The United States and Israel must pay close attention to the two actors in the Middle East region who are increasingly challenging the West, and particularly American and Israeli interests. The two nations (actors) are Iran and Turkey. Both are Muslim states, and fundamentalist in nature. Iran is the core state of Shiite Islam, while Turkey seeks the leadership of Sunni-Islam, which is the dominant branch of Islam (about 87-90% of world Muslims are Sunni). The Islamic Republic of Iran has shown its deadly hostility toward the U.S. from its very beginning in 1979, following the Islamic revolution, which overthrew the Shah of Iran. The Islamist revolutionaries invaded the U.S. embassy and kept 52 U.S. diplomats as hostages for 444 days. Subsequently, in a murderous campaign to gain exclusive power, the Ayatollah Khomeini and his fanatical followers murdered all opposition.
In April, 1983, Iran’s chief proxy, the Lebanese-Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, on orders from the Ayatollahs in Tehran, bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 17 Americans. In October of the same year, two truck bombs used by Hezbollah against the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killed 241 U.S. Marine peacekeepers. Iran, through its proxies, continued to strike at American people, and American interests in the region. Iran, in violation of international law, mined the Persian Gulf in 1988. One such mine struck the USS Samuel Roberts, injuring 10 U.S sailors. In 1996, Hezbollah, with Iranian backing, truck bombed the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American military personnel and wounding 372. Iran helped al-Qaeda, including the 9/11, hijackers, transit through Iran to their training ground in Afghanistan. Following the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Iranian regime backed Shiite militias in killing Americans. It provided training, arms and material support, including improvised explosive devises (IED) that killed and maimed countless U.S. military personnel. Africa and Latin America, as well as in Europe, Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) targeted American interests.
The list of attacks and attempted assassinations on U.S. soil and in Europe deserve a separate article. Fast forward to here and now…since May, 2019, when the U.S. administration warned Iran that its provocations would lead to the U.S. using “unrelenting force,” the Iranians have continued to harass U.S. and British interests with impunity. Tehran sabotaged four tankers in May and attacked two more on June 13th. In mid-June, Iraqi Shiite militias, loyal to Iran, fired rockets on U.S. bases in Iraq. They have apparently figured out that with a year away from elections in the U.S., the Trump administration won’t consider getting into a major war with Iran. They are therefore testing the limits of U.S. patience.
Mohammad Ali Jafari, former commander of the IRGC, reacting to the spike in tension with the U.S. threatened that Iran is able to draw upon its network of militant proxies. He implied that the upside of the recent conflict (with the U.S.) has been the “mobilization of nearly 200,000 armed youth in different countries in the region…” This might be sheer bluster, but the U.S. must be prepared.
In the meantime, Iran is brazenly increasing its nuclear activities. The U.S. Institute of Peace, in an article by Kelsey Davenport on July 8, 2019, reported that, “Since July 1 (2019), Iran has engaged in two breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. On July 1, (2019) it increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium above the 300-kilogram limit. On July 8, (2019) it increased enrichment (of uranium) from the limit of 3.67 percent to 4.5 percent.”
Iran’s threat to Israel is far more immediate and serious. Israel, however, is prepared to respond to Iran with overwhelming force if needed. Iran used Hamas last May to fire 700 rockets from Gaza into Israel. It is also planning a coordinated missile attack on Israel, involving Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and Iraqi Shiite militias from western Iraq. The lesson from the Holocaust is clear, never ignore a demagogue’s threat. Hitler materialized his threat and murdered two-thirds of Europe’s Jewry. Now, the Iranian leaders are making similar genocidal threats against the Jewish state, including Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, who proclaimed last November that, “Israel is a ‘cancerous tumor,’ and a ‘fake regime,’ set up by western countries.” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei went even farther, calling Israel, “A cancer in the region that must be removed.” Mojtaba Zolnour, chairman of the Iranian Parliament National Security and Foreign Policy Commission threatened that, “If the U.S. attacks us, only half an hour will remain of Israel’s lifespan,” Given the Iranian regime’s apocalyptic beliefs about the coming of the Mahdi, (Shiite messiah), and its quest for nuclear bombs, Iran poses a global threat.
Turkey, once a NATO bulwark against Soviet adventurism, is now a serious concern to the West. Most of it has to do with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an arrogant, and dictatorial leader, who consolidated his power by appealing to Islamism, with dreams of leading the Sunni Muslim world. He has whittled away at the secular republic built by Ataturk (The founder of Modern Turkey), and in recent years he has moved away from the West while embracing the Muslim world, including Iran. He is cooperating with Iran and Russia in Syria, while confronting the U.S. with threats to destroy Washington’s allies, the Rojave Kurds, who helped the U.S. defeat ISIS.
It seems increasingly clear that should hostilities between the U.S. and Iran turn into war, Erdogan’s Turkey may not honor its mutual-defense pledge under article 5 of the NATO charter. Erdogan has become one of the most vocal opponents of the U.S. sanctions against Iran. Erdogan’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system has further alienated him from the U.S. and NATO.
In Syria, Turkish and Iranian interests converge, both rejecting Kurdish assertion of self-determination, and as Russia takes a more global view on the issues, Turkey and Iran have gotten closer. Iran, Russia, and Turkey have launched the Astana peace process (shaping the future of Syria), excluding the U.S. and its allies. Russia’s sympathetic view on Israel’s security concerns regarding Iranian and Hezbollah’s creeping encroachment toward the Israeli border in the Golan, is another reason for the anti-Semitic Erdogan to find common ground with the anti-Semitic regime in Tehran.
According to Israel Hayom (July 9, 2019), “Turkish organizations teach Arab kids from East Jerusalem that Israel is theirs.” Turkish authorities have allowed the military wing of Hamas to operate an office in Istanbul that plans terror attacks, as well as transferring funds to Hamas activists in the West Bank. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party shares common ground with Hamas in that both are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Three years ago, Erdogan appealed to the Muslim world to defend the Palestinians against Israel, and when Israel reacted to Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, he called Netanyahu a “terrorist,” and labelled Israel a “terrorist state.”
The Jerusalem Post quoted Erdogan as telling young Turks at an Istanbul meeting of the Turkey Youth Foundation, that “The Jews in Israel kick people laying on the ground. In fact, Jews don’t kick (just) men but also women and children when they fall on the ground.”
Erdogan’s blatant antisemitism, and his recurrent tirades against Israel, makes him as much a future threat to Israel as the mullahs of Iran. The anti-American, and anti-Israel venom coming out Ankara and Tehran cannot and must not be ignored.