What Effect will Turkey’s Switch to Israeli Opponent have on Syria and the Regional Balance of Power?
Posted by Joshua on Friday, June 25th, 2010
What Effect will Turkey’s switch from Israeli ally to Israeli opponent have on Syria and the Regional Balance of Power?
How and when Turkey’s switch from Israeli ally to Israeli opponent will effect the balance of power in the Middle East is disputed. But most analysts agree that it will have profound consequences in time. George Friedman of Stratfor argues that there is no greater likelihood of “significant military threat to Israel” today than there was before the flotilla fiasco. World condemnation is a nuance but it does not alter the basic balance of power which is very favorable to Israel. He continues:
Israel’s regional enemies are so profoundly divided among themselves and have such divergent relations with Israel that an effective coalition against Israel does not exist — and is unlikely to arise in the near future. Given this, the probability of an effective, as opposed to rhetorical, shift in the behavior of powers outside the region is unlikely. At every level, Israel’s Arab neighbors are incapable of forming even a partial coalition against Israel. Israel is not forced to calibrate its actions with an eye toward regional consequences, explaining Israel’s willingness to accept broad international condemnation.
All the same, he ends his article with a note of warning, suggesting that even within an environment as dysfunctional and riven with factionalism and enmity as the Arab World, things can change. In particular, he cautions against pushing Egypt so far that it changes course to once again make common cause with Syria and reverts to resistance. He concludes:
Where there is no balance of power, the dominant nation can act freely. The problem with this is that doing so tends to force neighbors to try to create a balance of power. Egypt and Syria were not a negligible threat to Israel in the past. It is in Israel’s interest to keep them passive. The Israelis can’t dismiss the threat that its actions could trigger political processes that cause these countries to revert to prior behavior. They still remember what underestimating Egypt and Syria cost them in 1973. It is remarkable how rapidly military capabilities can revive: Recall that the Egyptian army was shattered in 1967, but by 1973 was able to mount an offensive that frightened Israel quite a bit.
The Israelis have the upper hand in the short term. What they must calculate is whether they will retain the upper hand if they continue on their course. Division in the Arab world, including among the Palestinians, cannot disappear overnight, nor can it quickly generate a strategic military threat. But the current configuration of the Arab world is not fixed. Therefore, defusing the current crisis would seem to be a long-term strategic necessity for Israel.
Patrick Seale, by contrast, argues that the emergence of a norther alliance of Turkey, Iran and Syria shifts the balance of power in the region decisively. He does not spell out how if might translate into a military threat but does suggest that it offers the Palestinians a window of political opportunity if they “end their internal quarrels,… form a government of national unity, and seek recognition of it from the United States and the European Union. He writes that,
“Israel now faces a formidable combination of adversaries, consisting of Turkey and Iran, the two regional heavyweights, as well as Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. Rarely has Israel’s strategic environment been so unfavourable — largely as a result of its own aggressive policies. ….
Turkey has since consolidated its position as a regional power by developing a vast network of relations in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Among Arab states, its relations with Syria have become particularly close. In contrast, Turkey has decided to review all its military and economic agreements with Israel, and to reduce its relations to a minimum, according to its deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc.
Only two short years ago, Iran and Syria stood alone against Israel. When Israel F16s bombed Syria’s alleged nuclear reactor in 2007, they dodged Syrian efforts to block their way home by veering to safety over Turkey. That airspace is now closed to Israel. More importantly, the supreme effort made by the Bush administration to legitimize this seemingly authoritarian “Shiite Axis” by championing a counter bloc of Middle Eastern states — Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel — has collapsed. This axis – termed “the moderate states” - presumably represented a great Sunni consensus of the Arab world, at least that was the hope – and it was on Israel’s side against Iran.
This improbable coalition justified its existence with two strategic goals: containing Iran and solving the Arab Israeli conflict. President Bush’s foreign policy team spent much energy pushing together its two most important regional allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. The foundation of this agreement was a grand bargain: Saudi Arabia would support Israel’s drive to rally the world against Iran and Israel would engaged the Palestinians and moved ahead with the Fahd Plan. This deal was particularly attractive to Washington because it promised harmony between America’s two main interests – oil and Israel, not to mention stanching the terrible damage done to the US by the Jazeera effect and on-going Palestinian suffering.
Bush’s peace plan for the Palestinians was even worse. In theory, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were to throw their weight behind Israel’s efforts to destroy Hizbullah, promote the PLO, and bringing down Hamas in return for Washington’s promise to convince Israeli authorities to accept the two state solution and King Fahd plan. The only problem was that Israel had no intention of stopping its galloping expansion of settlements, and Washington had no intention or ability to make it do so. What is more, Israel failed to crush Hizbullah and Hamas, leaving them wounded but all the more determined to make a comeback and seek revenge. Israel has calculated that Saudi Arabia and Egypt will help Israel and the US contain Iran even if there is no resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jerusalem is convinced that it can have its cake and eat it too. Of course, Israel will have to be tough and put its chin down in the face of World griping and US criticism, but it is convinced that in the end, the danger posed by Iran to Arabs in the Gulf will prevail over Saudi concerns about Palestinian welfare.
Most Arabs were not fooled by the Bush administrations promises of peace. They understood that his objective was to extend US power in the region. They witnessed that his soaring rhetoric about Democracy and human rights was empty when it came to Iraq, which they watched descend into chaos and misery. There was a time when Washington could simply say “trust us,” America has high goals and the power to succeed. Those days a long gone.
Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to revise the Bush strategy. His rhetoric of extended hands, engagement and real peace was convincing for a brief moment. Many believed that Obama, unlike Bush, really meant what he said about the two-state solution and stopping settlements. Disappointment was quick. When Obama punted on the settlement freeze, it was clear that he would be as powerless to change Israel’s behavior. Netanyahu stared him down in a New York minute, leaving no doubt about his intention to retain the West Bank and the Golan for Israel.
So where does this leave Obama? It leaves him with a watered down Bush plan, the foundation of which is a grand bargain — one based on a compromise between Israeli and US interests in the Middle East. America will support Israel in stopping Iran if Israel supports America in ending the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the two state solution and 242. The problem with this elegant deal is that no one is taking it. Israel will only pretend to make progress on the Palestine issue and Obama will pretend to stop Iran’s progress toward nuclear capability.
The Islamic world, in the mean time, is cheering for Iran. This is for two reasons. It is because of US and Israeli injustice on the Palestine issue and because the world wants Iran’s oil and improved economic prospects in their region. Few are convinced that Iran poses a true threat. They don’t want to see a protracted conflict between the US and Iran, that will further impoverish and destabilize their region.
The US is getting mired in an unachievable policy. Iran cannot be contained for ever. Israel will not give the Palestinians a viable state. All the same, the US Senate has voted overwhelmingly to enforce very strict economic sanctions on institutions that do business with Iran. The US is trapped in its bad decisions. This will eventually damage the US -Israel relationship, but not before the US loses more influence and business in the Middle East. Middle powers, such as Turkey, will increasingly be joined by China, Russia and other emerging states, it is turn away from the US and its ill conceived policy in the region.
[End of Commentary]
Exploiting the Mideast power vacuum
The leaderships of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel would serve their shared strategic interests best by creating a new relationship, which would also include a regional approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
By Tommy Steiner, Haaretz
…..The power vacuum created by dwindling Western influence in the Middle East, far more than its realization that EU membership is not on the cards, is guiding Turkey in shaping a neo-Ottoman regional strategy. To be sure, this strategy has not emerged overnight; it was, rather, based on an incremental build-up of Turkey’s own economic power and a warming of relations with two states it previously regarded as adversaries, Iran and Syria. Turkey and Iran now share extensive commercial ties. For instance, Iran accounts for 30 percent of energy-resource imports to Turkey, while the latter is becoming a major investor in the former’s gas sector. Turkey has also sought to cultivate closer relations with Syria, marked by a high-profile joint military exercise in 2009.
Furthermore, the future of Iraq appears to have solidified this triangular relationship into a strategic partnership: With the upcoming departure of U.S. troops, Iran’s, Turkey’s and Syria’s complementary interests and aspired-to spheres of influence in Iraq are encouraging the formation of a political crescent of allies, stretching across the northern periphery of the Middle East, with Iraq’s future to be determined. Emboldened, the two more powerful partners seek to jointly enhance their projection of power across the Middle East – hence their respective involvement in allegedly supporting the Palestinian cause. However, the Iranian and Turkish pro-Palestinian campaigns are at odds with the Palestinian Authority, and are, rather, aimed at supporting Hamas, an Iranian proxy backed by Syria…..
As the U.S. is viewed in the neighborhood as incapable of containing the expanding power of the northern crescent, the two main Arab regional powers, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are forming a southern crescent to protect their vital interests – from Iraq, through the Arabian Peninsula to Gaza – and to contain a potentially nuclear-backed northern alliance. … The leaderships of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel would serve their shared strategic interests best by creating a new relationship, which would also include a regional approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. From the Israeli perspective, this strategy is not risk-free, but Israel, as the rest of the Western world, has a vested interest in preserving political stability – among and within – the countries comprising the southern periphery of the Middle East.
70% of all supplies for US troops in Iraq go through the Incirlik base in Turkey.
Suppose Turkey Transfers U.S. Technology and Tactics to Iran and Syria
Written by JINSA
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
As a member of NATO, Turkey has access to a wide array of American technology that, if compromised, could spell real danger for U.S. operations in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and threaten allies that rely on American equipment and training. Turkey’s increasingly close relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and, recently, Russia, should cause the United States to monitor Turkey closely with an eye toward the damage that could be done to American interests…. The big risk is that the intelligence services, conflating their very strong hatred of Israel with their support of Israel’s – and America’s – enemies, will grab equipment and information from the Turkish military and share it with those enemies…. Turkey has the third largest air force in NATO… Turkey also has four AWACS aircraft that can be used to direct air battles – their own or those of their new allies.
The Gaza Flotilla Incident: Impact on Three Key Arab Actors
By Robert Satloff, June 22, 2010, WINEP
Syria: Increasing Irrelevance
One obvious implication of Turkey’s decisions to side with Iran against Washington in the nuclear standoff and to dismantle its strategic partnership with Israel is that any role for Ankara as a mediator on the Israeli-Syrian peace track is now over, at least as long as Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is in power. Of course, there is more talk of war than diplomacy on this front in recent days. Just last week, for example, Syrian president Bashar al-Asad told the BBC that war was likely. Whether Asad has the savvy to manage this sensitive moment is unclear.
Recent events have also fueled talk about the emergence of a full-fledged “northern alliance” that would include Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Ironically, such a development would almost certainly limit Asad’s strategic options and come at Syria’s expense. Until now, Damascus has viewed its improving relations with Ankara as a strategic alternative to its growing dependence on Iran. But it would not be to Asad’s advantage to find himself as the junior partner in an alliance between regional heavyweights Turkey and Iran. Indeed, the way regional politics are shifting, he may even find himself as a less important player than the fourth leg of the “northern alliance” table, Hassan Nasrallah’s Hizballah.
If Asad were a shrewd leader, now would be the moment for him to test the diplomatic waters with Israel; he may find the Israelis willing to pay handsomely in a peace deal that would effectively sever the link between Ankara and Tehran. But Asad has shown remarkably little strategic creativity during his years in power, other than a penchant for ceding his independent decisionmaking to lesser powers in Lebanon. Accordingly, the end result for Syria of Erdogan’s emergence as a modern-day Nasser is much the same as the emergence of the original Nasser a half-century ago — it heralds further decline in relevance for the rulers in Damascus.
Soner Cagaptay: “On the diplomatic front, the AKP has withdrawn its ambassador from Israel and is refusing to send him back, despite Israeli attempts to salvage the relationship. At best, relations will remain where they are for the foreseeable future: at rock bottom.”
BYE BYE ISRAEL, WELCOME SYRIA!
Trade flourishes as Syria befriends old foe Turkey
by Khaled Yacoub Oweis
ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) – Turkish delicacies are unashamedly on display in Syria’s culinary capital. Aleppo merchants are switching to imports from Turkey, and buses ferry shoppers to an upscale mall across the border.
A warming of once-chilly Turkish-Syrian ties has unleashed a one-way trade boom. A trade deal activated two years ago has cut tariffs and reduced smuggling. Visa requirements were abolished.
Turkey’s popularity in Syria soared after an Israeli raid on Gaza-bound aid ships in which nine Turks were killed on May 31.
“Turkey now has a stake in the Palestinian cause, and Syria stands to gain,” a diplomat said. “It will be more difficult for Israel to launch any military action against Syria.”
The furor over the flotilla interception has also deflected attention from Israeli and U.S. pressure on Damascus over its alleged arms supplies to the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group.
Syrians have traditionally looked askance at their powerful northern neighbor, which ruled them during the Ottoman Empire, but many are now seeing secular Muslim Turkey, a NATO member with an Islamist-leaning government, in a new light.
“It’s time to shed the stigma we have had about Turkey. They’re no longer Ottoman, but a development model for the Arab East,” said Abdelqader al-Deiri, a Syrian businessman who now buys restaurant equipment from Turkey instead of Europe.
“Transport costs are lower, but Turkish goods do not compete on price alone. They make high quality,” added Deiri, who often vacations in Turkey. His eight-year-old son is learning Turkish.
“We have to admit that the Turks make better sweets than us. The pistachios and butter are better, so is the workmanship,” he said, munching on a baklava slice from Gaziantep.
Viewing Syria as a gateway to the Middle East, Turkey has moved in recent years to solve old disputes with Arab governments while becoming more critical toward Israel.
Ankara mediated indirect Syria-Israel peace talks that were broken off when Israel attacked the Gaza Strip in 2008.
“Syria is an important country as a growing market, a promising economic partner, plus it has an important place in regional issues,” Turkish ambassador Omer Onhon told Reuters. “So it’s only natural that our relations have improved.”
Israel as a Strategic Liability?
Anthony H. Cordesman, CSIS June 2, 2010
America’s ties to Israel are not based primarily on U.S. strategic interests. At the best of times, an Israeli government that pursues the path to peace provides some intelligence, some minor advances in military technology, and a potential source of stabilizing military power that could help Arab states like Jordan. Even then, however, any actual Israeli military intervention in an Arab state could prove as destabilizing as beneficial. The fact is that the real motives behind America’s commitment to Israel are moral and ethical. They are a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, to the entire history of Western anti-Semitism, and to the United States’ failure to help German and European Jews during the period before it entered World War II. They are a product of the fact that Israel is a democracy that shares virtually all of the same values as the United States.
The U.S. commitment to Israel is not one that will be abandoned. The United States has made this repeatedly clear since it first recognized Israel as a state, and it has steadily strengthened the scale of its commitments since 1967. The United States has provided Israel with massive amounts of economic aid and still provides enough military assistance to preserve Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors. The United States has made it clear that any U.S. support for Arab-Israeli peace efforts must be based on options that preserve Israel’s security, and its recent announcements that it will consider “extended regional deterrence” are code words for a U.S. commitment that could guard Israel, as well as its neighbors, against an Iranian nuclear threat.
At the same time, the depth of America’s moral commitment does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset. It does not mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbors. It does not mean that the United States has the slightest interest in supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or that the United States should take a hard-line position on Jerusalem that would effectively make it a Jewish rather than a mixed city. It does not mean that the United States should be passive when Israel makes a series of major strategic blunders–such as persisting in the strategic bombing of Lebanon during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, escalating its attack on Gaza long after it had achieved its key objectives, embarrassing the U.S. president by announcing the expansion of Israeli building programs in east Jerusalem at a critical moment in U.S. efforts to put Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, or sending commandos to seize a Turkish ship in a horribly mismanaged effort to halt the “peace flotilla” going to Gaza.
It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world…..
The Return of the Ottomans
By Lee Smith, The Weekly Standard, 28 June 2010
A few months back, I was dining with a friend at an Armenian restaurant in Beirut, and at the end of the meal he gracefully sidestepped the Turkish question by ordering a “Byzantine” coffee. The waiter laughed grimly. “Aside from coffee and waterpipes,” asked my friend, “what did the Turks leave us? They were here for 500 years, and they didn’t even leave us their language. We speak Arabic, French, and English. No one speaks Turkish. Their most important political institutions were baksheesh and the khazouk.”
Baksheesh is bribery, and the khazouk is a spike driven through its victim’s rectum, which the Ottomans used to terrify locals and deter potential insurgents. The Ottomans were hated here and throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East, not only by the regional minorities (Christians, Jews, Shia, etc.) but also by their Sunni Arab coreligionists. All felt the heavy yoke of the Sublime Porte.
In the last few weeks, however, half a millennium’s worth of history has been conveniently forgotten, perhaps even forgiven, as Turkey has emerged as a regional power and the guarantor of Arab interests—against Israel, to be sure, but more importantly against Iran.
DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and visiting Jordanian King Abdullah II on Thursday blamed Israel for blocking peace efforts in the Middle East, the official SANA news agency reported.
Assad, on the eve of his first Latin American tour, and Abdullah also demanded that Israel lift “the inhuman blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip,” the agency said.
It said the two leaders called for “a common international position to face up to the policies of the Israeli government which is blocking peace efforts and any chance of reaching a comprehensive peace” in the region.
Israel’s Isolation Deepens
Netanyahu Decries ‘Offensive of Hypocrisy’; New Strains on Trade, Cultural Ties
By CHARLES LEVINSON And JAY SOLOMON in the WSJ
JERUSALEM—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused his nation’s critics Wednesday of an “international offensive of hypocrisy,” as the growing diplomatic crisis over the raid on a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists threatened to deepen Israel’s isolation from much of the rest of the world.
Israel’s Indefensible Behavior
Don’t blame the commandos for the flotilla disaster. Blame Israel’s leaders, who enforce the cruel and corrupt Gaza embargo, and their supporters in America.
Peter Beinart – the Daily Beast
“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin but he who causes the darkness.” In the late 1960s, when America’s cities burned, Martin Luther King often quoted that line, which he borrowed from Victor Hugo. But it applies equally well to the catastrophe that occurred yesterday in international waters off the Gaza Strip.
It is not the Israeli naval commandos who should be judged guilty. Upon dismounting their helicopter onto the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, they found themselves, unexpectedly, in the belly of an armed mob. Anyone who thinks American troops would have acted with greater restraint should cast their mind back to October 1993, when U.S. Special Forces rappelled down from their Black Hawk helicopters into a sea of Somali militiamen, and killed or wounded perhaps a thousand of them as they shot their way to safety.
In the name of solidarity, we have practiced denial. In the name of anti-terrorism, we have justified the brutalization of innocents.
No, the guilt lies with the Israeli leaders who oversee the Gaza embargo, and with Israel’s American supporters, who have averted their eyes. Yesterday’s events are the most dramatic example yet of why the epidemic of not watching must end.