Troubles are mounting for Turkey. Problems with the Kurds have begun to flare up along the border with Iraq just as Ankara has become more involved in the Syrian conflict. Early this week, 24 Turkish policemen and soldiers were killed by Kurdish militants. From the Financial Times:
Militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) killed the police and troops in eight separate and simultaneously staged attacks in Turkey’s Hakkari province early on Wednesday morning in what was the biggest death toll from such an incident for almost 20 years. More than 20 other Turkish policeman and soldiers were injured, some of them gravely.
The Turks immediately launched reprisal raids into Iraq; more steps are expected.The ground under Turkey’s feet is beginning to look quagmiresque. Iran sees Turkey’s support, however limited, for Syrian rebels as a direct challenge. Turkey is committed to fighting PKK rebels and terrorists taking sanctuary in the Kurdish regions of Iraq; this engagement inevitably plunges Turkey into the Iraqi maelstrom. As a Reuters piece notes: “Ankara’s recent step up in attacks on the PKK have fueled concern in Baghdad that Ankara is pushing its influence south, toward rich oil deposits around the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.” The mullahs of Iran will also be watching, and they will be looking for ways to push back at the Turks.Syria is, obviously enough, also a mess. The Saudis and the Turks are both interested in pushing Iran out of Syria and putting the Sunni majority in charge. But Turkey’s warnings to the Syrian authorities have been ignored; Turkey’s inability to frame a suitable response leave it looking off balance. The potential that the problems in Syria could become much more serious, and that refugees (including Kurds) might flood into Turkey and seek to continue an armed struggle from its territory is real.The Israel/Hamas/Egypt triangle is also a tricky one. Turkey has shown signs of wanting to replace Iran as Hamas’ big brother; difficult as Israeli-Turkish relations now are, this would be an improvement from the Israeli point of view. The new alignment could offer an opportunity to reduce the blockade in exchange for some kind of a truce, with Turkey engaged in insuring Hamas’ good behavior so long as Israel keeps its part of the deal.But Egypt has always thought of Gaza as its own back yard, and the Egyptian military will want to keep Hamas, with its links to Egyptian opposition groups, on a tight leash. The Israeli “blockade” of Hamas, over which so many anti-Zionists have shed so many tears, vented so much spleen and tried to turn into the most important human rights issue in the world today, was actually a joint Arab-Israeli blockade, with Egypt enforcing it as much as Israel. This inconvenient truth complicated the narrative of Israel’s unique depravity, and so was routinely and resolutely ignored.But Egypt has not lost its interest in controlling the populous Gaza enclave that lies on its most sensitive frontier and has the potential to destabilize the Sinai and to support violence throughout the land of the Nile. There is already great potential for Egyptian-Turkish friction, as Turkey’s burning desire to emerge as the leader of western Sunnism cuts directly across Egypt’s belief that as the leading country of the Arab world, Egypt is the natural leader of the region. Throw in a struggle over Gaza, and the diplomacy gets interesting indeed.The neo-Ottoman road is an attractive looking route that leads into dangerous terrain and every time a new power asserts itself in a region, there are shocks and shifts. Turkey is going to have its share of these now, but on balance, while the Turks have taken on a bigger portfolio than they can ultimately manage, Ankara is correct that Turkey cannot ignore the turmoil around it.Interestingly, the US is backing Turkey strongly as it takes on the Kurdish terrorists, denouncing the PKK and using its influence in Iraq to smooth the path for a Turkish response. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are America’s two oldest Middle Eastern allies; the current upheavals, so far, once again find these three countries with a lot of interests in common.