Turkey May Hamper Obama's Iran Plan

Tuesday, 13 Jul 2010 10:23 AM

By Herbert London

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The arrival of the USS Harry Truman Strike Group in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, its war games with France and Israel, as well as reinforcements for American forces in Azerbaijan (on the Iran border) could be mere saber-rattling or a prelude to an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Whatever the U.S. motive, it is clear that Turkey, as a NATO member, has access to a wide array of American military technology that could reveal our aims to adversaries in the Middle East.

With a dramatic shift in its political orientation, and increasingly close ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, Turkey has the potential to cause great damage to American regional interests and even forestall possible military action.

Yet the Obama administration has shown little interest in the radical reorientation of Turkey and its relationship to NATO, according to a report from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

The recent arrest of past and present military figures who are defenders of secularism should have promoted comment from the White House. Instead, there has been conspicuous silence.

Similarly, the Turkish role in the Gaza flotilla, and the inflammatory rhetoric that emanated from the Turkish corridors of power, received very little attention from the State Department.

The Obama team clearly does not want to jeopardize its alliance with Turkey, but it is also clear that Turkish intelligence services are working overtime to separate its military from Israel and former allies in the West.

From the U.S. perspective, a key concern is whether these moves lead to the sharing of information with our enemies, information that could undermine any action against Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Turkey has the third largest air force in NATO, with 230 F-16s; it also has several refueling tankers, four AWACs to direct air battles, a navy with diesel submarines, and amphibious capability. Moreover, the United States has not taken any steps to reduce or eliminate the flow of military technology or systems to Turkey.

On the contrary, because Turkey has a small contingent in Afghanistan, the U.S. regards this commitment as critical to its counterinsurgency program. But this commitment comes with serious risks: Turkey's growing closeness to Iran could complicate Afghanistan's future, particularly if ideological collaboration trumps all other strategic concerns.

That fact that the U.S. appears to be dithering as Turkey moves away from its former friends is alarming to other nations in the region. It also foreshadows a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal argued that in his meetings with President Obama, the president seemed disengaged and uninterested. It may be that this too was sign of America's emotional as well as physical disengagement from the region.

If that is true — and there is little reason to doubt it — it augurs a dangerous period. A political vacuum is always filled. Iran is the emerging "strong horse" in this neighborhood, and everyone from Maliki to Erdogan realize as much.

Can the U.S. recapture its influence after displaying a lack of interest? Will it allow Turkey to use its strategic association with NATO to advantage Iran? Will Turkey interfere directly or indirectly to thwart any military operation against Iran's nuclear facilities?

These questions are not answerable at this time, but in the answers rest the fate of the Middle East and perhaps the world. As the French poet Charles Peguy noted: "Everything starts in mystery and ends in politics."

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