maneuver in the region that will strengthen Iranian domination. Some Turkish analysts suggest that the new Iraq is nothing but a new axis of an Iran-Damascus pact that enables Iran to have free geographical access from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean.” says Emre Uslu, from Today’s Zaman Newspaper. “ Against this argument, some US experts, including political science professor Stephen Van Evera of MIT, think that ‘fears of Iranian domination of Iraq rest on the premise that Iraqi Shi’a identify so strongly as Shi’a and so little as Arabs or Iraqis that they will accept domination by Shi’a Iran. In fact, however, Iraqi Shi’a have a strong identity as Arabs and Iraqis. They have affinity for other Shi’a, but will not accept Iran or other non-Iraqis as overlords. Iranian dominance of Iraq is not in the cards’.”

In my opinion, this comment is very optimistic. It is a fact that the U.S. is afraid of Iranian influence and its receipt for this fear is Turkey’s balanced role.

As Vladimir van Wilgenburg mentions, a recent report by the United States Institute of Peace suggests that Washington should be less concerned about increased cooperation between Turkey and Iran because the two countries have different visions for the Middle East, suggesting that the “renewal of the historical Ottoman-Persian rivalry in Mesopotamia is likely as the dominant American presence fades.”

In addition to this reality, as we said before, it is very difficult to find any conflict between American and Turkish interests. So, many Western analysts suggest that Ankara’s engagement will be critical in limiting Iran and Syria’s (mostly negative) influence in Iraq.

“Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of the American Interest magazine, said Turkish success in Iraq would lead to a less pro-Iranian coalition in Baghdad, referring to Turkey’s rivalry over the country.

Mead connected any Turkish success in the Middle East as equal to Iran’s failure. He said ideologically, Turkey hopes to lead the Sunni Islam world while Iran aspires to lead the entire Islamic world. He also added that the same thing could be applied to Syria where Turkey’s success there could be spelled as Iran’s failure as well as loss of Iranian ties to Hamas.”

Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, also, says Iraq’s other Sunni-dominated Arab neighbors — such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait — should stop isolating Iraq’s Shiite government and embrace it instead. If they don’t, he says, then Iraq will only be pushed closer to Iran.

Moreover, “They (Turkey) are doing this throughout Iraq, in Kurdistan as well as in Baghdad and even Basra, which is not usually an area of Turkish influence,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. “The presence of a Turkish consulate in Basra is very much part of a strategy to dam in Iranian influence in Iraq through investments and trade.”

According to diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz for the Turkish daily Milliyet, Ankara shares Washington’s concerns about growing Iranian influence in Iraq. “The increase of the Iranian through Shia elements in Iraq, that is what Turkey will be worried about,” said Idiz. “And with Turkey there is a political competition going on for influence between Iran and Turkey.”

In addition to this, as Dorian Jones mentions, last month, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said Washington has proposed to take over the influential role of training Iraqi military personal, now that U.S. troops are pulling out.

“We have been contributing in training military elements in Iraq within the framework of NATO,” said Unal. “This issue has come up to the agenda, and of course, we will be considering it. According to Dorian Jones, such a move is seen as strengthening Turkey’s influence in greater Iraq and countering what observers say is expected growing Iranian influence with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

When we look at the picture from this side, it, unfortunately, seems to us that Turkey’s regional role is shaping around the Western and American interests in addition to its own interests. This Turkey is distant from being an alternative to Shi’a-Sunni polarizations. It means that Turkey sooner or later contests Iran’s influence and interests in Iraq. It also refers to the Turkish role and model in the region:

“This is partly a replay of Ottoman era politics. The new Turkish Islamist government is eager to revive Turkey’s historical role as the leading power of the region. (Two hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire ruled everything from the Danube to the modern Iran/Iraq boundary and across North Africa as far as Algeria.) As Arab nationalism has failed and declined, Sunni Islam has replaced it as the leading political movement in much of that world. Arab nationalism was both secular and anti-Turkish; Arab nationalists regarded the Ottomans as an imperialist great power. But if Arabs look at the world through a religious lens, Istanbul used to be the seat of the Caliph.”

Is Iran the winner?

“When the United States’ last election surge withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi contest to produce a government, Iran stepped in to broker a settlement involving current PM Malaki (Malaki also serves as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior but is not a dictator) and the jolly Sadrists. Malaki, a Shia, happily recalls his days in exile in Iraq during the Saddam reign while Sadr hid out as a religious “student” in Qom when he was on the U.S. military’s capture or kill list post-2003.” says Peter Van Buren. “Both men remain beholden to Iran and continue to shift Iraq closer and closer to Tehran’s policy positions. Iran has its own proconsul in Baghdad, well-known locally but not discussed much in the west. The guy moved into the job after a tour as head of the Iranian special ops Qods Force.”

In parallel to this comment, according to some analysts, the real winner of the war in Iraq is neither the Iraqis, nor Americans, but the Iranians.

But, Emre Uslu does not agree with this approach. “Does this means that Iran will have the freedom to do whatever it wants in Iraq?” he asks. “A simple answer to this question is no. There are at least two reasons why that is. First, despite the fact that US troops have withdrawn from Iraq, US influence on Iraq still remains strong through US advisors and Iraqi dependence on US armaments. Therefore, the US would exert its influence on Iraqi leaders to limit Iranian domination in Iraq. Second, Iraq’s dependence on US weapons systems prevents Iraqi Shi’a leaders from opening up wholeheartedly to Iran. Therefore, beyond the identity issues to be considered, there are more complex issues for Iraqi leaders to consider when leading their country.”

Conclusion…

“In the Middle East, there is room for one shah or sultan, but not a shah and a sultan.” says Soner Cagaptay. “Ankara and Tehran appear locked, once again, in their centuries-old competition to become the region’s dominant power.”

Although “Turkey adopted an attitude in favor of a broad-based government” in Iraq, Turkey prefers to be a side of the Iraqiyyah Party. Actually, this preference play along with a new Turkish role in the Middle East. As Sean Kane emphasizes, Turkey’s blend of Islam, democracy, and soft power is a more attractive regional template than Iran’s formula of Islamic theocracy and hard power.

This Turkey’s rising influence in Iraq will please the U.S. and Western countries. So, they encourage Turkey in order to be effective in Iraq. “Any attempt by Ankara to challenge Iranian influence in Iraq will likely strain relations with Tehran.” said Dorian Jones. “Those relations are already under pressure over Ankara’s support for the opposition against Tehran’s key ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

On the other hand, as Veysel Ayhan mentions, “despite the fact that some Iranian writers argue that Iran defends the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, when one observes Iran’s policy over Iraq, it can be seen that Tehran has a policy of making relations with all the Iraqi groups.”

“This way, it is seen that it takes steps in directing all the groups in line with the interests of Iran or threatening them when needed.” he says. “It is also necessary to indicate that the countries defending the territorial integrity of Iraq are not pursuing a determined policy on this matter. On the other hand, the main target of the Iran regime is known to establish an Iraq that is easy to control and direct.”

As Brian M Downing emphasizes, sectarian conflict in Iraq is again a concern as the Shi’ite government seeks the arrest of a Sunni vice president whom they tie to an assassination team. But neither Turkey’s these approaches nor Iran’s privileged policies can solve the problems of Iraq. The stability and security in the region are not independently of the developments that may take place in Iraq and policies/influences of neighbouring countries.

In this game, Turkey should stay out of being a pawn for Western interests and adopt unique policies. In this way, Turkey may bring into a friendly connection with both Iraq and Iran. This approach will be approved from all the groups and fragments in Iraq.

By Ismail Duman, WB

Turkish military growth concerns Russia

Turkey is one of the development partners of the F-35 project and is expected to eventually order an initial batch of over 120 stealth fighters.

Turkey is a traditional partner, and even more traditional rival at Russia’s southern borders. This 70,000,000-strong country is part of NATO, and the Turkic and Muslim people in Russia are the subject of Turkish “courtship.” Russia should be concerned about the strengthened power of the Turkish army that is already one of the top ten in the world.

Today, the Turkish army is the most organized, numerous and powerful state institution. Turkish army of half a million soldiers is the largest in size after the United States in the NATO military bloc. The Ministry of Defense of Turkey has five divisions: Air Force, Navy, The Army, Gendarmerie, and the Coast Guard.

Particular attention is paid to the creation of the modern Turkish arms. The efforts of the Turkish defense industry are aimed at developing and building their own aircraft, armored vehicles, tanks, and various electronics and missile weapons. Turkish Aerospace Industries Company is engaged in the development and manufacture of aircraft under license. The objective of this venture is the creation of unmanned aerial vehicles. It is important to note that most of the products produced by Turkish military companies are purchased by the national armed forces, and purchase volumes are constantly increasing. The Turkish fleet is larger than the fleet of any other country in the Black Sea due to the presence of new submarines and ships.

The foundation of the current Army was laid in 1920 by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The armed forces are the guardians of the republican regime and secular values, separation of Islam from the state.

The formation of the army took place in the country’s harsh defeat in World War I, when a major contribution to the emergence of the modern Turkish army was made by Soviet Russia. The Republic of Turkey at the end of the World War I has experienced the devastation and foreign intervention, and was not recognized by the world.

Vladimir Lenin decided to help the young breakaway republic with gold and weapons. The far-sighted policy of Ataturk, who argued that Turkey shares the sympathies of Soviet Russia to socialism and intends to conduct an uncompromising struggle against the Entente, played its role. As a result, the new Turkey in 1923 gained international recognition, and Atatürk was very grateful to Soviet Russia for military assistance. He often visited the Soviet Embassy, ​​and the members of the Soviet delegation were sitting next to him in the military parades as honored guests.

The beginning of history of Turkish aviation refers specifically to the 1920s, when many Turkish pilots were sent to the Soviet Union where they were taught by the best pilots and trained in the Soviet parachute centers. After the death of Ataturk in 1938, the army, as his brainchild, became the bearer of the ideas of secular government and democracy. Today, even the political opponents of Atatürk ideas do not dare to openly criticize him, the army, or the republic, because these three concepts have merged together for the Turks, and, touching one of them you automatically touch the others.

Ataturk bequeathed to his country under no circumstances to engage in European military power. The Turkish leadership must be commended for not tempting fate and not sending the Turkish army to the fronts of World War II. The country has kept the army, and in 1945, while the rest of Europe was in ruins, it was relatively prosperous.

However, later Ataturk’s will was violated when, yielding to the pressure of various political circles, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes decided to “test the strength of the army”, sending it to Korea in 1950 as a member of national contingents in the UN. After providing the “assistance” to the Western countries, Turkey was accepted in NATO. It was justified by the fact that the USSR posed a greater threat to the sovereignty of the republic, and that the goal was to strengthen the army and repel possible aggression from the Soviet Union. In 1974 the Turkish army has demonstrated its preparedness when on early morning of July 20 the naval and air forces of the trained airborne units landed in Cyprus. The army of the “Greek” Cyprus was defeated in a day. Turkish aircraft bombed the airport in Nicosia, Cyprus National Guard barracks and armored units. Marines landed in Kyrenia and blocked the ports of Larnaca and Limassol.

The official reason for the invasion of Cyprus was the overthrow of President Makarios by coup and the massacre of his supporters. Fearing ethnic cleansing of Turkish Cypriots, the Turkish Chief of General Staff Sanjar ordered the operation “to establish peace in Cyprus.” Despite the fact that the status of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) remains open, the Turkish Army that brilliantly conducted the operation must be commended. In the 21st century, the Turkish military were involved in peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the UN and NATO. They are stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia – provinces that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are fighting mainly on their territory with detachments of separatists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Today, there are increasingly more assumptions that Turkey is seeking domination in the Islamic world and creation of “Ottoman Empire-2.” These assumptions are in fact are not unfounded. In Istanbul, in particular, public institutions adorn the coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire, along with a portrait of Ataturk.

President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are doing everything to diminish the army’s political role in the country. According to the amended constitution, the ruling Justice and Development Party need not fear a military coup.

At the same time the Turkish army is very strong. Due to the geographical position of Turkey, its role is enormous. The country takes great interest in the political process in the Middle East and Arab world (in the context of the “Arab spring”). In addition, in the south-east Turkey an American missile defense system has been launched.

At some point in time, Russia and Turkey were at war with each other over 30 times. Now the Turks are actively “courting” the representatives of Muslim, particularly the Turkic peoples of Russia. Turkey is seeking to increase its influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Crimea. Finally, the Turkish army is one of the pillars of NATO. Today, Russia should pay special attention to its southern borders, where the powerful Turkish army is located.

By Yuri Mavashev, Pravda.ru

Israeli Paper: Turkey May Fund HAMAS

Turkey may reportedly replace Hamas’ chief financier, Iran, to alleviate the Gaza ruling party’s financial pain as it has faced difficulty in receiving aid from the Islamic republic.

Haniye with Turkish Premier Erdogan in the AKP group building.

Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Turkish sources on Saturday that stated Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh conveyed his party’s financial difficulties to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his first visit to Turkey and that Turkey is seriously considering funding Hamas.

The report added that Haniyeh explained to Erdoğan in some detail the financial difficulties Hamas has faced after expected aid from Iran didn’t arrive on time and was significantly decreased.

Foreign aid is essential to helping Palestinians survive, including in Gaza, which, though ruled by Hamas, receives almost half of the Palestinian Authority’s budget in social services and salaries. It said Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has left Syria for good and is considering moving the party’s headquarters to Qatar or Jordan.

Mashaal, 55, has been based in Damascus since 2001, fearing for his safety and restriction of movement in Gaza. He has been the chief of Hamas since 1996, responsible for setting policy and planning operations against Israel.

Earlier this month Haniyeh toured Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia. It was the first time he has left Gaza since Israel siege in 2007. He is also expected to visit Iran, Qatar and other Muslim countries at the end of this month. Hamas officials say the goal of Haniyeh’s trip was to improve ties with Muslim countries swept up in the uprisings shaking the Arab world.

An aide to Haniyeh said earlier this month that he would meet leaders in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey and discuss rebuilding the Gaza Strip, which suffered damage during a month-long Israeli offensive in 2008-09.

WB

Iran Question & Turkey’s Own Nuclear Options

Western nations and Israel have employed all conceivable means to stop Iran’s nuclear program, from sabotage to assassination, from diplomatic pressure to economic embargoes and even cyber attacks.

Iranian airplanes carrying nuclear weapons-related technological equipment have been destroyed, nuclear laboratories have been blown up, imported equipment has been delivered to Iran in broken pieces, and scientists have been murdered. But the greatest blow thus far to Iran’s program came from a computer virus called Stuxnet, a joint US-Israeli venture. First an exact replica of the Iranian facilities was built by the Israelis in the desert at the Dimona nuclear site. This virus targeted command centers run by Siemens computers, which the Iranians were using to enrich uranium. The virus had unprecedented strength, with the ability to penetrate all Siemens systems worldwide, though it would only be active in the process of uranium enrichment. The virus made the tubes inside protective cylinders suddenly rotate very rapidly, ultimately breaking them apart.

It was in the latter half of 2009 that Stuxnet was released. Then, in the first months of 2010, the enrichment process in Iran began to falter. Thousands of tubes shattered due to Stuxnet, thus drastically slowing down its uranium enrichment program. By the end of the year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Tehran’s nuclear program had been set back many years. Meir Dagan, then head of Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, also said that Iran would not be able to produce nuclear weapons before 2015. America and Israel believed that their computer virus had accomplished what many had expected a military attack to do. This also explains why Iran’s nuclear program was put on the geopolitical back burner until mid-2011.

Turkey’s role as mediator

In May 2010, as a result of Turkey’s mediation, Iran accepted an exchange of the low-grade uranium it then possessed. But although the US had agreed to an identical exchange just the previous November, this time it refused. This change of mind was almost certainly connected to the Stuxnet virus. At the end of 2009 it was still unclear what the virus would achieve. But by the next May, even though the public was in the dark, Washington surely knew the damage had been done by the virus, and knew that such an exchange would be to Iran’s advantage this time around. Moreover, from the other side of the fence, this is probably the same reason that Iran was ready to accept an offer that it had rejected just six months earlier.

As it happened, however, the West was once again mistaken in its analyses. Iran was able to quickly shake off the effects of Stuxnet. By mid-2011, Iran was able to run even more centrifuge tubes, in more developed models, which revolved even faster. An unexpected consequence of all these attempts to derail its nuclear program was that Iran simply gained more experience and skill with nuclear technology.

To produce nuclear weapons using uranium, the most critical part of the process is to enrich it to weapons grade, around 90 percent purity. Iran has now succeeded in the most difficult steps: obtaining uranium enriched to at least 20 percent. Getting 90 percent enrichment in a few months no longer appears very difficult. In the meantime, there is some evidence indicating that Iran has initiated work to assemble nuclear warheads. Western countries are now planning to try to stop Iran with an oil embargo. If that doesn’t do the job, the West may come to the conclusion that it has no choice but a military operation.

An attack on Iran?

It is known that the Obama administration does not look warmly on an attack on Iran, and that it opposed the idea of Israel single-handedly carrying out such an assault on more than one occasion. The biggest supporter of a military solution is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who obviously hopes for an attack sometime this summer or fall, capitalizing on the competitive atmosphere of the US presidential campaign, and pressure Obama may possibly be facing. But even in Israel many stand opposed to an attack, including influential defense and security establishment figures, some prominent right-wing politicians and even members of the current government. For instance, after stepping down from the helm of Mossad, Dagan began an unusual media campaign. He publicly argued that attacking Iran would be “stupid,” and would cause a strategic catastrophe for Israel, leading to years of chaos in the region, along with adding legitimacy to Iran’s alleged reasons for developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, he contended, Israel lacks the military capability for an effective strike against Iran without help from the US.

What should Turkey do?

Even if a military attack on Iran — which currently seems unlikely — were to occur, Iran now possesses enough know-how that the production of nuclear weapons is ultimately only a matter of time and political will. In such a case, Turkey will face a thorny question: Should Turkey also have nuclear capabilities?

Nuclear weapons were used for the first and last time by the US during World War II, on two Japanese cities. In the decades since, the huge effect of nuclear weapons on the strategic balance of global politics has come not from their use but rather their mere possession. According to the dictates of international strategy, the power of a country is, until it is used, the power that others assume it has. During the more than half-century of the Cold War, the single greatest weight on the strategic balance between the two blocs was the Soviet Union’s deployment of nuclear weapons.

A sound strategy, one with a good chance of standing the test of time, should take into consideration what might look like unthinkable options. Strategic efforts should aim at avoiding surprises. History has seen many victories and defeats emerge from options that once seemed totally unlikely. The winners have often been those who were able to think outside the box, while the losers were undercut by their inability to do the same. Politics and diplomacy, in protecting the interests of a country and even its survival, must always run reasonable, even calculated, risks. A policy aiming for zero risk is a policy of impotence. The risks that diplomacy can run are proportional to the margin of safety enjoyed by a country. Additionally, the risks faced by a country tend to rise as the power and associated ambiguities of the other sides also rise.

If and when Iran conducts its first nuclear test and continues to build up a nuclear arsenal, this would deeply upset the strategic geopolitical balance and psychology in this region. In fact, what follows would be unlike anything ever seen in the Middle East. Israel currently maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear weapons, to keep the world guessing what conditions would lead to their use. If Iran also finally manages to obtain nuclear weapons, it will probably take a similar path. Such developments in turn would sow ambiguity even denser than that of the tense Cold War period.

If Iran does go nuclear, the US will most likely offer its nuclear protection umbrella to a number of countries in the region, including Turkey. For Ankara to accept such an offer would be reasonable only if it doesn’t relinquish its own nuclear option. Otherwise Turkey could be, as circumstances develop, a strategic hostage to the US in the Middle East. Turkey has a legitimate right to consider all future possibilities. For instance, the US might choose to withdraw into its own shell, pulling back beyond the Atlantic. Or a new administration may emerge in Washington under the influence of the extremist pro-Israel and evangelical Christian groups. And if the current Iranian regime changes or even if it doesn’t, there is also the possibility — currently a remote one, to be sure — that Washington and Tehran could build an alliance of sorts. Each of these possibilities may force the need for nuclear capability for Turkey.

EU membership and the nuclear option

European Union membership would certainly reduce Turkey’s risks, and largely eliminate the nuclear option. The opposite scenario, in which Turkey’s EU membership prospects die and Iran builds up a nuclear arsenal, would pose a troublesome situation. In that case, to avoid getting stuck in a bottleneck of heightened risks, Turkey would need to seriously consider developing its own nuclear capability. To date, the relationship between a possible nuclear option for Turkey and its EU prospects has not received a great deal of attention. Yet this relationship ought to be handled carefully.

For the time being, Ankara could initiate a well thought-out and comprehensive nuclear technology program. It should aim to develop its technological know-how, essentially in pilot plant capacities for nuclear fission chain reaction materials. This could encompass various methods, including centrifuge and laser technologies. And finally, Turkey must also improve the range of its guided missiles.

By Haluk Özdalga

Turkey is not platform for attacking Iran – Turkish FM

Turkey and Iran have shared a peaceful border for centuries.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined that his country will not allow the NATO to use its territory to strike Iran.

Davutoglu made the remarks during a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

He said that Turkey has never cooperated with those who wanted to harm its neighboring countries like Russia, Iran or Syria.

Iran-Turkey border has always been a border of peace, and it will continue to be so, he added.

Noting that he discussed Iran and Syria issues with Lavrov, Davutoglu said that Turkey’s position with Russia was very similar in Iran issue, adding that talks on Iran’s nuclear program should resume rapidly.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia and Turkey had almost the same position on Iran and Russia wanted this issue to be solved through diplomatic means.

Moscow believes that Iran’s nuclear problem can be solved only diplomatically and politically, he added.

Russia wants the soonest resumption of the talks between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran.

Israel and its close ally the United States accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while they have never presented any corroborative document to substantiate their allegations. Both Washington and Tel Aviv possess advanced weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads.

Iran vehemently denies the charges, insisting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

Iran has, in return, warned that it would target Israel and its worldwide interests in case it comes under attack by the Tel Aviv.

The United States has also always stressed that military action is a main option for the White House to deter Iran’s progress in the field of nuclear technology.

Iran has warned it could close the strategic Strait of Hormuz if it became the target of a military attack over its nuclear program.

Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the strategic Persian Gulf waterway, is a major oil shipping route.

An armada of domestic satellites await countdown

RASAT Satellite

A total of 17 satellite programs are expected to come into orbit from 2012 to 2020. Over the next five years satellite contracts could amount to $2 billion, according to a space industry expert based in Turkey.

The Turkish government has devised an ambitious road map for the country’s multiple satellite programs through 2020.

According to the road map, a total of 17 Turkish satellites will come into orbit from 2012 to 2020. A space industry expert based in Turkey said the next five years’ satellite contracts would amount to $2 billion. “This is a niche market with strong prospects due to Turkey’s genuine ambitions in space technology,” he said.

According to the road map, Turkey will this year launch the Göktürk II, an electro optical reconnaissance and observation satellite. Göktürk I as well as Türksat 4A, a communications satellite, will be launched in 2013. Türksat 4B will be launched in 2014 and Türksat 4R in 2015 along with the Göktürk III, a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) reconnaissance and observation satellite. 2016 will see an infrared early warning satellite sent into orbit, along with the Türksat 5A communications satellite. In 2017, Türksat 5B and a second infrared satellite will be launched. The electro optical Göktürk IV and two more infrared satellites will be put in orbit in 2018, and yet two more infrared satellites will be launched in 2019. In 2020 Turkey will launch its second SAR Göktürk V.

The road map comes after the government set up a Space Technologies Directorate under the supervision of the Transport Ministry last November. Officials said this office will later become the country’s first National Space Agency.

There is a multitude of space actors in Turkey, but experts hope efforts will be better coordinated with the establishment of the National Space Agency. Current organizations include the State Planning Organization, the Ministry of Transportation, the communications satellite operator Türksat, the state scientific research institute Tübitak and the defense procurement agency the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries.

Tübitak cooperates with the Federal Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, German aerospace center DLR, Britain’s space agency BNSC and the Netherlands space office NSO.

Defense companies Aselsan, Roketsan and Turkish Aerospace Industries, as well as three universities, are also involved in space programs.

The Turkish government identified space as a priority area in scientific and technological progress in 2004. As part of this strategy it has sought to develop programs in line with the Human Space Technology Initiative, an effort under the framework of the United Nations Program on Space Applications. The effort promotes international cooperation in human space lift and space exploration-related activities.

In 2009, Telespazio, a joint venture between Italy’s defense giant Finmeccanica and France’s Thales, signed a deal worth nearly 250 million euros (about $345 million) for the Turkish military satellite.

Umit Enginsoy

Ahmadinejad: Iran Is Ready For Nuclear Talks

Even as he became the latest and most senior member of the Iranian government to publicly declare his readiness for nuclear talks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday lashed out at the West over its tough new economic sanctions that he said have hurt the Iranian people.

Addressing students in the southern city of Kerman, Mr. Ahmadinejad blamed the West for what he called its “excuses” for not restarting negotiations and heaped scorn on the United States and Europe over new sanctions, which target Iran’s oil industry. While they have hurt ordinary Iranians, he said, the sanctions have done nothing to weaken Iran’s resolve in the face of “bullying” over its nuclear program.

“You are the real enemy of the people and are putting pressure on them,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying. “I admonish you to pave the right track and do not make any excuses while the time is ripe for negotiations.”

The remarks come ahead of a visit by United Nations nuclear inspectors to Iran next week and March 2 parliamentary elections in Iran, where the economy has sputtered under the weight of sanctions and high inflation. With the country’s currency, the rial, having weakened to a record low against the dollar, Mr. Ahmadinejad on Wednesday reversed himself and allowed interest rates on bank deposits to rise in an attempt to ease inflationary pressure. The move was seen as a rare tacit admission of the effect the sanctions have exerted in Iran.

The uranium enrichment program in Iran has become the most urgent point of contention between Iran and the West, which has long suspected the Iranians are working to build a nuclear weapon despite their repeated denials. Iran has said it is enriching uranium for civilian energy and medical purposes. Israel, which considers Iran its most dangerous adversary, has hinted at the possibility of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said publicly on Thursday that the sanctions had created hardships for average people in Iran but that they would weather the difficulties. He added that Western insistence that sanctions are aimed at curtailing its nuclear program and not at the Iranian people was “a big lie.”

While Mr. Ahmadinejad said he was ready to resume nuclear talks, his comments did not appear to bring Iran closer to resuming negotiations with Europe and the United States. The previous round of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program broke down over a year ago after Iran presented conditions considered unacceptable to the West.

European leaders are waiting for Iran to respond to an October letter seeking a resumption of talks without preconditions if Iran agreed to discuss its nuclear enrichment program. During the last talks, Iran refused to discuss that main issue, seeking instead the removal of sanctions and the recognition of a right to enrich uranium before negotiating could begin.

Some Western diplomats have viewed Iran’s latest public offers of negotiations as an effort to buy time, allowing the country to enrich more uranium as talks get under way. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements on Thursday did not appear to coincide with any official diplomatic response, European officials said. Earlier this month during a visit to Turkey, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that his country was ready to resume negotiations. He said discussions were under way about the site and date, Iranian news media reported, and that the talks would “most probably be held in Istanbul.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.

The NYT

Serial Production Started in Key Weapon Programs

Turkey's nationally developed UMTAS anti-tank missiles and Cirit laser-guided rockets on display at a military exhibition in Istanbul.

The head of the under-secretariat for the defense industry, Murad Bayar, has outlined Turkey’s armaments objectives in coming years. This year, Turkey plans to finish tests on several national weapons systems that have been developed and move to the serial production phase. In the next stage, building on that momentum, Turkey plans to increase its arms exports as well as reduce its reliance on imports (Anadolu Ajansi, January 23).

During the past decade, Turkey has embarked on ambitious programs to reduce its dependence on external sources for the procurement needs of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), the second largest army in NATO. On the one hand, through stringent rules on procurement tenders, Ankara wanted to ensure that domestic firms will take part in the production of imported weapons systems, as well as enabling technology transfers. On the other hand, building on the accumulation of knowledge gained from these joint projects and the assistance and subsidies provided to the domestic arms industry and R&D activities, Turkey has been working to develop several “national” weapons systems. So far, Ankara’s ambitious national arms projects included the development of a national warship, main battle tank, attack helicopter, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and an infantry rifle.

Turkey has been cooperating with Italy’s Augusta-Westland on an attack helicopter project, which is aimed at resolving the Turkish army’s deficiencies in its fight against the PKK. Earlier, a prototype of this helicopter was developed, which is going through flight and weapons systems tests (EDM, September 29, 2009). Turkey is proud of the attack helicopter deal and sees it almost as an advertisement for its recent national projects. Turkey obtained the sole production license from Italy and introduced the necessary modifications, in order that it meets the specific operational needs of its army in mountainous terrain. Moreover, reflecting its self-confidence in indigenous technological abilities, the electronic systems and the software of the helicopter will be developed in Turkey, meaning it will have full control over the platform’s operation. The weapons installed on the helicopter will also come from national weapons developed domestically in recent years, including Cirit laser-guided rocket systems.

Bayar announced that they are planning to finish firing tests and start the first deliveries to the TAF this year, and complete the delivery of 51 helicopters in the coming years. Bayar also noted that once this platform is added to TAF’s inventory, it will have good marketing prospects. This system will be in demand, Bayar believes, especially in countries that are currently fighting terrorism, given that Turkey developed it with such considerations in mind. Several Middle Eastern countries are believed to be considering ATAK. After successfully passing the flight tests in summer 2011, ATAK has also been invited to submit its bid to a procurement tender in South Korea (Sabah, September 25, 2011).

Another major project is the main battle tank ALTAY, developed in partnership with South Korea’s Rotem (EDM, August 7, 2008). This project seeks to increase the TAF’s firepower in conventional warfare through the procurement of 250 third generation main battle tanks. Currently, ALTAY is in its design phase and the initial deliveries are expected to start from 2013. Bayar noted that this year they plan to develop the first prototype and start the necessary tests.

Turkey also has been working on another ambitious project to bolster its surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities. In need of actionable intelligence in its fight against the PKK, Turkey has relied on the United States and Israel to either lease or buy UAVs. This cooperation, however, proved difficult to sustain given the tensions encountered in its bilateral relations with Israel and occasionally the US. Turkey has launched an indigenous medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV system program that will initially meet the TAF’s reconnaissance requirements, and later a modified version with combat capability will be developed. The prototypes are going through several tests. Following the maturity tests, Bayar expect the five prototypes to be put into operation and their serial production will start. Ankara sees this project also as a sign of prestige, as it will join the few nations with this technology and eventually develop the potential to export it. Similarly, Bayar expects that the first indigenous satellite developed by Turkey, the Gokturk-2, will be launched into space this year.

Another project has been the development of a national infantry rifle. Turkey is currently conducting tests on a rifle designed and developed domestically, and anticipates moving to the mass production stage this year. The country has also been running a national warship program, MILGEM, to develop a littoral combat capacity. Under the project, the Turkish Navy will be supplied with eight corvettes and four frigates, as well as exploring possibilities for exports. The first corvette has already been delivered, while the second is undergoing tests.

Recently, Ankara announced plans to develop a national fighter jet. Bayar described it as a long term objective, which would mark Turkey’s elevation to a higher class in arms producing countries. Turkey is currently considering this option and will soon initiate two-year long feasibility studies. If the project is deemed feasible, further work will be authorized to develop the first prototype in ten years’ time and serial production in the following decade. Turkey has also announced another ambitious program to develop long-range missiles with a range of up to 2,500 km (www.trt.net.tr, January 13).

Although Turkey remains a major arms importer, through these programs it is now able to procure slightly more than half of its needs from domestic sources. Currently, Turkey is producing short range missiles, armored vehicles and personnel carriers, training aircraft, small UAVs, etc. Especially in advanced weapons systems, Turkey remains dependent on imports, and addressing that deficiency is one of the objectives of the procurement programs. In the future, while seeking to increase the share of domestic contributions, Turkey will also work to bolster its export figures to $1 billion, from last year’s $800 million. Overall, two principles will underpin Turkey’s defense industry policies, as underlined by Bayar: depth, i.e., increasing the national contributions in the new platforms through the development of sub-systems; and sustainability, or, building a viable arms industry that can sustain mass production at competitive prices.

By Saban Kardas

UAV Technology: Israel Cuts Turkey Off

Growing political hostility between Turkey and Israel has led to the Israeli military cancelling the export permit for UAVs and support services for Turkey. This will cost the firm that sold Turkey Heron UAVs some $90 million. The Israeli military has veto power over any arms exports and in this case believed it was too risky to complete the supplying of Turkey with UAV technology.

Meanwhile, Turkey has a Plan B. Two months ago, four American Predator UAVs, which had long operated in Iraq, were moved to Turkey. There, the American UAVs will be under the control of the Turkish security forces and assist in tracking Kurdish separatist (PKK) rebels. American UAVs based in Iraq had been helping the Turks track the PKK, but with all American forces gone from Iraq, the Turks were happy to give some of the Iraq-based Predators a new home.

Turkey has six Predator and four Reaper UAVs on order but there is a big backlog. Meanwhile, Turkey has been using ten Israeli Heron UAVs. This has been complicated because of growing Turkish hostility towards Israel. The latest accusations are that Israel is assisting the PKK and the Turkish media is having a good time with this sort of thing. After that sort of thing, the Israeli armed forces decided that the Turks could not be trusted. This was not a sudden change of mind. Last year Israeli UAV technicians and instructors were recalled from Turkey, where they were training Turkish troops on how to operate and maintain Israeli Heron UAVs. The Israeli personnel were withdrawn because it was believed they might be attacked.

The Turkish government has become increasingly anti-Israel in the last seven years. The Islamic politicians, who were elected in 2002, adopted an anti-Israel, anti-West attitude and strove to increase their stature in the Islamic world. Actually, the Turks are trying to regain the stature they used to have in the Islamic world. Until 1924, the Sultan of the Turks was the Caliph (technically the leader of all Moslems). But in the 1920s, Turkey turned itself into a secular state. Although Turkey became a major economic power in the Middle East, with one of the best educated populations, it was still hobbled by corruption and mismanagement. The current Islamic politicians promised to attack the corruption (which they have) and return religion to a central place in Turkish culture (in progress). This has upset a lot of secular Turks. But the Islamic politicians have made it fashionable to hate Israel.

The Turks ordered ten Herons seven years ago but delivery was delayed because of problems with the Turkish made sensor package. Meanwhile, the Turks were still fighting Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq and really needed those UAVs. Four years ago, the Israeli manufacturer made an interim deal to supply Israeli (without the Turkish sensors) Herons, along with support personnel, on a $10 million lease. But now those Herons are inoperable and the Turks have turned to locally made IHA UAVs, which are much less effective.

The Heron Shoval UAVs are very similar to the American Predator A (or MQ-1). The Shoval weighs about the same (1.2 tons) and has the same endurance (40 hours). Shoval has a slightly higher ceiling (9,600 meters/30,000 feet, versus 25,000 feet) and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Both Predator and Shoval cost about the same ($5 million), although the Israelis are willing to be flexible on price. The Shoval does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds).

StrategyPage

Turkey threatens intervention into Iraq

Relations between the Turkish and Iraqi governments have deteriorated sharply. In a speech to parliament on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the head of a Sunni Islam-based religious party, accused his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of a Shiite-coalition, of promoting sectarian violence against the Sunni minority in Iraq.

Erdogan warned: “Maliki should know that if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes it will be impossible for us to remain silent. Those who stand by with folded arms watching brothers massacre each other are accomplices to murder.”

Erdogan was responding to complaints by Maliki that Turkey has been interfering in Iraqi domestic politics through its support for the largely Sunni-based Iraqiya coalition, which is engaged in a fierce power struggle with the government in Baghdad.

The implications of Erdogan’s statement are unmistakable. They amount to a direct threat that Turkey will support an intervention into Iraq on the same pretext of “defending civilians” used to justify the NATO-led intervention to oust Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the case of Iraq, intervention would be justified with the allegation that Maliki is persecuting the country’s Sunnis.

The Turkish stance toward Maliki is inseparable from the broader US-backed drive to refashion geopolitical relations in the Middle East and, above all, to shatter the regional influence of Iran. US allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf state monarchies—all dominated by Sunni elites—have lined up with Washington against Shiite-ruled Iran. They are using inflammatory sectarian language to try to galvanise support for a policy that threatens to trigger a regional war.

The Syrian regime, which is a longstanding Iranian ally and based on an Allawite Shiite ruling stratum, has been targeted for “regime change.” The current Iraqi government, while it is the direct creation of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, is also viewed as unacceptable by the regional US allies. The Shiite factions forming the Maliki government have longstanding ties with the Iranian religious establishment. Maliki has refused to support an ongoing US military presence in Iraq or economic sanctions, let alone military aggression, against Syria and Iran.

Iraqiya, which was part of the ruling coalition, campaigned aggressively to weaken the political dominance of the Shiite parties in the lead-up to the withdrawal of US combat troops in December. Sunni leaders accused Maliki of reneging on an agreement to preside over a “national unity” government and pressured him to place the main security ministries under the direction of Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, had been a long-time American collaborator before the US invasion and was installed by the US in 2004 as the “interim” prime minister of Iraq. He sanctioned the military repression of the Sunni population and atrocities such as the destruction of the largely Sunni city of Fallujah. Despite this history, he was adopted by the Sunni elites as their main representative after the effective collapse of the anti-occupation insurgency. His qualifications are his hostility to the Shiite religious parties, his anti-Iranian Arab nationalism and his close connections to Washington.

Attempts to elevate Allawi, with clear support from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have suffered something of a shipwreck. Maliki and his Shiite-based Da’wa Party, which was repressed by the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, responded with a pre-emptive strike against the challenge to their grip on power.

Hundreds of ex-Baath Party members, particularly former senior military officers, have been rounded up and detained. Allawi alleged this month that more than 1,000 members of his and other parties opposed to Maliki had been arrested in recent months. He claimed they had been subjected to torture to extract false confessions of committing “terrorism.” There has been a growing number of indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and religious events by suspected Sunni extremists. Last week, 34 men accused of terrorism were executed in a single day.

In the most high-profile case of alleged Sunni “terrorism,” the bodyguards of Iraqiya Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi—one of the country’s highest ranking politicians—were detained and allegedly tortured. They were paraded on national television in late December to accuse the Sunni leader of personally directing a sectarian death squad.

Hashemi has only escaped arrest by taking refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. He has been charged with crimes that carry a death sentence.

Maliki responded to a walkout of Iraqiya ministers from his cabinet by having their offices locked and stripping them of their political responsibilities. The Iraqi parliament has continued to sit despite a boycott by most Iraqiya members.

Last Friday, the Iraqiya deputy governor of the majority Sunni province of Diyala, who agitated last year for regional autonomy, was seized by secret police operating under Maliki’s command. He has been charged with “terrorist activities.”

The present crisis could rapidly lead to the eruption of civil war and potentially fracture Iraq along sectarian lines, drawing in other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran. The majority of the 300,000-strong Iraqi military are Shiites. While poorly trained and equipped, they have a degree of allegiance to Maliki’s government.

A confrontation is looming between the Maliki government and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Last week, a Shiite politician advocated an economic blockade of the Kurdish region unless Vice President Hashemi was handed over for trial. The Kurdish government has its own 200,000-strong armed forces.

Following the 2003 invasion, the US fostered sectarian divisions as a means of undermining the previous Baathist elite and blocking a unified resistance by ordinary working people against the occupation and collapse of living standards. Now the US is encouraging its regional allies to back the Sunni and Kurdish elites against the Maliki government, with reckless indifference for the rapidly escalating violence.

By James Cogan, WSWS