Patriot missiles in turkey are supposed to be for defense only. But the militarization of the region is massively fueling the conflict
The fact that a geopolitically motivated proxy war is also taking place in syria is evident not only in the more or less open support for the armed parties, but also in the militarization of the surrounding regions. While nato is deploying patriot air defense systems in southwestern anatolia this week, the russian navy is conducting what officials say is the largest manover since the end of the soviet union not far from syria’s coast.
Us patriot system. Image: nato
The sabel rattling is getting louder on all sides. Nevertheless, representatives of the bundeswehr and the german government emphasize that participation in the nato mission is purely defensive in nature. The press and information center of the armed forces base, however, is clearly using the initially low-risk mission for pr purposes. But an escalation of the situation in syria, which regional experts have been warning about for months, could quickly drive nato contingents from germany, the netherlands and the u.S. Into a federal raid.
The first german soldiers left eindhoven in the netherlands for the nato airbase at incirlik near adana at the beginning of the second week of january. Now 240 more soldiers followed. In december, the bundestag approved the deployment of up to 400 soldiers with a government majority and the support of the spd and grunen parties. Germany is contributing two patriot batteries, with two more coming from the netherlands and the usa respectively.
The goal of the mission with around 1.200 nato militaries is, according to the official account, to protect against attacks or cross-attacks from syria. The accusation of an offensive military policy with the nato mission "active fence turkey" is to be countered by the location of the station: kahramanmaras is a good 100 kilometers from the turkish-syrian border. The patriot missile deployed in turkey, however, only reaches 70 kilometers away. Nevertheless, the deployment, which cost around 25 million euros, brings german troops dangerously close to the new theater of war in the middle east.
Moscow and tehran fear hidden interests
Largely unnoticed by the media, representatives of the peace movement and the left party in particular are warning against an escalation. A "stupid policy of militarization" criticized sevim dagdelen, a member of the bundestag for the left party. The german-turkish parliamentarian called on the german government to do more to find a political solution to the conflict within syria.
Criticism also came from part of the green party and the spd. "I am worried that the deployment of patriot missiles and german soldiers, despite their defensive nature, will result in a further escalation of the conflict in the region", spd member of the bundestag hilde mattheis wrote. "I fear that with such a stationing the federal republic of germany itself will become an actor in the syrian conflict", so mattheis further. In rostock, a peace alliance had earlier called on dockworkers to refuse to load war goods.
Criticism of the nato mission in germany is also guided by the realization that there is much more at stake in syria than the future of just that country. In the arab world, iran and russia at least, western involvement against the assad leadership is seen as part of a hegemonic strategy. The leftist member of the turkish parliament, levent tuzel, also sees the patriot deployment as part of a medium- and long-term strategy against iranian influence. Nato’s air defense systems could also be used to defend against an iranian retaliation after a possible – and repeatedly threatened – israeli attack on tehran’s nuclear facilities, said the non-partisan tuzel during a recent visit to berlin.
Moscow was also allowed to share this assessment. In addition, the russian navy maintains a small base in the syrian port city of tartus. In the event of a violent regime change in syria, more than just this naval base was likely to be lost.
Defensive measures, offensive planning
It is the small interjections that point to the immense danger of the conflict. Iranian general hassan firouzabadi, faced with nato missiles in turkey, warned back in december of a "new cuban missile crisis". Tehran is watching the militarization of the region with increasing nervousness, especially since a north atlantic treaty organization radar facility was already put into operation in kurecik, turkey, in 2011. Even with a defensive character of radar and missile defense, nato’s new installations are seen as part of a master plan. After all, german systems from turkey will be able to monitor a large part of northern syrian airspace from this week onwards.
The fact that an active military strategy could follow was recently made clear by great britain’s defense minister william hague. Hague told parliamentarians that he was keeping open the possibility of changing the eu sanctions against syria in order to support the rebels with weapons if necessary. So far, the government in london has invested 9.4 million pounds sterling (nearly 11.2 million euros) in non-lethal "nonlethal equipment" for the assad opponents.
In turkey, however, protests are forming against the militarization. Nationalist groups, the left, and religious organizations are agitating against the nato presence – and gaining widespread support among the country’s population. In an interview with the tagsspiegel, turkish pollster adil gur confirmed that a majority across political camps oppose a conflict with syria. The iranian leadership is appealing to this attitude these days. The presence of nato is to the detriment of turkey, the semi-state news agency insa recently quoted tehran’s defense minister, brigadier general ahmad vahidi: "presence of foreign forces in islamic states has always created problems and differences between islamic countries."
Humanitarian disaster and public relation
Amidst the geopolitical planning, the humanitarian catastrophe in syria is increasingly being lost from view. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled as a result of the increasing military conflicts between security forces and the rebel groups, which are massively supported from abroad. According to the united nations, around 2.5 million people are underserved. The world food program, based in geneva, switzerland, is currently able to feed about 1.5 million people. Another million could not be reached, however, while the regional branches of the red crescent were also stretched to their limits, it was reported. In december, un officials had already asked for $1.5 billion in additional funds. In reception camps in the jordanian desert it came meanwhile to uprisings of the war refugees.
In germany, one hardly notices these developments at the moment. The russian and iranian positions are hardly mentioned, while the multiple anti-nato demonstrations in turkey have so far received only a few correspondent reports. Instead, the press and information center of the armed forces base is obviously using the mission for pr purposes. In the past few weeks, an increasing number of largely uncritical interviews with bundeswehr soldiers participating in the mission have appeared. From the point of view of the bundeswehr’s public relations work, this is understandable, because unlike the current afghanistan mission, no casualties are to be expected in turkey. In an interview with german radio reporters, a resident of kahramanmaras recommended that the german soldiers visit the town and try the local specialty: ice cream made from goat’s milk. It promises to be a quiet deployment. Unless geopolitical realities catch up with nato soldiers.