At the NATO summit in Wales today, the United States announced the formation of a new 10-nation “core coalition” of countries cooperating to battle ISIS. Besides the U.S. the countries involved are Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Turkey. The Turkish role could prove particularly critical, as it will likely serve as a staging ground for anti-ISIS operations, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is heading to Ankara next week.
Today’s news is further indication that some military operation in Syria may be coming. (That operation probably isn’t imminent, though, as intelligence is still being gathered.) Secretary of State John Kerry said today that leaving ISIS “in some capacity intact anywhere would leave a cancer in place that will ultimately come back to haunt us."
This NATO announcement comes as the BBC is reporting that, according to sources in Tehran, “Iran's Supreme Leader has approved co-operation with the U.S. as part of the fight against Islamic State.” According to the report, “Ayatollah Khamenei has authorized his top commander to co-ordinate military operations with the US, Iraqi and Kurdish forces.” Iran’s foreign ministry denied the report, though as CNN’s Christiane Amanpour notes, this cooperation may already be happening on some level.
At the moment, the new “core coalition” doesn’t include any Middle Eastern countries, though the United Arab Emirates has already, not surprisingly, indicated its support. Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have both ruled out any cooperation with Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, though it’s hard to see how a military operation in Syria targeting ISIS but leaving Assad’s forces in place does anything but strengthen his position.
The case of Iran is trickier. There are obviously key points of conflict between Iran and the United States, not least of which is the country’s controversial nuclear program. A new round of talks about that issue are set to begin in New York this month. Any open acknowledgment of cooperation between the countries with regards to ISIS would likely make the U.S. Congress, hardliners in Tehran, and the Israeli government go absolutely berserk.
But if the two nations continue to escalate the fight against a common enemy, it’s going to require some level of coordination. I don’t see Iran being formally invited into Obama’s “coalition of the willing.”