In recent article, George Friedman called Turkey a country ringed by conflagrations: “four major segments of the European and Asian landmass were in crisis: Europe, Russia, the Middle East (from the Levant to Iran) and China.”
Sitting at the center of these crisis zones is a country that until a few years ago maintained a policy of having no problems with its neighbors. Today, however, Turkey’s entire periphery is on fire. There is fighting in Syria and Iraq to the south, fighting to the north in Ukraine and an increasingly tense situation in the Black Sea. To the west, Greece is in deep crisis (along with the EU) and is a historic antagonist of Turkey. The Mediterranean has quieted down, but the Cyprus situation has not been fully resolved and tension with Israel has subsided but not disappeared. Anywhere Turkey looks there are problems. As important, there are three regions of Eurasia that Turkey touches: Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.
Last week Anakara’s policy of keeping the fires at arms’ length started to break down. “Turkey has called a special meeting of Nato ambassadors to discuss military operations against the Islamic State (IS) group and PKK Kurdish separatists,” invoking NATO’s article 4.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told BBC World TV the Turkish request was based on Article 4 of the Nato Treaty which allows members to request such a meeting if their territorial integrity or security is threatened.
“When Turkey requests for such a meeting I think it’s very right and very timely to have a meeting where we address the turmoil and the instability we see in Syria, Iraq and surrounding and close to Nato borders of Turkey.” …
Turkey launched air attacks against IS militants in Syria and resumed air raids against PKK camps in northern Iraq following recent attacks.
In one attack blamed on IS, 32 people were killed in a suicide bombing near the Syrian border on 20 July.
The PKK killed Turkish police in the wake of the bombing in retaliation for what they saw as Turkey’s collaboration with IS.
The raids against Kurdish separatist camps in northern Iraq in effect ended a two-year ceasefire. Turkish fighter jets launched a new wave on Sunday against PKK targets in northern Iraq, according to Turkish state media.
The situation is no longer stable; Assad is visibly on the ropes. Hugh Naylor of the Washington Post reports that Bashar Assad has confessed he no longer has the men to keep the old Syrian Arab state alive. Things are so bad that Assad has proclaimed an amnesty for deserters who return to their duties. Unless Assad can refill the ranks he must withdraw to a rump state or get ready for the meat freezer.
As Martin Chulov of the Guardian notes, Anakara was like a juggler with a dozen plates spinning in the air. Now it must choose which plates to catch. Turkish airstrikes conducted in retaliation for a massive ISIS car bomb also threaten to undermine the secret deal between Ankara and the Jihadists in Syria. Erdogan’s resumption of hostilities on the Kurdish PKK party also ends a ceasefire that had been in place since 2013.
the peace process sputtered last month, prompting waves of small-scale violence as Kurds grew frustrated over what they saw as the government’s inadequate response to their demands. That sudden shift occurred as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was trying to bolster nationalist support before parliamentary elections in June.
Turkey’s resumption of raids on the P.K.K. in Iraq has heightened tensions even further — and has effectively ended the cease-fire.
“The truce has no meaning anymore after these intense airstrikes by the occupant Turkish army,” the P.K.K. said on its website on Saturday.
The offensive in Iraq was carried out as part of a double-pronged counterterrorism operation that simultaneously attacked Islamic State targets inside Syria. In a major tactical shift last week, Turkey assumed an active role in the United States-led campaign against the Islamic State, plunging into its first direct cross-border confrontations with the militants and granting the Americans access to air bases for carrying out sorties in Syria.
By calling a NATO meeting, Erdogan is passing the dilemma over to the Obama administration. Washington needs Turkish airbases to maintain its drone attacks on ISIS. Yet to side with Anakara might mean selling out the Kurds, who have so far been Washington’s most reliable ally on the ground against ISIS. In recent a meeting with Kurdish leaders, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called the peshmerga “the model of what we are trying to achieve”.
He said U.S. ground and air forces could defeat ISIS on their own, but the success would not last.
“We’re trying to get a defeat that sticks,” he told a group of several dozen troops. “And that can be delivered only by the people that live here,” adding, “that’s the secret sauce.”
Should Washington imperil the Turkish airbase support or give should it flush the “secret sauce” provided by the Kurds down the drain? To make things more complicated, the administration also needs Turkey’s help in its ongoing confrontation with Russia. Last week the Independent reported Washington threatened to “punish Russia by starving off its access to western credit if President Putin does not meet demands for peace in Ukraine.” At the same time the administration tried to throw Putin a bone by supporting a Ukrainian constitutional amendment which might allow parts of the country to secede to Russia, in exchange for (it was believed in Kiev) Moscow’s support for Obama’s Iran deal.
Friedman believes that “the United States is constructing an alliance system that includes the Baltics, Poland and Romania … designed to contain any potential Russian advance [with] Turkey [as] the logical southern anchor”. He forgot to add: “construct the alliance by buying everyone off with everyone else’s money”. One example of a buy-off is the Washington Post‘s report that Jonathan Pollard might be released in November.
The prospect of Pollard’s release is likely to be seen as a major concession by the Obama administration to Israel at a time when the White House is lobbying intensely to prevent pro-Israel groups from derailing a recently negotiated agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.
Thus the Iran deal is paid for by skimming a little from Ukraine and Israeli public opinion is purchased by releasing Pollard. Ironically this process the administration may inadvertently draw it into the very conflicts from which it is attempting to free itself. For example, the Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Emre Peker describe a deal Washington struck with Ankara involving a “no fly zone” over parts of Syria and a “safe haven” for factions in the war.