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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Allies look to the U.S. to expand its military profile in the region; Turkish Air Force bombs both PKK and ISIS targets.

Links: A. Turkish Air Force hits both Kurdish/PKK and ISIS targets.
           B. BBC comments on Turkish air strikes.

The current environment in the Middle East and the Levant (can't we just go back to using Mesopotamia?) has evolved so dramatically in the last month that regional players have been obliged to review, adjust, and re-apply strategies.  The treaty drafted between Iranian officials and representatives from the United States and various European interested parties (the Foreign Minister of Austria was involved, and I swear to you that I have cans of corn older than he is) has been approved by the United Nations and now must be reviewed by the U.S. Congress and the Iranian Parliament.  For the most part, the Iranians love this treaty, so the real test will be in the U.S. Congress.    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (who, along with Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, constitute the Gulf Monarchies) have unleashed their diplomats and foreign friends to investigate the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons without having a production facility.  Being rich in fossil fuels, The Gulf Emirates have no need for nuclear power; but you can guarantee that they will be looking to purchase a nuclear weapon or three and a delivery system effective enough to at least act as a deterrent (how far are Tehran and Qom from King Khalid Air Force Base?).  Not surprisingly, since the United States is responsible for the Iranian nuclear treaty, its allies in the region (including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Kuwait and Iraq) fully expect the U.S. to strengthen its military presence and involvement in the region.  The argument will be that since the U.S. took it upon itself to make the region all the more dangerous, then the U.S. needs to share in the security responsibility.  Obviously the Administration agrees, as diplomats have been scurrying to various capitals, including Baghdad and Jerusalem/Tel Aviv, to discuss the possibility of new arms treaties.

Also, Turkey has decided to become more aggressive on the military front, bombing both PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) and ISIS (Islamic State) targets simultaneously.  Turkey's attack on the PKK ended an unofficial truce between Ankara and the Kurdish independence organization that had existed since 2013. Before conducting the PKK raid, Turkey concluded an agreement with the United States for the use of the U.S. Air Force Base at Incirlik, Turkey, by the allied air coalition currently active against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.  Its obvious that Turkey timed its attack on the PKK only after placating U.S. efforts to use Incirlik.  Also, Turkey sweetened the pot a bit by also bombing ISIS targets in Syria.  We strongly suspect that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning to call for elections in the fall.  His decision ratchet up military attacks on PKK targets after a two-year unofficial cease-fire is calculated to appeal to the Turkish voters, who are opposed to the PKK by a large percentage.  At the same time, Turkish military action against ISIS, and the relaxation of opposition to the use of Incirlik, will no-doubt help to repair a damaged relationship with the United States, which is another issue that is very important to the average Turkish voter.

If Turkey were to decide to become one-hundred percent involved militarily in the efforts to defeat ISIS, the impact on the battlefield would be staggering.  Similar to a full Iranian intervention in Iraq, the Turkish military would make short-order of ISIS, especially given that the Turks do not play with the same rule book as the United States.  Turkey would have no hesitation using ISIS tactics to combat ISIS, which is one of the most effective ways to combat organizations of this nature.  Any squeamishness or hesitance to act as barbarously as ISIS is automatically accepted as a sign of weakness, and used to ISIS' advantage, especially when utilizing the world press and social media.  But Turkey will not be the agent of destruction for ISIS, because that result would leave Bashir al-Assad and his depleted regime military as the next biggest-fish in Syria.  Erdogan despises Assad and will do nothing to aid the Syrian de-facto president and his Syrian Ba'ath Party cronies.  Ideally, Iranian and Turkish diplomats and military leaders would convene a summit and create a military plan (with the U.S. and its European allies in full support) to destroy ISIS from two directions.  Can you imagine two militarily powerful Muslim nations working together to destroy the world's worst terrorist threat of all time?  It would send a tremendous message about the power of peace, and set an example for Christian nations to follow (Russia/Ukraine).  Again, it won't happen, and not just because Erdogan hates Assad.  The deep, ingrained prejudice that Sunnis and Shi'a have for one another will prevent any serious Muslim coalition.  The best that can be hoped for is continued cooperation between the much smaller Sunni tribal groups in Iraq, and the Popular Mobilization Units/PMUs (Shi'a militias).  The tripartite grouping of the supposed secular Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and the Shi'a PMUs and Sunni tribal groups, has been kept in a very delicate balance up to now.  The reason it has succeeded is because very little pressure has been exerted, i.e. the groups haven't been forced to merge as a fighting unit.  Also, every effort is being made to keep one group from getting more credit for battlefield victories than the others.  This effort has not always been successful. 

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