Last Wednesday, the Israeli National Security Council published the summer 2012 seasonal travel warnings. Among others, it recommended that Israeli citizens avoid visiting Tunisia (Djerba Island is the site of a religious festival), Egypt (especially the Sinai Peninsula), and Turkey. The three were popular destinations for Israelis seeking summer shelters; the resorts of the latter could host up to a million Israelis in a good season. This is one more step in the ongoing deterioration of the Israel-Turkey relations—once close allies—which has led to a rearrangement of regional alliances (see Lebanon Beats Syria). On Friday, March 23, Turkish media emphasized declarations made by Kurdish leaders regarding Turkish involvement in Syria. The PKK’s (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) acting leader Murat Karayilan said that “If Turkey intervenes against our people in Western Kurdistan the area will turn into a battle zone.” Western Kurdistan is the name given by the Kurds to Eastern Syria. A rising Ottoman may soon be closing in on Israel also from the north.
Selim I Expanded the Ottoman Empire
Suleiman the Magnificent
Following the Israeli-Turkish breakup, regional rearrangements were inevitable. In recent months we saw that on the Mediterranean Sea front, where an alliance between Turkey, Lebanon, Northern Cyprus, and to a lesser extent also Iran, has declared the exploitation by Israel of the new gas fields found there, a casus belli event. However, the Turkish-Israeli alliance had been based mainly as an answer to the problems both countries have with Syria on their respective land borders. In 1938, Hatay—a small territory on the Mediterranean coast—became independent from the French mandate of Syria as the Republic of Hatay. Following a referendum in 1939, Hatay decided to join Turkey, forming the singular panhandle shape that can be seen on the maps of Turkey. This process was never recognized by Syria, which continues to show Hatay as part of its territory on maps. As an answer to this, Syria supports the PKK struggle in eastern Turkey (though not in its territory). By making an alliance with Israel, Turkey opened a second front against Syria, which would have been strategically important during a violent conflict between Syria and Turkey, if the alliance of the latter with Israel was still valid. The same is true for the other side, which has illegally occupied the Golan Heights since 1967. Israel suffers from a major drawback: a single border line with its enemies. In The Cross of Bethlehem I commented about a vertical bypass division aimed at landing beyond the enemy’s lines. The unit is aimed at opening a second front against Syrian and Egyptian units. The deployment of the unit is complex. A simpler option is getting access to the Syrian backlines through Turkey; this was Israel’s side of its alliance with Turkey (see The Next Neighbor: Netanyahu and the PKK for more details). Having been left without the Israeli rearguard, Turkey was expected to find a different solution to its problems with Syria and the Kurds.
Battle of Lepanto, 1571
Old Conflicts, New Wars
The situation between Turkey and Syria almost deteriorated into a war in 1998. The crisis was resolved when Syria chose to keep its distance from the PKK; Kurd rebels within Turkey are a serious threat to this state since its foundation following WWI. Now, following the ongoing crisis in Syria, the PKK finds it easier to act along the border with Turkey. Moreover, Bashar Assad—Syria’s president—granted Syrian citizenship to Syrian-Kurds, an act that was delayed for decades, as a way of buying quiet with this significant segment of the Syrian population. Finding a new regional arrangement is vital for Turkey, which has a population of twenty million Kurds, roughly a quarter of its total population.
The answer Turkey is now promoting is imperial in nature. Turkey supports the establishment of security zones for Syrian refugees inside Syrian territory. Until now, it claimed this should be done as part of an international force under UN mandate. However, in recent weeks it declared that it may have to act on its own if the Syrian uprising threatens its national security. Turkish military is currently engaged in heavy fighting with Kurdish rebels within its own borders, and according to the same reports, it would consider freedom of movement of the PKK in Syria a casus belli event. Turkish officials have declared the meeting of the Friends of Syria group on April 1 in Istanbul to be a key point; military action against Syria may be decided then.
Recently, in Kurdistan Revival; Israel Splits Iraq, I analyzed Israeli moves that may be interpreted as an attempt to create an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Among other things, such a country would strengthen the oil-based Azerbaijan-Israel alliance. However, Turkish interests are the opposite. If a Kurdish state were to be declared in northern Iraq, or in Eastern Syria, that would intensify the struggle of the world’s largest Kurd population, which is in Turkey, for their own independence. Thus, a Turkish military action cannot be intended to lead to such a state. Turkey will attempt to replace Syria’s government with one more favorable to Ankara, transforming this once mighty state into a subservient fiefdom. Israel would oppose that. A Rising Ottoman is bound to become increasingly opposed to the Wandering Zionists, to the real joy of weapons producers. Will the region be a step closer to war on April 2?