Posts tagged ‘iran’

April 11, 2012

Iraq’s New F-16s

by Gedalyah Reback

Israel isn’t as anxious about Iraq’s new fighter jets as it is anxious to get a hold of some new ones for itself. Over the last few years, Israel’s been eager to be the first country to buy the newly developed F-35 Lightning jet fighter – a stealth jet. It placed its first order last year for 20 of them at a price tag in the billions of dollars.   Once Israel gets them delivered – maybe as early as 2015 – Israel will have, indisputably, the most powerful air force in the Middle East by a much greater margin than it has now.  So why make any sort of fuss over Iraqi planes which are actually an older model? Iraq has no air force of comparison right now anyway.

Israel might want to cover Iraqi skies on its way to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. It might also be anxious that those planes could end up aimed at Israel eventually, the beginning of a reconstituted Iraqi military that was once Israel’s greatest threat.

Saddam’s Iraq

Saddam Hussein posed the most significant military threat to Israel when he was in power.  He kept the Jewish state on its toes.  Even before Saddam, Iraq was viscerally opposed to Israel.  Iraqi Jews suffered Iraqi pogroms and expulsions before, during and after the Israeli War of Independence.  Arab nationalism particularly in Iraq took an emotional, near-psychotic approach to Zionism and Israel’s existence.  Iraq’s army was part of the Arab coalition in 1948.  Iraq’s army actually occupied the northern West Bank and Sh’khem/Nablus.  In 1973, Iraqi tanks entered the Yom Kippur War and fought Israel’s.  Israel’s strategy in the West Bank until 2003 was to defend against an Iraqi invasion.  In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq to destroy its nuclear facilities.  A rebuilt Iraq could one day be hostile – again – to Israel.

Arab Air Forces

Last year, a deal that gave Saudi Arabia a new fleet of F-15s caused the same sort of headlines. Saudi Arabia is a much more capable country than Iraq, buying a super package of military machines for over $60 billion including jets and helicopters. That deal increased pressure on Israel to pay the cash for the stealth jets, and the pressure on the United States to get the deal done and deliver the weapons to Israel.  Other Arab countries have sophisticated abilities also, like the United Arab Emirates (80 F-16s & 30 French Mirages) and Bahrain (33 F-16s & 16 Northrops).

Iraq is getting 36 F-16s, apparently as strong and capable as the planes Israel’s air force uses.  That could mean an even fight in the skies if the planes were to tango, like they might if Israel tried to hit Iran.  Iraq did buy sophisticated radar systems just last month.  But would Iraq actually get into a dog fight with the much more experienced and massive Israeli Air Force?  The US thinks the new planes can handle Syrian or Iranian jets while not standing a chance with Israel’s.  But is the Iraqi Air Force really going to be standing in the way of Syria’s or Iran’s?

Iraq & Iran

Iraq will eventually emerge from its internal problems. So the concern about the planes is more on the distant future, when Iraq might consider using them for offense. But this isn’t Saddam’s country. Ruled now by Arab Shi’ite Muslims, the conflict between Shi’ite Iran and the Arab World has put Iraq into a neutral position.  Given that, Iraq could play a moderating role, or at least stay as far away from conflict as possible.

The idea Iraq might be neutral is as much wishful thinking as a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The Iraqi government and military have strong, intimate ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.  Iraq’s political and religious elite spent decades of exile in Iran both in the seminaries and in the trenches against Saddam Hussein.  Iran offered asylum to the major Shi’ite religious families the Hakims and the Sadrs, both of whom have major representation in the big Shi’ite political parties in Iraq.

Iran’s influence has grown since the US military left Iraq last year.  How much is unclear, but whatever amount is enough to concern Israel’s strategists.  Now with Syria on the brink of collapse, Iran might want to replace its top Arab ally with a new one with more potential, far more assets and a steadier cultural connection (Shi’ite Islam).

This is all a brief overview of things.  But it’s important to pay attention to Iraq in the years to come and especially the opportunities weapons and technology companies will get to rebuild Iraq’s depleted military.  The Iraqi Air Force might only be one facet of the military, but it’s the most lucrative and packs the biggest hypothetical threat from a rival Iraq hostile to Israel.

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April 10, 2012

Israel, Azerbaijan & New Problems Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

by Gedalyah Reback

Israel will be testing its relationship with Azerbaijan much sooner than people would have thought. FP’s enlightening article on an Israeli-Azeri alliance surprised countless journalists, politicos and Israel enthusiasts, so hearing Israel might risk jeopardizing would seem downright stupid. But that assumes that everything you need to know about Azerbaijan was in that article. Like my previous post on Armenia, most of the focus has been on Turkey. Israel can’t commemorate the Armenian Genocide without drawing Turkish ire. That’s far less of an issue with Turkish-Israeli ties already so cold they couldn’t get more frigid. But with Azerbaijan, suddenly Israel might have the same problem as it did with Ankara and the Turks.

Azerbaijan is itself a Turkic country (as opposed to “Turkish,” “TURKIC” is a much broader category that includes a bunch of ethnic groups, countries and languages spread across Asia). It has a strong historical relationship with the Ottoman Empire and the Turkic tribes that eventually made their way to Anatolia and founded that empire. What separates Azerbaijan from Turkey and other Turkic countries is that it is Shi’ite Muslim, like Iran. Unlike Iran, Azeris are secular, mostly thanks to being a part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s. The break-up though led to a reigniting of Azerbaijan’s historical rivalry with the nearby Armenians. With both groups having their own countries, the two have been at war since the end of the Soviets, with heavy historical baggage being carried by both sides of the conflict.

The war with Armenia makes recognizing the Armenian Genocide in some ways even touchier an issue than it would be for Turkey. The Armenians, for their part, also see Azeris as having been complicit in the entire episode. That being said, Azerbaijan also doesn’t recognize the massacres as having been anything other than the collateral damage of war and nowhere near anything as systematic as the Holocaust.

But the world disagrees, like has been said millions of times. So now Israel faces the Azeris and not just the Turks when it comes to putting this issue to rest. A diplomatic crisis might be in the offing. On April 6th, an Azerbaijani news outlet got to interview the country’s ambassador from Israel. What he said was disturbing:

Question: Recently, the committee of the Knesset has discussed so called “Armenian genocide”. Will this issue come to the agenda of the Israeli parliament?
Ambassador Michael Lotem: The committee will discuss, but I think it will not go beyond. This issue should be kept to historians, not dealt by the politicians.

Azeris are disturbed by the idea that more countries could recognize the event as a genocide, something publicly humiliating for Azerbaijan as much as it has been for Turkey. But why is Israel nervous about the entire thing? The questioner’s perspective seems to be one of anxiety, not anger. Despite the grandstanding and outrage from Turkey whenever a country brings up the historical calamity, it’s not power the Turks project but nervousness. Turkey and Azerbaijan need Israel as much as Israel needs them, and not just on this issue. More practical issues, like defense and the economy, have made the two countries’ relationship with Israel important. Azerbaijan might be an asset against Iran – a possible base for Israeli jets, rescue crews and monitoring technology – but Israel also has been big for the Azeri economy and giving Baku’s leaders more of an outlet to the outside world. The government there has a sullied rep, so good press fighting the dark side in Iran is welcomed press.

Members of the Knesset have always been split on the issue of disrupting ties with Turkey over this, but it’s an untested theory that Turkey would disrupt ties with Israel. It’s even further unknown, probably more improbably Azerbaijan would do such a thing. Armenia also has a border with Iran, and Azerbaijan would be in dire straits if it sacrificed all its connections with Israel in retaliation for the way Israel looked at history. It would be more ironic and humiliating if that resulted in Israel building up its ties with Armenia, creating a major problem for Azerbaijan’s security that wouldn’t have existed if not for a stubborn, emotional reaction to a token acknowledgement of an event 100 years in the past.

Israel lets other countries dictate its talk in the strangest ways, and the state is only undermining its assertiveness letting pressure from a non-ally, Turkey, bully the Jewish state into avoiding a simple moral statement. Turkey and Azerbaijan still need Israel as an ally against Iran; not just the other way around.

April 1, 2012

Outside Arabia: Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel’s Strategy

by Gedalyah Reback

Month to month, there is some report about Turkey’s distaste for Israeli policy or the Jewish state getting cozy with one of Turkey’s immediate neighbors. Today was Israel’s latest military exercise with Greece. The exercise involves the United States Navy and is actually the replacement for the NATO-affiliated exercises Israel once joined that had a central presence by Turkey. Israel doesn’t have to go far to find some way to exploit the divide between Greece and Turkey.

There isn’t the sort of tension that led to Greek revolutions against the Ottoman Empire of the past, but the diplomatic differences are still there. Issues revolve around Turkey’s ally Northern Cyprus, and Greece’s ally (the southern) Republic of Cyprus.

But the more important story this week was about Azerbaijan. Israel’s government has gone out of its way the last 15 years to create a strong relationship with Iran’s secular neighbor. The article speculated Israel could use Azerbaijan either to stage rescue missions and “clean-up” crews for the aftermath of a strike on Iran, or even use it to launch the operation itself. Despite the heavy political implications and exposure to Azerbaijan’s security, the story’s reporting does broaden our general perspective of how versatile Israel’s strategy is.

There are a bunch of other countries that Israel has interest in. It doesn’t have to involve Iran. But these stories and more in the pipeline should wake up anyone studying the country. There’s slightly more to Israel’s military and foreign interests than just the United States, Iran and the Palestinians.

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