Yesterday I mentioned the phenomenon of Turkey, under the ‘moderate’ Islamist AKP party, distancing itself from Israel and the US. As part of the process, Turkish PM Erdoğan never misses an opportunity to attack Israel:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday continued his verbal assault on Israel, according to Saudi paper Al Wattan, which quoted him as saying that that al Aksa Mosque, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites…”
Speaking to Palestinian journalists, Erdoğan reportedly said, “Palestine [was] always at the top of Turkey’s priorities.” He expressed his support for the renewal of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Donning a cloak of pan-Islamic identity, Erdoğan told Al Wattan that he “loves my brothers in Fatah and my brothers in Hamas to the same degree, because they are my Muslim brothers and I cannot distinguish between them.”
Israel in the past enjoyed a close collaboration with Turkey in military matters, but this has been reduced recently. It’s likely that if the AKP continues with its efforts to reduce the influence of the army (by arresting and prosecuting officers for treason), that this trend will continue.
Relations between Turkey and the US have cooled since the Iraq war (which Turkey opposed because it strengthened the Kurdish PKK forces in the north in their desire to establish an independent state partly on Turkish territory) and more recently because of the genocide resolution.
At the same time, Turkey is collaborating more closely with Iran and Syria. Two weeks ago, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad visited Damascus. Barry Rubin noted an editorial in the state newspaper, al-Baath:
The editorial speaks of people in the Middle East who are coming together in an alliance rejecting Westernization, artificial borders, America, Israel, and various conspiracies. What countries are in this new alliance?
“Syria, Iran and Turkey, with their great peoples and their lively peoples and their rejectionist [the Syrian term for radical and anti-Israel, anti-American] policies are moving toward brotherhood….Welcome, President Ahmadinejad, in Syria.”
The Syrian regime is thus publicly trumpeting an Iran-Syria-Turkey alliance. The Turkish government’s policy, in theory, is one of getting along with everyone. But while one should not exaggerate how far this has gone—and, of course, this is a Syrian, not a Turkish statement—the fact is that Ankara is now politically as well as geographically much closer to Damascus and Tehran than to Washington DC.
If this is correct, then Turkey’s traditional Western-looking stance may be coming to an end, because it is not possible to align with the US and Iran at the same time.
My thinking is that Erdoğan has simply asked himself where the regional power is going to reside in the future and made his choice.
This is really a historic moment for the Middle East. After WWII the US took up the mantle of former colonial power Britain, and faced off for control of the region with the Soviet Union. The Soviets lost, and the turning point was when Anwar Sadat expelled Russian military advisers in 1973, later moving Egypt into the US orbit.
Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the pillars of US strategy from then on, although American support for Israel was by no means as one-sided as the Arabs suggest. The US neutralized hostile Iran during the 1980’s by supporting Iraq — until Saddam overreached himself by invading Kuwait. But even after that, the US allowed him to remain in power as a counterbalance to Iran.
When Saddam was removed in 2003, Iran and Syria seized the opportunity to foment Sunni-Shiite violence; at the same time, the US had no coherent plan to create a stable government in a country without a democratic tradition, where elections were understood as a sectarian popularity contest, and where bombings are an accepted form of electioneering. It’s hard to see any outcome after the US leaves other than Iraq sliding into Iranian orbit.
At the same time, Iran is moving forward on several other fronts. Israel has been unable to prevent arms transfer to Hizballah in Lebanon via Syria, and the US has failed in getting diplomatic support for sanctions that might prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons (if indeed any form of sanctions could accomplish this). Iran has even bought itself influence on the Sunni Palestinian Hamas movement.
Meanwhile, the US is seriously strapped economically, partly because of the expensive wars it is fighting against radical islamists (although it will not name the enemy). Iran, on the other hand, is moving toward finally fully developing its massive oil reserves with Chinese help.
I don’t know if the US will be able to reverse the trend and reassert its power in the Mideast, or if, like Britain, be pushed aside, this time by Iran. This will be determined by the actions of the present and perhaps the next administration. This administration hasn’t yet shown the ability, will, or even much desire to maintain the US position.
But it looks like Erdoğan thinks he knows the outcome, and has lined himself up with what he sees as the “strong horse” in the race.