The Obama administration has turned down a Turkish request for drones or for the deployment of US Predators at Turkish bases until Ankara stops threatening Israel with armed attack, debkafile's military and Washington sources report. Turkey has no functioning unmanned aerial vehicles at present. The "technical problems" grounding the Herons Israel sold Ankara have crippled the Turkish army's campaign against the Kurdish PKK rebels – both in northern Iraq and in southeast Turkey.
In recent days, therefore, the rebels have stepped up their raids on Turkish territory, killing nine people including army and police personnel.
Israeli officialdom and military chiefs are doing their utmost to keep the lid on the spiraling Turkish-Israel confrontation, claiming that a military clash is not imminent because the US, NATO and Europe won't let it happen. Turkey is after all a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. However, debkafile's military sources report, the confrontation has already broken surface. Despite Western efforts to contain the rising tension, the armed conflict has quietly begun.
Our sources confirm that the Ankara press report of three Turkish frigates bound for the eastern Mediteranean to challenge and disarm Israel warships outside its 12-mile territorial waters was deliberately leaked by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's office to coincide with his trip to Cairo.
Israeli officials are making every effort to conceal the arrival of the frigates opposite Israeli waters, while Washington, the NATO command in Brussels try to dissuade Turkey from carrying out its threat to disable the weapons of Israel naval vessels.
They fear that a firefight would drive the Israel-Turkish crisis into uncharted waters.
Since Saturday, Sept. 10, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been in direct touch with Erdogan and warned him that a military clash by a NATO member with the Israeli Navy would have grave consequences for Turkey's future military ties with the US and the alliance.
Our sources explain that the denial of advanced US intelligence technology on the heels of its cutoff from Israel would present the Turkish army with serious operational, intelligence and high-tech difficulties.
These difficulties are already hobbling Ankara's counterinsurgency campaign against the PKK at a critical juncture.
Since Aug. 17, a full-blown war has been underway against PKK strongholds in northern Iraq – generally unnoticed in the West and in Israel. The US, Turkey, Iran and the Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraqi have formed an improbable coalition to cooperate in extinguishing the Kurdish rebellions staged by the PKK against Turkey and the PJAK against Iran.
The US has confined its role to relaying intelligence collected by its drones to the Turkish military and from its observation posts on the northern Iraqi-Iranian border to Iranian Revolutionary Guards units.
The data is processed through the KRG government in Irbil. The KRG has made its army's military and intelligence commands available for coordinating the allies's operations through its territory.
Turkish special operations units are backed by Turkish air strikes and coordinate their operations with the Americans and the Iranians.
The main battlefields are the Qandil Mountains region, Sinath-Haftanin, Hakurk and Gara.
The Turkish effort is impeded by three problems:
1. They are short of the knowhow for operating the intelligence and technical systems of the 10 Heron drones purchased from Israel since they expelled the Israeli technicians operating and keeping them in order last year.
Ankara says two of the drones are "non-operational" and three others suffer from intractable engine problems.
Five more were shipped back to Israel because of a Turkish complaint that they never reached the altitudes guaranteed by Israel's aerospace industries. debkafile's sources report that test flights carried out in Israel showed nothing wrong with the drones' altitude capability.
2. The home-made Turkish drones (ANKA) brought into service were unable to climb high enough to perform over the rebel hideouts perched in the lofty Qandil mountain peaks. They also lacked the electronics for relaying surveillance data to their command center.
3. Both Tehran and Ankara have no doubt that the intelligence data released to them by the US military in the course of the counterinsurgency campaign is partial and limited. The complete picture remains exclusively in American hands. , Turkey sought the deployment of US Predators on its soil to fill the gap. That request was spurned until Prime Minister Erdogan backs away from his aggressive stance against Israel.
For those reasons, Turkish Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin announced Tuesday that his country would launch a cross-border ground offensive against the PKK in northern Iraq at any time.
Our military sources report that Ankara is pondering the same sort of campaign as Israel launched in Gaza against Hamas terrorism in Dec. 2008. It aims to demonstrate Turkey's ability to defeat the Kurdish rebels without US or Israeli drones.
Israel was wrongly accused of threatening to play the Kurdish card against the Erdogan government in reprisal for those threats. The fact is that Turkey is playing the Kurdish card against itself.