Why Isn’t Russia Freaking Out Over NATO Patriots In Turkey?

December 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Following a meeting of foreign ministers yesterday, NATO gave its ok to deploy Patriot missile batteries to Turkey in order to guard against a missile attack emanating from Syria. While this is welcome news in Ankara, it is a move that Russia has been complaining about and trying to sandbag ever since Turkey made its initial request for Patriots last month. Russia’s concerns over deploying Patriots to the border with Syria are twofold and both fairly obvious. First, as Syria’s external patron, Russia wants to avoid intervention by any outside actors, and it has been afraid that sending Patriot missiles to Turkey is a precursor to wider action on the part of outside powers. Second, the fact that the Patriots are coming from NATO adds to Russian paranoia. NATO is and always has been a sore spot for Moscow, and understandably so. The organization that was formed during the Cold War as a way of containing the Soviet Union did not disband once the USSR broke apart and its raison d’être no longer existed, but actually expanded and in the process encircled Russia even more. Despite repeated American and Western assurances that this was not aimed at tamping down Russian power, Russia has never quite believed this version of events, and so it reflexively opposes any increased NATO presence in its backyard or in any situations in which it is intimately involved.

Nevertheless, following NATO’s decision to send Patriots to Turkey, Russia actually downplayed its criticism. At a press conference in Brussels after a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia did not object to the Patriot deployment but that it did not want the situation with Syria to escalate any further. Lavrov was clear that Russia differs with NATO on issues of missile defense, but Moscow has apparently decided not to take a hard stand in this particular instance. The reason for this is partly because NATO has made it abundantly clear that placing Patriots on the Syrian border is not in any way a harbinger of an eventual NATO intervention, but is rather a measure designed to placate and reassure a skittish Turkey. The Patriots have been programmed so that they can only intercept missiles crossing over into Turkish airspace and cannot cross over into Syrian territory preemptively. If it had not already been clear enough, the NATO foreign ministers issued a statement emphasizing that the Patriots would not be used offensively in any way and will not be linked to any theoretical no-fly zone. While Russia is still not thrilled with the development, the effort to reassure the Russians that the Patriot missiles do not herald Western states actively intervening on behalf of the rebels in the Syrian civil war seems to have paid off.

There is, however, another reason that Russia is all of a sudden displaying a more pliant side, and it has to do with Turkish energy demands. As sanctions have kicked in on Iranian oil, Turkey has been meeting its vast and ever growing energy needs with Iranian natural gas, and it has been buying that gas with gold in an effort to evade the ban on financial transactions with Iranian banks. In response to Turkey’s end around, the Senate is considering a new sanctions bill that would cover the sale of precious metals to Iran, and while Turkey insists that it will continue buying up to 90% of Iran’s natural gas exports, at some point the White House is going to be forced to take a tougher line with Turkey given the pressure from Congress over the issue. As I wrote back in April when looking at Turkey’s energy trade with Iran, Turkey’s biggest oil supplier is not Iran but Russia, and if Turkey is forced to look elsewhere for its natural gas needs, Russia is the logical partner. There are signs that Turkey is preparing for this very eventuality, as it has asked Russia to increase its natural gas sales to Turkey by 3 billion cubic meters per year, which does not entirely replace the 10 billion cubic meters per year that Turkey gets from Iran but significantly cuts into it. Russia wants Turkey to buy more of its gas at Iran’s expense, and this may partially explain Russia’s backing down from its strident stance on NATO deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey. Russia wants to keep Turkey as a happy client, and if placing some defensive missile batteries along the border with Syria are the price of doing business, Russia has concluded that the pros outweigh the cons.

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Why Turkey Should Let NATO Operate Its Patriot Missiles

November 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

After weeks of rumors and some hemming and hawing, NATO officials began surveying possible sites on Tuesday for the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey. Despite the ludicrous claims of CHP opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu that Turkey is receiving Patriots now, rather than six months ago, as a result of negotiations with the Israeli government and that the Patriots are actually intended to intercept Iranian ballistic missiles headed to Israel, the deployment of Patriots is intended to assuage Turkish fears of Syrian aggression. Kılıçdaroğlu denied that there is any missile threat from Syria during his bashing of the government yesterday, which naturally led to his conspiracy theorizing about Turkey being in cahoots with Israel, but the fact remains that providing Ankara with some peace of mind is worth the cost irrespective of whether the threat from Syria is real or not. While the Patriots make no sense if Turkey is trying to mount a no-fly zone, they do provide protection from chemical weapons mounted on Scuds should Assad ever go that route and they symbolize a NATO commitment to Turkey, so this is a no-brainer from NATO’s perspective.

Now that the decision to station Patriots along the Syrian border appears to have been finalized, the next question is who will control them. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO, and not Turkey, will command the Patriot batteries and decide if and when they will actually be used. This will no doubt cause some angst within Turkey, and the government will probably get hit hard by the nationalist MHP for letting an outside entity assume control over Turkey’s defense against Syria. In fact, Turkish defense minister Ismet Yılmaz has stressed that Turkish defense officials are among the people in the Patriots’ command center and Hüseyin Çelik has claimed that Turkey will be “holding the trigger” so it is obviously a sensitive topic.

Taking a step back though and looking at the wider goals, Turkey should actually be begging off from having to man the Patriot batteries or take any control over them at all. The reason for this is quite simple; if non-Turkish NATO troops are operating the Patriots and NATO is deciding when they should be used, the likelihood of deterring Assad – assuming that he can be deterred, which is a big if –  from lobbing missiles toward Turkey or from shelling the Patriot positions is greatly magnified. This is the tripwire theory of deterrence, which purposely places troops in harm’s way in order to ensure that an offensive will be met with a forceful response. The prototypical example of this is the U.S. posture along the DMZ between South Korea and North Korea. Any move on Seoul by North Korea would cause huge U.S. casualties since there are nearly 30,000 American soldiers deliberately standing in the line of fire, and the theory behind this is that North Korea will not risk attacking South Korea since it would automatically embroil it in a war with the U.S. If Turkey is genuinely afraid of Syrian shelling and Syrian missiles, then the same principle applies here as well and Turkey should be doing everything it can to get as many foreign NATO soldiers stationed along its border as it can, since this will theoretically reduce the chances of the Syrian army mounting an assault on Turkey. Syria might think that Turkey is a paper tiger, but Assad is probably still clear-headed enough to realize that an attack that kills American or German troops operating Patriot batteries means full-blown NATO intervention, and that is an outcome that he desperately wants to avoid.

This is the subtext to Germany’s beseeching Turkey to pare down its demands for Patriots, as Germany, the U.S., and the Netherlands are the countries set to send Patriot batteries to the Syrian border. German troops are required to man the German Patriots, and Berlin has a general policy of not getting involved in international conflicts outside its borders, which is eminently understandable in light of WWI and WWII. The German government knows that it only takes one stray artillery shell to embroil Germany in a wider war with German troops so close to a hot border, and thus it would like to limit its commitment to filling Turkey’s missile defense request. Rather than arguing with NATO for a larger role, Ankara should be smart in realizing that the more foreign troops along the border, the safer Turkey will be. It is inevitable that Ankara wants to assert a strong nationalist posture when it comes to defense policy, but this is one instance in which Turkey might be better off swallowing its pride, since doing so will resound to its benefit.

A Quick Note On Rockets At Jerusalem

November 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

There are all sorts of reports and firsthand accounts over Twitter that Hamas has started shooting rockets at Jerusalem and Hamas itself has claimed that it shot a rocket toward the Knesset.  It doesn’t appear that any rockets have hit Jerusalem proper, and it sounds as if they fell instead on Gush Etzion, which is a large settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. Where the rockets have landed is not as important as where they were intended to go though, and shooting at Jerusalem is a big, big deal for a couple of reasons.

First, the limited historical experience that Israelis have with this sort of thing is that Jerusalem is generally not targeted. During the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein shot 42 Scuds at Israel and 39 of them landed, and they were all aimed at Tel Aviv and Haifa, but not at Jerusalem. During the 2006 war with Hizballah, Jerusalem was not targeted despite the rumored presence of long-range rockets in Hizballah’s arsenal. When Iran has made threats to attack Israel, Tel Aviv has been mentioned but not Jerusalem. The oft-stated Palestinian desire to liberate Jerusalem is a reference to pushing Israel out rather than destroying the city. Targeting Tel Aviv is not a surprise to Israelis, but sending large scale ordinance in the direction of Jerusalem is very much out of the ordinary.

Second, leaving aside the historical experience, there has been a presumption that Jerusalem would be left alone because of the makeup of its population and what the city contains. There is a large Palestinian population in East Jerusalem of over 200,000 people, and shooting notoriously unreliable and inaccurate rockets at Jerusalem is taking a huge chance of killing large numbers of Jerusalem’s Arab residents. While Hamas sent suicide bombers to Jerusalem with alarming frequency in the past, blowing up a bus or cafe in West Jerusalem meant killing large numbers of Jews. Sending rockets is a crap shoot, and while Jews are the obvious target, there is by no means a guarantee that Hamas will actually hit where they are aiming. In addition, Jerusalem is a patchwork mosaic of sites holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, whereas Tel Aviv and Haifa are not. Just imagine what would happen if a Hamas rocket hit the Old City and did any damage at all to the Temple Mount; the consequences of that are literally unimaginable.

Targeting Jerusalem is an enormous escalation and very risky, much more so than rockets toward Tel Aviv. Rocketing Tel Aviv to my mind guaranteed an eventual Israeli ground invasion, but attempting to bombard Jerusalem just exacerbates the situation to an exponential degree. Blake Hounshell tweeted earlier that Hamas firing at Jerusalem is the equivalent of scoring on your own goal, and I think that analogy is an apt one. It says to me that Hamas is getting desperate, and I think this move is going to backfire in a big way, both in terms of creating a more ferocious Israeli response and costing Hamas important points in the court of public opinion. Hamas is now acting in ways that could cause large numbers of Palestinian casualties and damage to Muslim holy sites, and I think that there will be consequences for this strategy.

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