Hot air from Iran
Tehran’s threat that in the event of any strike against Iran, NATO’s missile defense assets in Turkey will be the first to be attacked represents nothing but bombast. First of all, while Israel is keen to strike Iran, Washington is clearly holding it at bay because of the dire consequences to U.S. interests in the region in the event of such a strike.
Europe, on the other hand, is also unlikely to endorse a direct hit against Iran by Israel, meaning if this is done it will be an exclusively Israeli initiative. If Iran responds by hitting U.S. and NATO assets in the region, however, it will open the door for a broader conflict and invite massive retaliation, having in effect declared war on NATO.
Meanwhile Tehran also has to factor in that while Turkey may be hosting NATO assets, the whole Gulf region today plays host to vast U.S. military assets with a view to also providing protection against Iran. For all the hot air coming out of Tehran, it remains to be seen if the mullahs are prepared to risk a conflagration that could rebound badly on Iran.
Empty as the threats from Iran may be, though, they nevertheless provide added justification for Turkey to work closer with the U.S. and its NATO allies, shoring up its anti-missile defense capabilities with a view to addressing threats from the whole region, not just Iran.
The fact Tehran and Baghdad spent nearly a decade hurling missiles at each other’s capitals during the Iran-Iraq War was enough to show military planners in Ankara at the time Turkey could not afford to be complacent about the threat from ballistic missiles.
It will also be recalled Turkey had to call on NATO during the first and second Gulf Wars to provide for its missile defense needs. With Iran allegedly trying to produce a nuclear bomb and experimenting with the means of delivering such warheads, Ankara is left with little choice in this respect.
Put another way, no one twisted Turkey’s arm forcing it to accept radar assets to do with the missile defense shield. The Turkish military has wanted such assets for a long time, and as long as Turkey cannot produce them itself, it is reliant on NATO in this respect.
Turkey of course still wants good ties with Tehran for pragmatic reasons, and cooler heads in Iran are also aware good ties with Turkey must be maintained somehow. It is clear, however, Iranian radicals are playing with fire – as seen in the attack on the British Embassy – and trying to bring matters to a violent head, possibly with a view to regaining some of the strategic advantages Tehran has been losing as a result of the Arab Spring.
With Israeli radicals pushing irresponsibly for a strike against Iran, and Iranian radicals boasting equally irresponsibly about bringing the roof down on the U.S. and its allies in the region, one can expect the situation will remain tense for some time.
If, however, Israel strikes unilaterally against Iran and disregards dire warnings from Washington and other Western capitals, it is extremely unlikely Turkey will give overt approval for the use of NATO assets on its soil to help Israel against Iran. Unless, that is, NATO is involved based on a U.N. resolution.
The situation may have been different in the past, but given the present state of affairs between Turkey and Israel, Ankara cannot afford to be seen helping Israel, an act that would risk its own regional interests and security.
Planners in Washington and Tel Aviv should note this fact in order not to relive the kind of disappointment with Turkey they experienced in 2003 during America’s invasion of Iraq.