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The multi-faceted Turkish surprise 9 septembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Dar Al-Hayat (UK) 9 September 2011, p. 9

Walid Choucair

Turkey has not stopped taking surprise steps on the regional front. They have been unexpected moves for the country’s peers in the form of regional powers, such as Israel and Iran, and even the Arab political order around it. Turkey’s stances have constituted surprises for the two powers that, it is said, divide influence and roles, in terms of power and actual capability, namely Iran and Israel. There is a prevailing impression on the regional scene that the Arabs have only a limited impact in the region’s crises, due to the lack of a unified Arab stance, and planning and vision.

This conviction that the Arabs are absent from the regional scene has become more firmly rooted, despite the emergence of the « Arab spring. » This is because this season of political change is moving the Arab order from a state of insularity, because of fragmentation and an inability to act, to a state of being distracted by the internal repercussions of the revolutions and uprisings taking in place in several Arab states. These interactions are likely to continue before the results are settled for the new Arab order, one whose impact will differ from the state of lethargy that has characterized the region in the past. The current Arab transitional phase is not giving the leading countries the chance to formulate, together, an effective and active foreign policy.

This means the successive moves by Turkey have had a considerable impact on the other two regional « poles » of Israel and Iran.

Nevertheless, Ankara announced that it was expelling the Israeli ambassador and reducing diplomatic representation as a part of gradual sanctions against Tel Aviv, which include severing military and commercial-military ties between the two countries, as a response to Israel’s failure to apologize to Turkey for its attack on the Mavi Marmara in 2009. One should also note that these steps have had an impact in the Arab world as well.

This decision gives Turkey additional « capital » in terms of its stance in support of the Palestinian cause, before the wider Muslim public, inside and outside the Arab world. In the view of many people, Turkey can rely on this political capital in taking a more hard-line stance vis-à-vis the Syrian regime, with disputes between Ankara and Damascus on the rise because of the latter’s role in crushing the uprising of the Syrian people. If the expectations of various high-level diplomatic circles are correct, Ankara’s position is shifting. Previously, due to its relationship with Iran Turkey used to wager on seeing the latter succeed in convincing the Syrian leadership to halt the crack-down and move toward dialogue with the opposition, as a prelude to rapid parliamentary elections in the next three months. Now, Turkey has moved to an even more hard-line position, as it backs seeing the United Nations Security Council endorse sanctions against this leadership, which will increase its isolation. The Turks can arm themselves before the Arab and Muslim publics, with their emerging stance on Israel, to step up this isolation of Damascus.

This new clash between Turkey and Israel will have consequences that are no less important than those for the Israeli and Iranian fronts. One can say that adopting a more hard-line stance on Israel provides an effective type of political ammunition for the Palestinian Authority in its huge diplomatic confrontation that it is undertaking in order to secure recognition for a Palestinian state by the United Nations.

It is certain that Israel will not be in the best shape when it takes on the Palestinians in this battle. This is despite the full American tilt toward Israel, as it pressures Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to abandon the request for UN recognition of a state, and threatens to halt aid to the PA if it insists on such a step. Washington must now take into consideration Turkey’s hard-line stance toward its spoiled ally Israel, because any counter-move in the form of revenge against the Palestinians should take into consideration the rising hatred of the US in the region. In addition, this hatred is growing in Turkey itself. This phenomenon will lead to Turkish-Iranian rapprochement. Likewise, it is incumbent on Europe, for its part, to take into consideration the evolution of the Turkish stance. Some European countries that are hesitant about recognizing a Palestinian state should take into consideration Turkey’s new political weight.

However, there is another side to Ankara’s stance, in terms of its relationship with Iranian influence. Iran’s ability to engage Israel via its many « arms, » with Hamas exiting the arena of Iranian influence, has dropped off. This has left Lebanon’s Hizbullah as the only tool that can be used in such a confrontation; but this is option is unavailable until further notice, due to reasons that have to do with Lebanon, Syria and the region. In other words, Turkey’s diplomatic confrontation with Tel Aviv takes away from Iran’s ability to confront Israel. Will « Iranian surprises » lead to seeing the logic of conducting political settlements win out? Or, will they lead to adventurism by Israel and Iran?

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