Gunboat Diplomacy: The USS Cole to Lebanon

Laura Rozen reads the tea leaves and comes up gloomy:

Ha’aretz: Israel ground operation in Gaza becomes inevitable.

One would guess that is part of what the US warship off the coast of Lebanon is about – to deter Hezbollah if Israel moves against Hamas in Gaza. Heard earlier today such operations would be in March-April, with desire for stabiliity to be restored by time of Bush’s visit to Israel in May for Israel’s 60th anniversary. Then again, March is next week. So is a planned Rice visit to Israel. Jordan’s King Abdullah II is here this week and next, after a meeting with the Saudi king en route to New York today. Abdullah back to Jordan next Friday. Olmert back to Israel Friday from Japan, where he seemed to overlap with Rice, come to think of it. Things are not looking good.

I’ll add something that raised my eyebrows. On two occasions, Turkish press reports about the incursion against Kurdish guerillas in northern Iraq mentioned an internal PKK power struggle between Turkish and Syrian Kurds, who comprise 20-35% of the movement according to some estimates. The primary cause of the rift is the PKK’s posture towards Damascus, specifically the recent appointment of a pro-Damascus Syrian Kurd to lead the military wing of the organization. (James Brandon has an informative backgrounder about how Syria has historically used the PKK to destabilize Turkey and Iraq at the Jamestown Foundation.)

A few weeks before the Turkish campaign began, President Bush tightened sanctions against Syria. Just thereafter, he dispatched the USS Cole to the coast of Lebanon. In other words, Gaza and Hezbollah might be central here, but there’s also a strong message being sent to Damascus.

So keep an eye on how Turkey’s incursion is framed in the days to come. If the narrative begins to include an emphasis on Syrian troublemakers doing Damascus’ dirty work in Iraq (a storyline that would seem to appease everyone involved), I’d say Laura’s assessment might be overly optimistic.