Turkey caught between a rock and a hard place

Israel-Turkey relations

Crisis in Israel-Turkey relations

An interesting article in today’s Hurriyet Daily brings to our attention a very different angle to the Israel-Iran nuclear crisis, outside of the American and other international aspects: the condundrum in which Turkey will find itself if Israel carries out a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The author, Cenk Sidar, gives some general background to the crisis and then analyses Israel’s options and the basis for its considerations, and the complications for Turkey that arise out of the situation. (All emphases are mine).

While experts estimate Iran would need at least two years to develop a warhead that could be used with a missile, Iran has been expanding its nuclear complex near Qom to put key facilities deeper underground, making it difficult for Israeli forces to pinpoint targets. Within a few months, it is believed, Israeli military capabilities will not be sufficient to destroy the facilities; at that point, Israel would need the assistance of the US military to successfully carry out the intended mission. If the attack were to take place today, Iran’s reaction would likely be limited. It does not have adequate military capability to hit Israeli cities, and its decreasing economic powers suggest that using proxies will be more difficult. Embroiled in civil war, Syria would not be able to come to its ally’s aid. While Iran’s response will certainly be asymmetrical through the use of Hezbollah and Hamas, those groups have limited military capability.

Also, the current tide of events in the Middle East and further abroad has removed geopolitical barriers to an Israeli strike. Regional powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia are deeply involved in the Syrian crisis, and they don’t have enough political capital to oppose or intervene. The level of self-confidence reflected in the statements of Turkish officials does not match the country’s actual political leverage in the region, as has been demonstrated time and time again in the past couple of months. A few years ago, Turkey had the great potential to broker a deal, but it lost its chance as its relations with Israel became strained. […] Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors policy” has continued to crumble, as its relations with Iran and Syria are even worse than they were 10 years ago. As it intervenes in the Syrian conflict and supports Sunni groups, Turkey has seen an increasing level of terrorism at home and threats coming both from Tehran and Damascus. If an attack happens, Turkish officials will have to work with Israel, since other options are not on the table. Also, Turkey is hosting a NATO radar system that could potentially be put to use if Israel launches a strike. An Israeli attack on Iran would put the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in a difficult position since it has politically benefited from its anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel may even see it as an opportunity to warm up relations, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would be forced to take Israel’s side in such a conflict.

Let this be a lesson to Erdogan and others like him: deliberately antagonising and getting on the wrong side of Israel might be good for domestic politics, but it might very well come back to bite you when the real crises explode in your neighbourhood.

Sidar concludes:

The international community must keep its cool and continue to insist on a diplomatic solution, as the alternative would be far too costly for all the parties concerned. The last thing that the Middle East needs today is a major military conflict. With the regional and global powers preoccupied and the P5+1 talks having largely failed, averting the use of force will be a difficult task.

Yes, averting the use of force will be difficult indeed, and a regional war would be extremely costly and is definitely not recommended. But it could all have been achieved quite easily had the regional and global powers and the P5+1 applied real, tight and increasing sanctions on Iran, and enforced them totally. The half-hearted sanctions, breached as soon as they were written by China, Russia and other Western countries, were never going to deter Iran and made the Western powers into a laughing stock in Iran, and have led to Israel’s very quandary today.

But from bitter experience I think the wrong conclusions will be drawn and it will all be called Israel’s fault in the end.

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17 Responses to Turkey caught between a rock and a hard place

  1. Pete says:

    Hi Anne … I hope you won’t mind if I take the discussion in an entirely different direction. That’s the thing about blogs – they have a life of their own. 🙂 I am picking up on a couple of points that you talked about briefly in your responses to your last article. This is just a constructive suggestion from me … but i hope you will consider it.

    I think what a lot of people in the world wonder about Israel – are the daily aspects of peoples’ lives. That is the human side of life – and war. For example, you briefly mentioned your own experiences about going to bomb shelters during the Gulf War 1. But if I wanted to talk a person here in America who had experienced a bomb shelter … I would probably go and chat with my friend Tom. He is British and over 90 years old now – but he still remembers London during WW2. Those old stories are still very clear in his head. And most Americans probably don’t even know a person like Tom – or any Israeli who has been to bomb shelters.

    So I hope you will take some time to write some articles that share more about the human side of Israel. For example … what is the experience of going to a shelter like? Do you have air raid sirens, or radio alerts? Do people just start running, or do they pick up some backpacks with food and drinks first? What on earth do you tell your kids when you are going to a bomb shelter … do you pack a few childrens books and a flashlight? How do you answer their questions about what is happening in life? Quite honestly … these are things that are far beyond the experience of most parents in the world today. I think readers would be genuinely interested.

    In addition, we touched upon the themes of “faith” and “fatalism”. But it strikes me that the Israeli point of view is very different from people in America, and probably elsewhere. For example, most of us here might consider a “day with blessings” to be a day with good health and nothing going wrong. Really – NOTHING at all. But in Israel, you have things going wrong constantly – or at least you live in an environment where there is a constant threat of things going wrong. That gives you a different point of view. You can’t stop to ask the age old question … why do bad things happen to good people? Because bad things seem to be happening all the time – certainly more dangerous than most peope in the world are experiencing. So it must affect your interpretation of faith, and the way you live it out.

    I hope you will discuss some of these things … and perhaps even write a series of articles about them. I think many readers will be interested – because a lot of people will be watching Israel on CNN in the next 2-3 months. And we will all be wondering … what are things really LIKE for people living there??

    best wishes,
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Wow, Pete, you’ve really given me a challenge! I certainly don’t mind you making suggestions, on topic or off. In fact, thanks for the excellent blogging suggestions.

      In fact I’ve blogged a bit about my experiences on a different blog where I was a frequent commenter. You can read about how I was caught up in the start of the 2006 Lebanon War in Kiryat Shmona here. Just keep scrolling down the comments and read the account. It includes explanations about how we dealt with the children. And then, if you ever see one of my commenters, name of Aridog, make jokes about me going bowling in war time, you’ll understand the joke. 🙂

      And as cba above (below? not sure how the thread appears) mentions, I found a facebook group called Life on the Border which is for Israelis living on the Gaza border. It has general announcements and information, but also occasional detailed posts about what life is really like there. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.

      One of these days I’ll write an account of how we managed during the Gulf War under scud fire, and perhaps include my daughter’s story of living in Kiryat Shmona under occasional katyusha fire. (She now lives in the Shomron (Samaria), aka the West Bank). And if life really does gets “hairy” here, I’m sure I’ll blog about our experiences. At least I’ll try to…

      You asked:

      … we touched upon the themes of “faith” and “fatalism”. But it strikes me that the Israeli point of view is very different from people in America, and probably elsewhere. For example, most of us here might consider a “day with blessings” to be a day with good health and nothing going wrong. Really – NOTHING at all. But in Israel, you have things going wrong constantly – or at least you live in an environment where there is a constant threat of things going wrong. That gives you a different point of view. You can’t stop to ask the age old question … why do bad things happen to good people? Because bad things seem to be happening all the time – certainly more dangerous than most people in the world are experiencing. So it must affect your interpretation of faith, and the way you live it out.

      As you say, this is the subject for a separate blog post. What I can tell you in brief is that your assessment is pretty much on the mark. I feel that Israelis live life much more intensely than people in other countries precisely because of our precarious situation. Every emotion, every action and reaction, is more acutely felt, both for the good and the bad. This makes life feel very much more meaningful, and certainly for the religious amongst us, it gives an extra depth to our faith. We see miracles sometimes almost daily, with people escaping bomb blasts, rocket fire that destroys houses that “coincidentally” were empty at the time,etc. I think even non-religious people would feel similarly. Simply having such overt enemies makes one all the more determined to live life to the full.

      I doubt there are many people in Israel who wonder “what’s it all about? What’s the meaning of life?”. It’s all too clear to us – not only to exist, not only to survive, but to live the most successful and full life possible precisely BECAUSE of our enemies’ wish to destroy us. Life is the ultimate revenge against the terrorists.

      Thanks again for your interest and your good wishes. I look forward to carrying on this discussion when I have more time – and when I’m not caught up in wedding preparations!

  2. cba says:

    Pete, a little while ago Anne posted a link to a blog (or was it a Facebook page?) written by and for people living within the “15 second warning” range of Gaza. I’ll see if I can find it, that would probably give you some idea. You can also go onto YouTube and find videos posted from Sderot. That might be a starting point for you.

    • Pete says:

      thanks for the feedback. I actually went and looked more carefully at what is going on down at Sderot. They do have a real problem down there. Most people in the world (like me) hear only occasional stories about the rockets there – but we tend to ignore the media after a while. In fact the rocket attacks are more frequent than I realized, and furthermore the “Hamas boyz” seem to be stepping up the pace of their attacks. I noticed that the IDF has put an Iron Dome system down there. But the problem is that Iron Dome is very expensive – so it is actually not cost-effective for Israel to stop small home-made rockets that way. Hamas has actually found an ingenious way to make a big nuisance of themselves – while ruining the lives of a lot of people. I do feel very sorry for all the families and kids in Sderot who are living in that situation. In America – people would just move from a place like that. So that is an amazing thing to us about Israelis … you seem to want to hold onto every square inch of your land – – even at great personal cost. I will give it some personal thought to the rocket problem at Sderot — there must be a more practical answer to stop that problem. There is always a way!!

      Anyway – for the people in Sderot … they have so little warning time that all they can do is take cover behind a wall. However, I will look forward to Anne’s stories about the Scud missiles. In that case I think that Israeli’s had more time to reach proper shelters.

      • anneinpt says:

        … you seem to want to hold onto every square inch of your land – – even at great personal cost.

        Part of the reason is that Israel is so tiny (the size of New Jersey) that giving up or evacuating any land makes it even smaller and more vulnerable. Where would the people of Sderot, with its population of 20-30,000, evacuate to? The nearby big city of Ashkelon?. But Ashkelon itself is already coming under fire from enhanced Grads (aka katyushas). There is no end to this. The same applies to Kiryat Shmona and Maalot in the north.

        Another very great part of the reason for our staying-power is that evacuating would give a victory to the terrorists. This will only further empower them and encourage them to carry out ever more attacks.

        Of course in a war situation, or under intense rocket fire (as opposed to the “low-density” 1 or 2 rockets a day fire) women and especially children have been evacuated.to safer areas. But they always return after the situation calms down.

        Just a short note about the Scuds – when the missiles were first fired at us we had 90 seconds to get into our sealed rooms, seal the doors and windows and put on our gas masks. It was a mad terrifying scramble. After a few attacks Israel was given access or information by the Americans to their radar data, giving Israelis a precious 5 minutes to get to shelter. During the Gulf War we didn’t go into our shelters- we entered sealed rooms to protect us against expected chem or bio weapons, which thank G-d never materialized. Only “regular” ICBMs landing 100 yards down the road….

        • cba says:

          My parents found, after the first few attacks, that the best thing they could do before sealing themselves up was to “go to the bathroom”–otherwise they were in great discomfort during the wait! (It’s true there was a bucket in case of emergencies, but since they were woken up just about every single night during the Gulf War, they decided it was worth the extra minute or two to “take care of business” before breaking out the masking tape.)

          • Pete says:

            well … I certainly agree that 90 secs is very unworkable. It must be nearly impossible for old people and families with a lot of kids to respond to a warning time like that. It seems that you would just do the best that yo can do – and if you are a bit slow keep your fingers crossed that the first Scud lands somewhere else. Psychologically I think it would be very hard to go through this on a nightly basis … such as what you experienced in Gulf War 1. And in a lot of ways the people in Sderot and Ashkelon are enduring this on a permanent basis – it just can’t be healthy for human beings to keep being exposed to these alerts with no peace.

            your point about the American radar information makes sense … 5 mins warning is a lot better than 90 secs. I suspect that Israel has upgraded its capabilities can give give you more warning time now. But I did notice in the news articles that this is still a point of contention between the IDF and the US administration. I’m really not sure if it affects the early warning alerts, or other kinds of data.

            You hinted briefly that the personal facilities inside the shelters are not all that great … just a bucket for a restroom. That’s not a terrific setup – I have a lot of sympathy for cba’s parents. I’m getting older myself, and I’d probably do the same thing 🙂 This is also why I was asking about what people do if they have kids. I just can’t imagine – in my own home – getting the entire family out of bed at midnight, dressed (in whatever type of clothes), and running down to a shelter – all in 5 minutes. Not to mention the fear on the kids faces.

            This all points to why these missile wars in the Middle East create a lot of unworkable problems for peoples’ lives. If you were faced with a long-term threat, as some people are advocating when they talk about a nuclearized Middle East, then it would be virtually unworkable to get people to shelters – at any time of the day or night. Or so it seems to me. The warning times are just not adequate.

            • anneinpt says:

              To answer your question about, um, our bathroom habits during the war, we had a bucket with a lid in our sealed room, aka our bedroom. If anyone needed to “go”, we all turned our backs to give some privacy. It got to the stage where our then-4 year old son would run into the room on hearing the air raid siren, announce “Pee pee in the bucket” and duly perform, and only then put on his gas mask (which he called his “funny face”). He has a very keen sense of humour :-). We had the room stocked up with crayons and paper, books, toys, etc. to keep the kids occupied, besides the regulation batteries, torches, radio, phone etc. (Cellphones hadn’t been invented yet, nor computers). The dash for the sealed room became almost routine after a while. It’s amazing what humans can get used to.

              In the towns under constant rocket fire, the shelters are much better and more fully equipped. They are like underground apartments, complete with bunk beds, proper bathroom facilities, etc. It was only us in the center during the Scuds who didn’t use shelters simply because we couldn’t reach them in time and they’re not equipped for long-term stays.

              Since the 1990s, all new buildings have to have a secure room, i.e. a shelter, on every floor, preferably in each apartment, which solves the problem of reaching safety within seconds. But our building is from the 1980s. My daughter’s house in the West Bank has a secure room which doubles as the kids’ bedroom. Her apartment in Kiryat Shmona in the north was a secure room in its entirety, the whole building being built of reinforced concrete, with plastic windows, not glass.

              Yes, you’re right about living under missile fire not being a viable long term option – and yet that is exactly what people in Sderot and the region have to do. Of course the missiles don’t come all day every day. They come in ones and twos, occasionally in barrages of dozens, but then the IDF and IAF goes in and bombs the hell out of them, which shuts them up for a while. And then it all starts again. And when you get a very intense, long barrage, you get a Gaza War like 2009.

              As for living under a nuclear threat, as you say, that would make life virtually impossible, which is why Israel is so anxious to neutralize Iran’s nuclear arms.

  3. Cormac says:

    Whatever about Turkey, Azerbaijan its much smaller Turkic neighbour is going to be in a harder place since the small oil rich nation requires regional stability for a secure market.It’s amazing how Azerbaijan remains secular without being drawn into Islamism by its large Shia neighbour, Iran.Turkey has decided to take a greater role in the Arab World and as a consequence it has came into direct conflict with Iran.Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party have dragged Turkey into the mess that is the Arab World, if Turkey intervenes in Syria, well… to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t think of two better countries who deserve to kill each other.

    • anneinpt says:

      Interesting point about Azerbaijan, Cormac. And yes, Turkey’s leaders have made a right mess of things with their antagonistic Islamism. I don’t necessarily wish Turkey ill – as long as Erdogan and his Islamist pals are out of power. Turkey has been a good friend of Israel in the past and a welcome bridge and buffer between Israel and the Arab world. But under Erdogan and AKP it’s all gone sour.

      • Cormac says:

        Israel needs diplomatic support, Turkey never was going to give that because of its ties with the Muslim World.Greece, Cyprus, Serbia etc have the potential to be proper allies as they don’t have significant Muslim populations and are in fact victims of Islamic agression.

        To be honest, Turkey is a horrible horrible country who still can’t even admit the slaughter and genocide of 3,000,000 Christians, not to mention blockade of Armenia, occupation of N.Cyprus, Aegean dispute, abuse of Kurds, dispute with Syria and its treatment of religious minorities.

  4. DavidinPT says:

    Regarding Turkish/Syrian tensions, today’s blogosphere is full of stories about (a) Turkish army officers now officially leading Free Syrian Army brigades in two large cities, (b) Strange Syrian Army and Hizbollah troop movements (in response?), (c) Israel raising its level of alert on Syrian and Lebanese borders (in counter-response?) , and (d) and Iron Dome unit being brought to Tel Aviv for “an exercise”. Looks like another ratchet in the escalation leading to al out war, I think.

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