Sunday, December 30, 2007
Playing Both Sides
A few days ago, the Turkish Daily News reported (and Ha'aretz followed up) on an Israeli-operated drone system that the Turkish air force is using to target its strikes against the PKK. The leased Heron UAV, along with its Israeli operating team, is a stopgap measure put in place as a result of delivery delays in a deal between the Turkish air force and Israel Aerospace Industries. The planes, ordered in 2004 in a deal reportedly worth several hundred million dollars, were scheduled to be delivered in October, but have been delayed until at least next year.
The report demonstrates the significant challenges posed not only by Turkey's hot conflict with the PKK but also by its cold conflict with Iraqi Kurdistan. Like the US, Israel is trying to play both sides of the border, developing security ties with Iraqi Kurds at the same time that it's trying to maintain its traditionally close relationship with Turkey. And like the US, Israel is trying balance Turkey's demands for security co-operation against the PKK with a desire to avoid alienating the Kurds, who are paying customers sitting on lucrative oil reserves.
In the long term, whether or not the US and Israel will be forced to pick a side will depend on just how far towards an independent state the Kurds are determined to go. Turkey also has enormous trade and development investments in Iraqi Kurdistan and has every reason to seek cordial relations. The Kurdish parliament just agreed to another six-month postponement of the Kirkuk referendum, which kicks a potentially explosive can a bit further down the road.
But in the short term, the major sticking point is how to deal with the PKK. And Turkey's heavy-handed winter air campaign against PKK mountain positions risks putting everyone on the spot.