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Is a Larger Middle East War Inevitable?

Claude Salhani
Thursday, 11 Oct 2012 | 2:14 AM ET

Double, double toil and trouble. All the elements for a larger regional conflict are slowly falling into place, just as the witches' ingredients in Shakespeare's Macbeth, as the fateful day, November 6th, or Election Day approaches.

First, the Turkish parliament voted last week to give the prime minister the authority to launch war against Syria. It was a precautionary move in case Syria's attacks against Turkish territory took a new twist. Over the last few weeks Syrian artillery has on various occasions fired across the border into Turkey. As recently as Monday the Syrians, according to reports from Turkey, fired mortars into Turkish territory.

Turkey has been deploying its armed forces along its border with Syria, reinforcing some positions with artillery and armor. As relations between the once friendly countries are deteriorating week after week, all the elements for a major confrontation between Syria and Turkey are falling into place. A major clash between Syria and Turkey seems almost inevitable at this point with what seems to me moves intended to provoke and draw Turkey into the Syrian conflict which has now been raging for 19 months.

Syria's military, already weakened by defections and casualties from the civil war would have a hard time repelling a Turkish assault on its territory, if it came to that. The Turkish military is by far the strongest and best trained and equipped army in the Middle East. And as a member of NATO, if attacked, Turkey can evoke the clause that stipulates that an attack against one NATO country is equal to an attack against the entire alliance. But Ankara, despite its superior military power, wants to avoid an open confrontation with Syria for fear of igniting some of its own minorities, not least of them the Alawites, who form an important group in southern Turkey.

That was the situation on one end of the Middle East. Meanwhile, slightly further south, Israel reported to have shot down a pilotless drone earlier in the week. This is an entirely new development in the Middle East crisis. Analysts in Beirut are speculating that the drone could have only come from Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Lebanese Shiite Movement.

And still further south along Israel's southern border, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist Movement and the smaller Islamic Jihad launched what was described as "a massive terror attack" against Israeli towns. More than 55 rockets and mortars were fired at the Jewish state in the period of 24 hours. Israeli officials described this as "the largest barrage from Gaza since the end of June 2012 when more than 80 rockets were fired over four days."

Israeli sources said Monday's attacks "signals a massive quantative escalation by Hamas. This is the "first time since June 2012 that Palestinian groups have launched such a sustained rocket and mortar attack. Israel's quick response was in part designed to restore deterrence."

The Israelis are also saying that the attack also signals "a qualitative escalation by Hamas, with Hamas explicitly claiming the attacks. The attack is a clear indication that Hamas has not moved away from the Iranian camp.

Hamas is recreating the conditions that led up to Israel's December 2008 ground war against the group, according to The Israel Project, who goes on to state that "Hamas has returned to militarizing mosques and other civilian buildings. During the 2008 war Hamas transformed up to 100 mosques into depots and bases."

These sort of statements, referring to ammunition and arms being stockpiled inside mosques is pre-justifying Israeli retaliatory attacks on such places.

Where is the connection between the violence in the north (Syria-Turkey), the troubles in the south (Gaza-Israel) and the drones over the Israel and the ever-moreviolent civil war in Syria?

And finally, why is the date if the US presidential election such a "fateful' date?

The common thread running through these events are Syria and Iran. Both the Islamic Republic as well as Syria, want to deflect some of the pressures on their respective countries; Iran over its nuclear program and Syria over its use of excessive force in putting down the rebellion.

An escalation between Syria and Turkey will internationalize the conflict drawing major players into the conflict. The same applies to the violence between Israel and the Islamist Palestinian groups.

Finally, all these various elements will have contributed in bringing the situation to a crux just around the time when the United States becomes imbued with the election of its president, on that oh, so fateful date, November 6th, or should it be the Ides of March? Double, double, toil and trouble.

—This story originally appeared on Oilprice.com. Click here to read the original story.

By. Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil, ' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.

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