A logical future step in Turkey’s emergence as an active, independent player in Mideast affairs would be military moves to enhance regional security. Such a step would constitute a regional political (and perhaps military) gamechanger, with winners and losers surprisingly hard to calculate. But could Turkey even take such a step? Here’s one possibility.
Would it be feasible for Turkey to defend Lebanon against Israel? Consider:
Russian S-400 air defense missiles have a range of 250 miles. Lebanon is 135 long and separated from Turkey by less than 100 miles of Syrian territory. Russia and Turkey have been discussing Russian sale of both the S-300 missile that Russia had contracted to sell to Iran and the more advanced S-400.
What would happen if the Israeli F-16’s that regularly violate Lebanese airspace were attacked by Turkish S-400’s from Turkey I cannot say, but politically this would be a Mideast game-changer. An air defense shield over Lebanon from Turkey would:
- Call into question Israel’s military superiority (“calling into question” constitutes a significant political step regardless of the technical details);
- Make moderate Turkey rather than radical Iran the main potential military ally for Lebanon;
- Diminish Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese defense and reduce Hezbollah’s freedom of action since it could not be sure that an offensive move by Hezbollah would be supported by air cover from neutral Turkey;
- Raise the issue of Turkish air protection of Syria (Turkish-Syrian military relations are already improving);
- To at least some degree complicate Israel’s tactics for any aggression against Iran.
Aggression by anyone in the region would be harder to pull off, the likelihood of victory would be harder to calculate, the regional political calculus would be more complicated, the influence of the current leaders on all sides (Iran, Israel, and the U.S.) would be reduced; Turkey would emerge as an independent actor with the apparent and perhaps real capacity to influence the outcome of any war in the Levant. A bilateral, near-zero-sum, Levantine confrontation would be replaced by a tri-lateral situation in which calculating one’s self-interest would be more difficult for all, implying that all would have to adopt less risky behavior. Mideast stability would be enhanced.