Iranian Nukes Aren’t Israel’s Biggest Problem

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Mon, Aug 25 - 9:00 am EDT | 4 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - Israel's Problem

We left off last week with a brief discussion of how little Israel can actually do about the Iranian nuclear program. Persian nukes, however, are not Israel’s only or necessarily worst problem.

Into the sea?

Maybe the Arabs can’t drive the Jews into the sea. But then, why should they when émigrés these days usually leave by airplane?

I doubt that Hamas has quite latched on to the policy behind most of the anti-white insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa. It was, in short, to make life sufficiently uncertain for the white ruling classes to not want to risk staying. They would then begin to leave, a mere trickle at first. As some left, though, many more were demoralized. Those many also tended to start thinking about leaving, and planning to leave if they had to. This led to still more demoralization, etc. Eventually even the most hard headed of the whites saw the writing on the walls and gave up power, perhaps hoping to get some small part of their patrimony back before it was confiscated by the new – one man, one vote, once – popularly elected Dictator for Life and his tribe or clan. Or perhaps the whites were simply engaged in wishful thinking. No matter, the end result was the same.

But Hamas1 and the other similar groups rarely if ever think that way. God – Allah – is the general. Their job is simply to fight; leaving strategy up to Him.

It doesn’t really matter all that much, though, if the end result is the same. Continuing pressure by Hamas and Hezbollah, a continuing threat, continuing Israeli mobilizations, which disrupt the economy, high taxation, the nagging thought every time a man looks at his young daughter that the next time he sees her she may be no more than a pile of obscene goo resembling nothing so much as so much strawberry jam…all those have encouraged some Israelis to flee already. Deep down, I am sure many of them, maybe even most, think about it sometimes.

In the long run, faced with that, eventually the day comes when too many want to flee and too many have. That is death for Israel.

And then the Turks…

Turks are such courageous and virtuous people. That is why you can kill a Turk but you can never defeat them.
~ Napoleon Bonaparte 

Of course the Turks have been defeated; Lepanto, Vienna, the Great War. But they don’t give up easy, they don’t go down easy, and they die damned hard. Also, they tend to bounce back.

The Turks and the Israelis used to be very chummy. Two things, I think, happened. One was a rising sense of their Muslimhood among more rural and conservative Turks, who simply beat their citified rivals in the fertility stakes, leading (with a healthy assist from some other factors, especially corruption) to the election of Erdogan’s party and then Erdogan.2

The second was Israeli inability to present their legitimate case for the blockade of Gaza. There’s not much to criticize there, and certainly not from me, that case and the blockade are legitimate, but one can rarely if ever reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into in the first place.

One can hope, and I am sure the Israelis do hope, that Erdogan will someday disappear. They can’t, however, count on it and must plan for the worst. That worst is very bad indeed. Moreover, even though it depends upon the Turkish Deep State3 and military4 coming to a meeting of the minds with the Islamists, it is perhaps the single biggest threat to the existence of Israel.

And remember, Israel and Iran used to be quite buddy-buddy, too.

The Turkish armed forces at full mobilization are about 60 percent bigger than Israel’s. They could be larger if the Turks wanted them to be larger. Their active armed forces are about three times larger than what Israel maintains and can afford to maintain.

Their navy badly outclasses Israel’s in terms of numbers of ships and tonnage. It’s also fairly modern. Though on the surface, it looks to me like Turkey could easily blockade Israel in the Mediterranean, in terms of naval power I am, at best, an interested amateur. Still, I think one can minimally and confidently say that Israel’s five submarines and 7,000 tons or so of surface combatants, consisting of three corvettes and eight missile boats, would probably not prove capable of overcoming Turkey’s 14 Type 209 subs, nor her 70,000 plus tons of warships, consisting of six frigates, eight corvettes, and 27 missile boats, sufficiently well to prevent the Turks from supplying themselves through, oh, say, Latakia or even points further south.

The air is a closer question, and, although the Turks have an air force almost as large, and almost as modern, it isn’t quite equal. The way to bet it is on Israel. However an Israeli victory in the air would take time, time which they may not have, and be very expensive.

Nor would I necessarily discount the possibility of a Turkish amphibious landing somewhere south of Haifa. They have the sealift, sufficient for the task, given the distances involved. They have the marines. They’ve got some experience. However tongue-in-cheekedly reticent I may have been, above, about what they can and can’t do with the Israeli Sea Corps, be serious; the Israeli fleet is mostly scrap if the Turks want it to be. In the interval between when the conjectural war starts, and the Israelis achieving air superiority, a whole lot of highly capable and combative Turks can come ashore. And, given that the area is highly built up, and that Israeli infantry is not especially good, the Turks would prove to be most difficult to get rid of.

On the ground the question is not close. The Turks are nails, sheer nails, and not your cheap iron stuff, either. They are well armed, well trained – trained from boyhood, as a matter of fact, as the best soldiers must be, taking in the military virtues with mother’s milk – well led, disciplined, confident, and gutsy as hell. They could, say, keep a force in Lebanon, supplied from Beirut, sufficient to stymie any Israeli incursion, and bleed it white. They could do so while shielding Hezbollah as it launched rockets at northern Israel. If they were really ambitious, they could do so while shielding Hamas as it launched rockets from Gaza, too. Worse, because they are a full time army, the Turks wouldn’t have to disrupt their economy much, as Israel would have to in order to meet them. The Israelis have never fought anything like that, and I think they know their hearts would break from the sheer loss before the Turkish Army did.

See above, under “Into the Sea,” to see what that kind of continuing threat, about which Israel could do essentially nothing, might mean.


1 There is, by the way, no destroying Hamas. If Israel could get its hands on every fighter in the organization and shoot or hang them, a new Hamas, possibly under a different name, would spring up overnight.

2 If you’ve ever wondered what a political ass-whipping looked like, this is it:,_2002#mediaviewer/File:2002_Turkish_general_election_english.svg

3 I have it on quite credible authority that the Deep State is not a figment of a conspiracy loon’s diseased mind.

4 The Turkish military is secular, republican and much more interested in Turkish hegemony in Central Asia than with the Levant beyond Kurdistan.

Don’t miss last week’s column: Israel’s Strategic Problem.

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through

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  • Alexander Macris

    Colonel Kratman, I was not aware that the Turkish military was so skilled as you make them out to be. I believe you (you’ve never led me wrong!) but I was wondering if you could point me to some useful reading to better understand why they have maintained such prowess when so many other militaries are so bad. In particular, the line “trained from boyhood” makes me wonder what I don’t know!

    • Tom Kratman

      I believe I discussed mother’s milk in that essay, Training For War. It really refers to the attitudes, outlooks, and values good soldiers must bring to the colors as boys/very young men, or they will never have them.

      For literary background on the Turks, googe around a bit. Also notice the sheer discipline they carried with them in dealing witn troublesome Kurds, Note Fehrenbach’s treatment of the Turks in Korea and among their relatively few prisoners in commie hands. Ours tended to disgrace themselves, not supporting and even betraying each other regularly. And our died in droves because of it. Not so the Turks.

    • Rick Randall

      Ever worked with ROK troops, especially their Marines?

      They learned that shit from the Turks, with a healthy seasoning of Imperial Japan and the Communist invasion to teach them * why* to be that tough.

    • TBR

      I have personal experience in multinational NATO naval exercises, a significant part of that in the Mediterranean. The Turks have the best Mediterranean Navy, are slightly better than the Italians and the French. The Spanish had fallen of the map already ten years ago and the Greek never were on it.
      The greek Perry and Meko frigates are very professionally operated, and their submariners and fast attack boat crews are definitely good enough to make their huge (and, at least in their plans, growing) quantitative advantage effective.
      The bigger question is how much of that naval professionalism rests on pillars toppled by Erdogan’s latest actions in decapitating the military establishment. Turkish defense procurement and planning is currently in a shambles and a downward spiral accelerated by Erdogan’s and his cronies corruption. So this asks the question how long the Turks can maintain a sufficient material quality to enable their moral/personal quality in creating military effectiveness in the more technology influenced warfare dimensions.

    • TBR

      Make that the Turk Perry and Meko frigates…

    • Tom Kratman

      In a way that makes it worse; wasting assets are meant to be used.

  • Harry_the_Horrible

    Didn’t figure Turkey as a real threat to Israel, but if they do join the rest of the Moslem world, they are the heavy.
    Give the relatively parity in the air, I don’t know if the Turks could land troops. Without air superiority their ships might litter the bottom of the Med; the Israels are probably willing to make the sacrifice if they figure it is a survival issue.
    But if the Turks smuggled in the troops first it would be doable. And since Syria is not controlled by anyone in particular just now, the Turks could just grab the coast highways and use them for logistics.

    • Tom Kratman

      Try a different couple of questions; what is the cost to the IAF of trying to get through the Turkish Air Umbrella to get at the ships. Can they do it when the Turks have a fuill court press on for the IAF’s airfields? Can they do it if the Turks land from civilian ships (Been done, and I don’t mean just in fiction by Clancy and me) and grab 20,000 Israeli citizens and say, “we’ll burn ‘em alive at the first sign of a blockade?

    • Harry_the_Horrible

      No place to run, to allies to go to bat for them, so survival is at stake, so they’d have to.
      Or nuke Istanbul and say “We see your 20k and raise you a million.”
      Assuming they can get a sub close enough or that they have IRBMs.

    • Tom Kratman

      I don’t think they’re capable of it, really. Oh, they might threaten, but actually do? Politically and morally impossible.

    • Harry_the_Horrible

      I wouldn’t have a problem morally, but I am probably a cripple in that area.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      No place is run is debatable, at least for the elites.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yeah, I am pretty sure that draft-dodging twat, Bar Rafaeli, can go where she wants. For example.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      Bar Rafaeli is irrelevant, but most of the elites have family abroad (at least distant family) and job skills. These would let them emigrate.

      Jews are descended from people who were able to emigrate when it was necessary.

    • Tom Kratman

      Irrelevant, yes, but always good to sneer at her to remind oneself and the world that a pretty face and a decent shape are not enough to make someone into a worthy human being.

  • BlueHornet

    I don’t discount a single thing that you say about military matters, but what do you suppose is the realistic likelihood of a “meeting of minds” between the Islamists and Turkish military and Deep State? If Deep State exists, and is composed as described in your link, it would seem to me that they’d be natural allies of the Israelis, even if they may not want to advertise the fact. There’s also NATO to consider. Though the current occupant of the White House can’t be depended upon to protect Israel from a likely fight to the death, that’s an anomaly, isn’t it? Do you think that Turkey would mount such an attack on Israel in the face of strong – and real – US non-military opposition, for the sake of a few years’ maybe-peace with the Islamists?

    • Tom Kratman

      I don’t know, BH. I have some contacts not in but around the Turkish armed forces and they insist that they’re a lot more interested in Central Asia than the Levant. But I don’t know, and really don’t think, that applies to Erdogan and his party. I _can_ think of any number of ways to make US or Euro intervention on Israel’s behalf most unlikely. I also suspect Erdogan is at least as clever as I am, and quite possibly (read: very likely) moreso. Note, too, that the Turks are our formal allies and members in good standing of NATO, who have shed blood at our side, while Israel is neither, looks out for itself (and why not?), AND sank our ship.

    • Kristophr

      LBJ sank that ship. He wanted a Causus belli.

      Israel just did the dirty work.

    • Tom Kratman

      I don’t think so, really. I do think he was using or intended to use the ship against Israeli interests and didn’t think they’d have the balls to take it out.

    • Kristophr

      A lot of LBJ’s orders during the incident made it almost impossible for the Navy to do anything about it.

      This may be mere incompetence on LBJ’s part … but I think he really did want a wardec against the UAR.

    • Tom Kratman

      At the height of Vietnam? With what troops? ANd in what way could LBJ’s orders with regard to the med be any more characteristically incompetent and micromanaging than his orders to the forces in Vietnam?

    • Kristophr

      I think LBJ didn’t think there was a grave threat of defeat in Vietnam. And a good causus belli would give him an excuse to send in the Air Force while the Israelis fought on the ground.

      Using a bullshit naval attack was something that had worked earlier for him.

    • Tom Kratman

      The jews had no need of US or USN support; they’d already destroyed the arab air forces largely on the ground. This wasn’t a bullshit attack. And, taking the worst imaginable case, the call wouldn’t be for war with the arabs but with Israel. You can believe it if you want, but I find the notion completely non-credible.

    • Kristophr

      I feel LBJ was capable of this, but proof is going to be lacking, regardless.

      Johnson did order the Sixth fleet twice to not send rescuing aircraft, but only relented when it became clear that the Russians had also intercepted the distress signals that had gotten through Israeli jamming ( thre crew of the Liberty figured out that the Mirages had to briefly turn off the jammers to use their own radar guided missiles ).

      And he had ordered SAC on high alert the day before.

      This all stinks to me. But stink ain’t proof, so I’ll drop it.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      If he wanted causus belli, why didn’t he use it?

    • James

      He just wanted a beat stick. Its all face and PR.

    • Kristophr

      Hard to use a sunk ship as a causus belli if the side you want to help is caught sinking the damned thing.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      So he wanted Egypt to sink it? Makes more sense.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Would Turkey do this in the face of Israel’s likely Samson response? Or would they surmise (correctly, imao) that nobody in Israel would give such an order as long as there was somewhere to emigrate to?

    • Tom Kratman

      You get a Samson response to a major NBC attack or probable immediate conquest, not to the death of a thousand cuts. I _think_.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      True, so this would block, at the most, the Turkish invasion scenario.

    • Tom Kratman

      Even then, if Turkey had a credible threat of nukes, which one suspects they could have five minutes after deciding they wanted one, how suicidal is Israel? What deal is being offered? “We’ll pull out of our lodgement in Haifa but you must give back the west bank…” That might look better than suicide. And then the troops and the missile move forward and dig in. And the death of a thousand cuts resumes with cut 114.

      Would Israel? Well…have they ever traded “land for peace”? Have they ever made a hostage exchange?

    • Ori Pomerantz

      Yes. Especially considering that the members of the elite who’d have to give the order could find a place for themselves and their families elsewhere – as long as they didn’t give such an order.

  • RLP43200

    And here we run into the real problem: The only way for Israel to “secure” its interior is to put every single Muslim within its borders (to include Gaza and Golan) into death camps.

    Gee — I wonder why A BUNCH OF *JEWS* might be a little hesitant to put people into Death Camps?

    • Tom Kratman

      A lingering distaste for gas chambers and ovens. That said, Hamas seems determined to teach them to get over that distaste.

      However the interior isn’t really the problem it used to be. While they could actually just boot the Arabs out, Israel may not even have to do that. There has been little if anything in the way of suicide bombing or other terrorist incidents since they put up the wall. Booting them out, too, may be tougher than it seems, since they probably represent a net plus to the Israeli economy.

      However, the wall doesn’t do anything for rockets.

    • HateTheGame

      I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they need to be put in death camps, but they do need to be detained in a secured area. – Uncensored discussions

  • Steve Griffin

    Dead on again, Colonel. But beyond how a more extreme, fundamentalist-leaning Turkey could affect Israel as a growing threat, it’s more of an existing, and growing, threat in Europe (esp. Germany) with third generation gastarbeiter that still haven’t assimilated, have no plans to, and now seek to make the society around them change to conform to their beliefs inch by inch. Just the changes at making accommodation (read:appeasement) to keep them placated in the two tours I lived there were disturbing.

    • Tom Kratman

      Already did a book on that one.

      And Lale was gorgeous.

  • Haluk Bilgin

    As aTurk I would not fight Israel. Actually I think only the vocifeous 8% hard line Islamists would. It is not that easy to make the general populace accept an all out war for the sake of the Arabs. At least 50% of the Turks are against erdogan’s islamists. Secular Turks would never accept to fight for Jihadists. erdogan is trying to change the popular make-up, bolstering religious schools and education for the future so he will have hard line jihadist youth (Dindar – kindar nesil….. he calls them)

    • Ori Pomerantz

      Do you think troops in the Turkish military would mutiny if ordered to attack Israel (after a sufficiently PR’ed provocation)? Or that there would be a coup in Istanbul that would cause the military to be ordered not to do it?

    • Tom Kratman

      It’s not that hard to maniuplate a people into war, trust me. Look up “America Spain Relations 1898 Hearst Maine.”

      Or you can just listen to this:

  • sconzey

    Fascinating analysis; not seen the Turks as a threat to Israel; in retrospect this was retarded, and obviously so. Shame on me.

    However: “They could do so while shielding Hezbollah as it launched rockets at northern Israel.”

    I think you’ve made a mistake. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Syria, Gaza, and Iraq it’s that Sunnis hate the Shi’a more than they hate Jews and Christians. Sunni moslems from Turkey and Syria (and, to my shame, the United Kingdom) join Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra and fight those heretical persian Shi’a in Hizbollah.

    • Tom Kratman

      Not really a problem, I don’t _think_. Turk Sunnis are not necessarily the same as Saudi or Iraqi Sunnis, and already despise Arabs so much in general that minor matters of religion are unlikely to weigh heavily. Moreover, Hamas is Sunni. If Sunni matters but covering Hezbollah helps Sunni Hamas, then why shouldn’t the Turks shield Hezbollah, presuming they care about Hamas anyway? For that matter, why not get in a position to control Hezbollah?

      It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war, but I suspect Graves Reg digs a hole for principle first.

    • sconzey

      Well, that’s true, the other thing we’ve learned and particularly from the infighting between IS (formerly ISIS) and Jabhat al Nusra is that even in Islam, race trumps religion:

      IS (at least initially) recruited predominantly in the West, with a hard core of Chechens (I once saw a guy handing out recruiting flyers for ISIS outside Oxford Circus station in London, I would have had no idea what it was, but I was with a friend who could read Arabic). Jabhat al-Nusra recruited more locally in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and AQ veterans from Libya too. JaN resented IS ‘coming over here, taking jobs from good honest Levantine mujahideen’ and complained to al Zawahiri. Al Zawahiri says that JaN is the official AQ franchise for Syria, and that IS can have Iraq. IS disagrees and assassinates a number of prominent members and supporters of JaN, including the JaN governor of Idlib province, Abu al-Ansari (and, of course, his wife, children and relatives).

      So I can believe that the Turks, being an ethnically distinct group, despise the Arabs in IS and JaN, and the Persians in Hizbollah. What I don’t understand is why this isn’t any more problematic as far as military co-operation is concerned than religious differences.

      What is it that Turkey is supposed to gain from helping Hamas and Hizbollah attack Israel? Erdogan does quite well from being ‘The Islam Party’ but I cannot believe he wants to see an actual Islamic theocracy in Turkey, not least because there are few opportunities for graft in an Islamic theocracy. But while Israel yet exists, and the wider Levant convulses in internecine war, Angry Young Men are drawn out of Turkey to die in the streets of Homs and Mosul and Gaza, and most importantly do not turn their attentions to their corrupt, hypocritical and inefficient government.

      Erdogan’s best strategy, which he appears to be following, is to condemn Israel with his words, and perhaps with some sanctions and other costly signals, so long as he does nothing to actually bring about the ends which he professes to desire.

    • Tom Kratman

      Well…cooperation implies some level of equality. The Turks are in a position, if they choose to be, to dictate what their “allies” will do and make it stick.

      I can’t freaking imagine what Erdogan expects to gain materially or geographically But I am not sure he is entirely rational on this.

  • Can Terzioğlu

    You want opinions, you get it.

    Turkish military wouldn’t do so. Top brass is in prison, and Islamists aren’t in any army positions, neither would the conscripts fare well against it. First there is Syria between us, second we are NATO.

    HOWEVER, “Mother’s milk” is correct. I can’t DIRECTLY translate it to English, but every mother has a right to “declare the boy didn’t earn the right” if they do not complete military obligations.

    Still, Turkey vs. Israel is impossible. There’s mountains of trade going on between each. And its not well known :D

    • Tom Kratman

      More than between Germany and France in spring, 1914? One doubts. And “Remember the Maine.” I’ve this sinking feeling that Erdogan remembers it.

      That said, I also think he overplayed, and knows he overplayed, his hand wrt the Gaza flotilla. That, however, may only mean that he’ll try something more subtle.

  • Neil

    I’m not sure the analogy to white Africa still holds. European-Africans always knew for sure that they could go “home”. I don’t think that applies to Israelis.

    Sure, some of the “good Jews” (those elites who publicly denounce Israel or otherwise serve western interests) would be welcomed, but the vast majority would not. America almost certainly would not accept a higher number of Israelis than usual.

    For the vast majority of Israelis (and the “wrong” sort of elites), their back is against the wall.

    • Tom Kratman

      Really? So Holland had room for all those Afrikaners, did it? Funny how few of them showed up there.

      (Personal suspicion; the International Community Of The Ever So Caring And Sensitive, ICOTESCAS, has a vast interest in trying to prevent South Africa from appearing to be quite the hell hole it is, and from falling into complete ruin as quickly as it would, so doors are usually closed to the Boers. If we opened them, 99% of them would be gone as soon as they could board a plane. I any case, few of them had anyplace to go and they still knuckled under.)

      As Ori, who was Israeli, explained, there is room e;sewhere for the elites, for people with relatives overseas, etc. How many have to leave before the place is untenable. How many refuse-to-serve-in-the-military Orhtodox can remain and the place be defended?

    • Neil

      Good point–I hadn’t thought of the Boers. In that case, however, it took an awful lot of economic and (let’s face it) military pressure from the West to make them cave in. The moral issues also weren’t quite so clear-cut as in Israel. It’s one thing to not be in charge anymore, quite another to surrender to people who loudly proclaim their intent to exterminate your entire race.

      I really hope the U.S. is not going to embargo Israel, though I’m less sure of it than I used to be.

      That whole pacifist-Orthodox thing is a problem indeed. I still boggle at that one.

  • Jason75

    The Turks ground the ANZACs down at Gallipoli. They were game fighters then, and the way you describe them they haven’t softened with time, even though we have.

    The best Israel can hope for is Turkey staying out of it, but will they?

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