18.04.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Middle East escalation and Turkey

Middle East escalation and Turkey

The ongoing military conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is leading to a new wave of tension in the Middle East. While Israel is supported by a strong defensive wall of Western allies led by the US and Britain, the Palestinians, despite the inability of Muslim nations to present a united front of the Islamic world, nevertheless has the strong support of Iran.

Ever since October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched its Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, triggering the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it has been clear that the countries of the Arab Middle East lack any kind of consensus when it comes to the question of supporting the Palestinians. In fact, there is no such consensus anywhere in the Muslim world. In particular, the United States’ Middle East policy, based on the old imperial principle of “divide and rule” has led Washington, taking Israel under its deep protection, to drive a wedge between the oil and gas rich and geographically significant countries of the Arab (and non-Arab) Middle East in order to exploit their resources and establish geopolitical dominance in the region.

As a result, Bahrain, Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Turkey all officially oppose Israel’s “apartheid” policy toward Palestine, accuse Benjamin Netanyahu of committing crimes against Arabs, demand an end to the fighting in the Gaza Strip. In reality, these countries cannot and do not want to join forces with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen against the regional policy of the United States and Israel, nor are they willing, on account of the Palestinians, to enter into a military conflict with the Jewish state. They therefore do not provide Hamas with any military hardware, nor have they abandoned their trade and economic ties with Tel Aviv.

Iran, as a non-Arab and non-Sunni state, is today perhaps the most important force in the Middle East that wholeheartedly supports the Palestinian struggle not only in diplomatic language but also militarily. It is no secret that Tehran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) coordinates and assists the pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon (Hezbollah), Yemen (the Houthis), and Syria and Iraq (various pro-Shia groups), carrying out sensitive strikes both directly against Israel itself and, in its area of regional responsibility, against targets associated with Israel and its allies (the US and the UK).

Turkey, however, despite the threatening anti-Israeli rhetoric of President Recep Erdoğan, and his loud declarations about exposing the numerous Mossad spy networks active in the country, does not provide any special support (apart from humanitarian aid) to the Palestinians. Israel does not accept calls for peace in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is confident that he can achieve a military victory, he insists on his right to solve the Palestinian question by force, and the Israeli authorities, secure in the knowledge that the night of the United States is behind them, can behave with impunity and disregard the principles of international law. As a result, in order to achieve peace and bring about a just solution to the Palestinian question the only option is to oppose force with force.

Israel, and with it the US and Britain, must be defeated militarily if peace is to become lasting in the Middle East. At any rate, the conflict in the Gaza Strip should not end in a military victory for Israel. The fact that the IDF have not been able to end the war in the Gaza Strip in a matter of days, weeks or months suggests that Hamas has combat reserves and outside support. And such assistance is primarily provided by Iran and its proxy forces.

Therefore, the intelligence services of Israel, supported by those of NATO member states, are taking measures to identify Iran’s channels of military assistance and to eliminate IRGC forces and assets in the Middle East. Thus, since October 7, Israel has conducted several successful special operations of this nature, resulting in the killing of several IRGC generals and officers and targeted strikes against Iranian militants’ training centers and weapons transit facilities (including airports). The most recent such operation, in which the Israeli Air Force destroyed Iran’s consulate general in Damascus on April 1, represented the latest challenge to Tehran and a harbinger of escalation in the Middle East.

The Iranian authorities officially promised to punish Israel and retaliate. Naturally, in such cases the surprise factor of any strike is lost, for the enemy increases his vigilance and puts all his forces and equipment on high alert in the hope of repulsing the response or minimizing its damage.

One way or another, Iran has been warning the world community, the US and Israel, both through diplomatic and intelligence channels of a swift response to Tel Aviv’s many crimes. As a result, on the night of April 13-14, exactly 12 days after April 1, Iran launched a massive air attack on Israel, targeting military facilities (airfields and bases).

There is conflicting information in the media about the number of drones and missiles used by the Iranians in this operation. For example, the American broadcaster ABC claims that Tehran used 400-500 kamikaze drones and about 150 missiles in its attack on Israel. Israeli, on the other hand, claims that Iran fired 185 drones, 36 cruise missiles and 110 surface-to-surface missiles. Meanwhile, Israeli publication Ynet claims that air defense systems and especially Iron Dome have intercepted 99% of the Iranian missiles and UAVs launched. Tel Aviv is confident that the Israeli army, together with its allies (the US, the UK and other NATO countries), defused almost all the aerial targets, thus minimizing its losses and actually defeating Iran and proving to all the efficacy of its defenses.

It should be recognized that this is the first time Iran has launched such a massive air attack, using swarms made up of hundreds of drones and adopting a new air strike tactic. Iran’s tactics can be summarized as follows: a) using hundreds of drones to overload Israel’s Iron Dome system; b) identify its weakness in order to carry out targeted missile strikes; c) track the military and political position of Arab countries and the coordinates of their air defense systems deployed through the drones’ approach route across their airspace; d) use both drones and missiles in the air strikes; e) at the same time as launching the drones, carry out missile strikes on Israel from neighboring countries – Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. In the opinion of American experts, the purpose of the Iranian attack was not to harm Israel, but to test the efficacy of the Israeli air defense system “in the event of a real war.”

The drones’ approach to Israeli territory took about 6 hours, with the first drones reaching Israel after 3 hours, when explosions and howling sirens were heard in Jerusalem, in the Shomron neighborhood and over the Dead Sea. These approach times allowed Israel to ready its air defense systems once the drone launches by means of satellite reconnaissance. Numerous Israeli and allied (US and UK) Air Force fighter jets were also put in the air to intercept and destroy Iranian drones (not only in Israel, but also over Jordan, Syria and Iraq). According to The Times of Israel, more than 100 Iranian drones were intercepted outside Israel – over Jordan, Syria and Iraq.

The Iranian air attack also revealed the true allegiances of some Muslim countries, who sided with the US and Israel against Iran. Specifically, Jordan used its air defense system and fighter jets to destroy Iranian drones before they approached Israel. Azerbaijan’s Minval-LIVE channel reports that Princess Salma of Jordan (the first woman to become a pilot in the country’s Air Force) said she had shot down 6 Iranian drones overnight. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the same source, passed intelligence to the US as part of a regional agreement to prevent an Iranian attack on Israel. And on April 14 another representative of the Islamic world who is also a friend of Israel, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, visited Amman, where he signed an agreement on military cooperation with Jordan.

It is now clear that before the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020-2021, the US and Israel successfully negotiated with certain Arab countries (Jordan, Bahrain, UAE, Morocco and Sudan), to deploy US air defense systems on their territories. These were the systems that were activated in the path of the approaching Iranian drones and missiles. The cost of operating Israel’s air defense systems for the single night of the massive strike is estimated at $1-1.3 billion.

In assessing the outcome of its April 13 air attack, Iran believes that Israel’s Iron Dome system failed to significantly counter the operation. According to ABC News, at least 9 Iranian missiles penetrated Israel’s Iron Dome and hit two airbases, and a C-130 military transport plane, a runway and warehouses were damaged. In particular, the Israeli military base in the Negev Desert, and its and Nevatim airbase were damaged.

General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, said that “the operation on our side has been completed, but the Armed Forces are on high alert and we will enter battle if necessary.” Mohammad Bagheri and other Iranian officials (including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, IRGC Commander General Hosein Salami and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian) warned that if Israel responds to this operation, which Iran was forced into in legitimate self-defense, the next Iranian operation will be on a much larger scale.

Specifically, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council approved a “tenfold increase in the number of strikes” against Israel if Benjamin Netanyahu dares to retaliate. In other words, if Iran used 500 drones on April 13, the next time the Iron Dome could “melt” under attacks by 5,000 drones and more than 1,500 missiles. Through its embassy in Switzerland, Tehran sent a message to Washington, warning it that if the US takes part in any future Israeli retaliation against Iran then US bases in the Middle East would be subject to Iranian attacks.

The international community’s reaction to the Iranian air operation against Israel has been contradictory. Thus, Russia and China called on both sides to restrain themselves and stop the military escalation. China’s UN envoy also said that “Israel violated international law by attacking the Iranian consulate. Iran reacted and exercised its legal right.” And Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya called Iran’s attack on Israel an act of “self-defense” under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

The US, UK and EU are unequivocally on Israel’s side and condemn Iran’s actions. However, the US (at least publicly) is unwilling to support further anti-Iranian military actions by Tel Aviv, because it is does not want to be drawn into a military conflict with Iran, which could lead to a regional and global catastrophe.

It has been reported that on April 14, Benjamin Netanyahu categorically stated that an Israeli retaliatory strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities within 48 hours was inevitable. However, after a tough conversation with US President Joe Biden, in which the US President insisted there must be no question of pushing the region and the wider world to the brink of a global war, Israel has so far taken a more restrained stance. Joe Biden said that the US and Britain had helped Israel repel an Iranian air attack. “You got a win. Take the win,” he is reported as saying. And don’t cross America, he could have added. Meanwhile, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin had a word with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant and warned him to keep the Americans informed of all Israel’s plans.

The British Foreign Office summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires and urged Tehran to de-escalate, and warned Britain’s continued support for Israel. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron also urged Tel Aviv to think “with its head, not its heart” when deciding whether to retaliate against Iran. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen plans to expand sanctions against Iran because of the air attack. The US House of Representatives is set to consider providing additional military assistance to Israel. There are indications that the heads of the G-7 countries will verbally request Tel Aviv not to escalate military tensions in the region and not to embark on a large-scale response against Iran.

CNN reports that Tel Aviv has not yet made a final decision on how to respond to Tehran’s attack, and the Israeli military has been tasked with developing several options. The Wall Street Journal notes that Israel could retaliate as early as April 15 (i.e., within 48 hours of the Iranian attack).

When it comes to Middle Eastern affairs, the position of NATO member Turkey is important to the United States. It is worth noting that Iran, through Turkey, informed the US about its plans for an air strike on Israel. In turn, Ankara allegedly asked Tehran not to launch such an attack against Tel Aviv. In other words, Erdoğan makes the air shake with his many condemnations of Israel’s war crimes, but calls for Israel not to be held accountable for its own crimes against Iran’s consulate general in Damascus. That is despite the fact that Ankara itself ignores calls not to launch strikes against the Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

In light of the support show by Muslim countries for the United States and Israel in relation to the Iranian strike, unverified reports have appeared in the media claiming that Ankara sent information to Tel Aviv data from NATO’s Kürecik radar base. The Turkish Presidential Communications Directorate’s Center for Countering Disinformation dismissed the report as untrue. Ankara uses such radar data to protect its own national security and that of its NATO allies. It is also possible that Turkey passed the information from the Kürecik base to the relevant NATO command, which, in coordination with the US made use of it in Israel’s interests.

Nevertheless, Turkey called on the parties to the conflict to stop military escalation and exercise restraint, and to use the situation to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Meanwhile, CIA Director William Burns has asked İbrahim Kalın, head of Turkey’s MİT, to assist in talks with Iran and also lend his support to peace talks in the Gaza Strip. İbrahim Kalın promptly spoke to Ismail Haniyeh, chairman of Hamas’s political bureau, about a ceasefire in Gaza, the delivery of humanitarian aid, prisoner exchanges and the return of refugees to their homes in northern Gaza.

Iran’s nighttime air attack on Israel from April 13 to 14 was in reality a challenge not only to Israel but also to the United States. Tehran has shattered the myth of Washington’s unipolar diktat in the Middle East. That night was the first night since October 7 that Palestinian children were not killed, as Israel was concerned with its own defense. Iran attacked military but not civilian targets or the Israeli public. China, which has invested nearly half a trillion dollars in Iran’s economy and infrastructure, joined Russia in lending its support to Iran’s operation, which it had been forced into. By so doing, Moscow and Beijing have shown that they do not abandon their allies.


Alexander SVARANTS Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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