The smiling faces of 61 world leaders attending the NATO summit (Sept. 4-5) at a Celtic manor near Newport in Wales thinly covered the disarray within the alliance. Two intractable crises, Ukraine and the Islamic State, topped the agenda. But the most damaging fallout on NATO unity came from the ever-closer relations binding the Obama administration and Revolutionary Iran.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British premier David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande receive daily intelligence briefings on the situation in Iraq and the state of the war on the Islamic State terrorists. More and more space is taken up in those briefings, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report, by details on the expanding cooperation between President Barack Obama and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in dealing with the Iraq crisis.
US Secretary John Kerry’s passionate appeal for a coalition to combat the Islamic extremists is now interpreted as window dressing to mislead America’s allies on the robustness of its pact with Iran and their own assigned roles as bit players.
The sense in Berlin, London, Canberra and Paris is that Washington has jilted its partners in the 14-year old war on terror, those who fought alongside the US through thick and thin in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East, in order to climb into bed with its new US favorite in Tehran.
The ramifications for Europe and the Middle East are far-reaching.
The Islamist menace won’t touch the US. Europe is on its own
The disaffected leaders were further incensed by a statement Wednesday, the day before the NATO summit, by US National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen. He denied any “credible information” that the Islamic State which has rained terror on Iraq and Syria is planning to attack the US homeland. Any plot launched today, he said, would be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack.”
This comment stood in stark contrast to former assessments by Obama administration officials that ISIS or ISIL was the greatest threat to America since 9/11.
It was taken to mean that America, now that it is in league with Iran, is no longer scared of Al Qaeda’s Islamic State and Europe is on its own.
Heard in the corridors of the NATO summit in Wales were remarks that there is no guarantee that the new partnership will destroy the Islamic threat before it reaches Europe. And, if the Obama administration persists in throwing over its traditional allies in favor of Iran, then those erstwhile allies are free to find new partners for dealing with the menace in their own way. They are also committed to breaking up what they see as the detrimental US-Iranian detente.
This disgruntlement leaked out ahead of the summit in the form of side-swipes at Washington’s posture on Iraq.
France, UK, Germany and Australia bypass US to arm Iraqi Kurds
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced in Brussels that his government had decided to directly supply weapons to the Iraqi Kurds fighting jihadists. In this, the UK was joining France. It was a significant upgrade of British involvement in the Iraqi crisis, adding to its responsibility – albeit indirectly – for casualties in Iraq – a sensitive political issue in London.
The move was immediately welcomed by Kurdish leaders.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources note that Cameron and Hollande were the first to raise the flag of mutiny against Obama’s Iraq policy on an issue that, only a month ago, scarcely figured as central to the Iraqi crisis: The US failure to adequately arm the Kurdish Peshmerga became the spark that kindled a major crisis in NATO. For the first time in the alliance’s 50-years, America’s leading allies were refusing to toe Washington’s line.
Germany and Australia were on the same page as Cameron and Hollande.
This week, Berlin too decided to send rifles, machine guns, grenades, anti-tank systems and armored vehicles to Irbil – a rare step for Berlin, which tends to refrain from exporting weapons to active zones of conflict.
The chancellor defended her decision on Sept. 1 to the Bundestag. Now we have the chance to help save lives and prevent any further mass murder in Iraq, she said. We must use this chance. The expansion of ISIS terror must be stopped. “Iraq is threatened by a humanitarian crisis. We have borne witness to unbelievable brutality.”
“The Near East burns and Europe looks elsewhere”
A few hours later, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced his country’s air force would in the next few days join an international operation to supply weapons to Kurdish fighters, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, to aid them in their battle to stem the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
In an address to the Australian parliament, Abbot said he had no intention of recommitting ground troops to Iraq after the last Australian soldier left in 2011, but would consider a request if it came from the Obama administration.
As Abbott spoke, sources in Irbil reported that SAS soldiers would fly aboard two Royal Australian Air Force transport plans to land in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq with arms and munitions.
“The Near East burns and Europe is looking elsewhere,” wrote three former French prime ministers, François Fillon, Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Alain Juppé, in Le Monde Wednesday, Sept. 1.
The three called for a “massive engagement” by European nations for an immediate program of further humanitarian aid and “a collective policy to supply arms to the Kurdish fighters, who constitute the lone rampart against the massacre of Christians in Iraq.”
The rift between Washington and at least four leading NATO allies is no longer hidden, and it runs deeper than ever imagined possible.