The unraveling of the al Assad regime in Syria will produce many geopolitical consequences. One potential consequence has garnered a great deal of media attention in recent days: the possibility of the regime losing control of its chemical weapons stockpile. In an interview aired July 30 on CNN, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said it would be a “disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands — hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area.” When he mentioned other extremists, Panetta was referring to local and transnational jihadists, such as members of the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting with other opposition forces against the Syrian regime. He was also referring to the many Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which have long had a presence in Syria and until recently have been supported by the al Assad regime.
The fear is that the jihadists will obtain chemical weapons to use in terrorist attacks against the West. Israel is also concerned that Palestinian groups could use them in terrorist attacks inside Israel or that Hezbollah could use such weapons against the Israelis in a conventional military battle. However, while the security of these weapons is a legitimate concern, it is important to recognize that there are a number of technical and practical considerations that will limit the impact of these weapons even if a militant group were able to obtain them.
Militant Use of Chemical Weapons
Militant groups have long had a fascination with chemical weapons. One of the largest non-state chemical and biological weapons programs in history belonged to the Aum Shinrikyo organization in Japan. The group had large production facilities located in an industrial park that it used to produce thousands of gallons of ineffective biological agents. After the failure of its biological program, it shifted its focus to chemical weapons production and conducted a number of attacks using chemical agents such as hydrogen cyanide gas, phosgene and VX and sarin nerve agents.
Jihadists have also demonstrated an interest in chemical weapons. The investigation of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing found that bombmaker Abdul Basit (aka Ramzi Yousef) had added sodium cyanide to the large vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated in the Trade Center’s basement parking garage. The cyanide was either consumed or so widely scattered by the huge blast that its effects were not noticed at the time of the attack. The presence of the cyanide was only uncovered after investigators found a list of the chemicals ordered by conspirator Nidal Ayyad and debriefed Basit after his arrest.
In his testimony at his 2001 trial for the Millennium Bomb plot, Ahmed Ressam described training he had received at al Qaeda’s Deronta facility in Afghanistan for building a hydrogen cyanide device. Ressam said members of the group had practiced their skills, using the gas to kill a dog that was confined in a small box.
Videos found by U.S. troops after the invasion of Afghanistan supported Ressam’s testimony — as did confiscated al Qaeda training manuals that contained recipes for biological toxins and chemical agents, including hydrogen cyanide gas. The documents recovered in Afghanistan prompted the CIA to publish a report on al Qaeda’s chemical and biological weapons program that created a lot of chatter in late 2004.
There have been other examples as well. In February 2002, Italian authorities arrested several Moroccan men who were found with about 4 kilograms (9 pounds) of potassium ferrocyanide and allegedly were planning to attack the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
In June 2006, Time magazine broke the story of an alleged al Qaeda plot to attack subways in the United States using improvised devices designed to generate hydrogen cyanide gas. The plot was reportedly aborted because the al Qaeda leadership feared it would be ineffective.
In 2007, jihadist militants deployed a series of large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices augmented with chlorine gas against targets in Iraq. However, the explosives in these attacks inflicted far more casualties than the gas. This caused the militants to deem the addition of chlorine to the devices as not worth the effort, and the Iraqi jihadists abandoned their chemical warfare experiment in favor of employing vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices without a chemical kicker.
There have also been several credible reports in Iraq of militants using chemical artillery rounds in improvised explosive device attacks against coalition forces, but those attacks also appear to have been largely ineffective.
Difficult to Employ
Using chemical munitions on the battlefield presents a number of challenges. The first of these is sufficiently concentrating the chemical agent to affect the targeted troops. In order to achieve heavy concentrations of the agent, chemical weapon attacks were usually delivered by a massive artillery bombardment using chemical weapons shells. Soviet military chemical weapons doctrine relied heavily on weapons systems such as batteries of BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, which can be used to deliver a massive amount of ordnance to a targeted area. Additionally, it is very difficult to control the gas cloud created by the massive barrage. There were instances in World War I and in the Iran-Iraq War in which troops were affected by chemical weapon clouds that had been created by their own artillery but had blown back upon them.
Delivering a lethal dose is also a problem in employing chemical weapons in terrorist attacks, as seen by the attacks outlined above. For example, in the March 20, 1995, attack on the Tokyo subway system, Aum Shinrikyo members punctured 11 plastic bags filled with sarin on five different subway trains. Despite the typically very heavy crowds on the trains and in the Tokyo subway stations that morning, the attacks resulted in only 12 deaths — although thousands of other commuters were sickened by the attack, some severely.
The Syrian regime is thought to have mustard gas as well as tabun, sarin and VX nerve agents in its chemical weapons inventory. Mustard gas, a blistering agent, is the least dangerous of these compounds. In World War I, less than 5 percent of the troops who were exposed to mustard gas died. Tabun and sarin tend to be deployed in a volatile liquid form that evaporates to form a gas. Once in gas form, these agents tend to dissipate somewhat quickly. VX, on the other hand, a viscous nerve agent, was developed to persist in an area after it is delivered in order to prevent an enemy force from massing in or passing through that area. While VX is more persistent, it is more difficult to cause a mass casualty attack with it since droplets of the liquid agent must come into contact with the victim, unlike other agents that evaporate to form a large cloud.
But there are other difficulties besides delivering a lethal dose. Because of improvements in security measures and intelligence programs since 9/11, it has proved very difficult for jihadists to conduct attacks in the West, even when their attack plans have included using locally manufactured explosives. There have been numerous cases in which plots have either failed, like the May 2010 Times Square attack involving Faisal Shahzad, or been detected and thwarted, like the September 2009 plot to attack the New York subway system involving Najibullah Zazi.
Because of the improved security, it would be very difficult for jihadists to smuggle chemical agents into the United States or Europe, even if they were able to obtain them. Indeed, as mentioned above, the chemical artillery rounds used in improvised explosive devices in Iraq were employed in that country, not smuggled out of the region.
This means that jihadists not only face the tactical problem of effectively employing the agent in an attack but also the logistical problem of transporting it to the West. This difficulty of transport will increase further as awareness of the threat increases. One way around the logistical problem would be to use the agent against a soft target in the region. Such targets could include hotels, tourist sites, airport arrival lounges or even Western airliners departing from airports with less than optimal security.
Another option for jihadists or Palestinian militants could be to attempt to smuggle the chemical agent into Israel for use in an attack. However, in recent years, increased security measures following past suicide bombing attacks in Israel have caused problems for militant groups smuggling weapons into Israel. The same problems would apply to chemical agents — especially since border security has already been stepped up again due to the increased flow of weapons from Libya to Gaza.
Militants could attempt to solve this logistical challenge by launching a warhead or a barrage of warheads into Israel using rockets, but such militant rocket fire tends to be very inaccurate and, like conventional rocket warheads, these chemical warheads would be unlikely to hit any target of value. Even if a rocket landed in a populated area, it would be unlikely to produce many casualties due to the problem of creating a lethal concentration of the agent — although it would certainly cause a mass panic.
The use of chemical weapons would also undoubtedly spur Israel to retaliate heavily in order to deter additional attacks. This threat of massive retaliation has kept Syria from using chemical weapons against Israel or allowing its militant proxies to use them.
Hezbollah may be the militant organization in the region that could most effectively utilize Syrian chemical munitions. The group possesses a large inventory of artillery rockets, which could be used to deliver the type of barrage attack required for a successful chemical weapon attack. Rumors have been swirling around the region for many months that Libyan rebels sold some chemical munitions to Hezbollah and Hamas. While we have seen confirmed reports that man-portable air-defense systems and other Libyan weapons are being smuggled into Sinai en route to Gaza, there has been no confirmation that chemical rounds are being smuggled out of Libya.
Still, even if Hezbollah were to receive a stockpile of chemical munitions from Syria or Libya, it has a great deal to lose by employing such munitions. First, it would have to face the aforementioned massive retaliation from Israel. While Israel was somewhat constrained in its attacks on Hezbollah’s leadership and infrastructure in the August 2006 war, it is unlikely to be nearly as constrained in responding to a chemical weapon attack on its armed forces or a population center. Because of the way chemical weapons are viewed, the Israelis would be seen internationally as having just cause for massive retaliation. Second, Hezbollah would face severe international repercussions over any such attack. As an organization, Hezbollah has been working for many years to establish itself as a legitimate political party in Lebanon and avoid being labeled as a terrorist organization in Europe and elsewhere. A chemical weapon attack would bring heavy international condemnation and would not be in the group’s best interest at this time.
So, while securing Syrian chemical munitions is an imperative, there are tactical and practical constraints that will prevent militants from creating the type of nightmare scenario discussed in the media, even if some chemical weapons fell into the wrong hands.
Turkey marks 60th anniversary as a member of NATO. As a loyal ally of NATO, Turkey made historic choice of siding with the Western Bloc and since 1952, it has served as a strategic partnership in the Middle East in favor of Western Bloc.
“Protocol regarding Turkey’s membership to NATO was signed on 17 October 1951. Law on the accession of Turkey to the North Atlantic Treaty was endorsed on 18 February 1952 and Turkey became a NATO member together with Greece.”
The aim of the foundation of NATO was to constitute a Western block against the Soviet Russia(USSR) after World War II. Although NATO was not a legitimate organization since its foundation, it completely lost its legitimacy after the collapse of USSR. But because it is an imperialist project, NATO always gets a new form through new strategic concepts. When we look at the activities of NATO, we can easily see that it serves to American hegemony.Unfortunately, Turkey was/is always with NATO and has passed all the loyalty tests of NATO perfectly.
After the Justice and Development Party has come to the power, there were some debates about the Turkish foreign policies. Many Western politicians and diplomats commented Turkey’s ‘zero problem policy’ as an axial dislocation and disengagement from the Western Bloc. But even in those days, Turkey was always loyal to NATO and its policies in the region.
Today, we want to discuss Turkey’s “love” of the NATO in detail. We will try to look at the historical process and Turkey’s function in the region in favor of NATO’s policies. In the end of this discussion, we will question whether Turkey is ‘always’ with Western Bloc or not.
”It is not possible to understand things that happened by means of ignoring relations between NATO’s strategic concepts and U.S.’s globally hegemonic strategies” says Akif Emre, from the Turkish Yeni Safak Newspaper. We can add to this comment that even every membership process of NATO is not independent of U.S.’s allowance and globally hegemonic policies. In other words, when Turkey chose of siding with Western Bloc, it knew that Turkey will conform with the U.S. policies.
“NATO membership gave Turkey a Westernized identity and provided her with a say on European security. In return, Turkey assumed the defense of the southeastern part of NATO against the soft underbelly of the Soviets,” says Retired Lieutenant General Şadi Erguvenc.
“Turkey joined this alliance in 1952, alongside with its western neighbor Greece; when it was seeking means to strengthen its defense policy. Located at the heart of Eurasia supercontinent, Turkey’s geopolitical value was incontestably substantial. This geopolitical value was doubled with its relative proximity to the USSR, for very evident reasons,” says Gunes Unuvar. “A global attention was drawn to the conflict between the West and the East for over five decades, and NATO members have rarely shifted their attention elsewhere. It was the case for Turkey, as well – the Soviet threat inevitably approximated Turkey and NATO allies, therefore and especially the USA. Given to its geopolitical significance, Turkey was an important regional power which the USA particularly praised. With their foreign priorities and their shared notion of ‘threat’ during the Cold War, it was only normal that Turkey – NATO relationship was a crucial aspect of the very existence of NATO.”
As Sofia Hafdell says, with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a new, uncertain world order, new members were incorporated into NATO from the former Eastern bloc, in turn testing Turkey’s strategic importance in its relations with the Western world. The perception of Turkey as a determined ally to NATO persisted, however, through its engagements by the US in the first Gulf War. While the underlying political structures had changed in the post-Cold War era, NATO and Turkey worked together to respond to the range of new risks and challenges resulting from an increasingly changing world order.
“Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, NATO adopted its act of collective defense against external threats under Article 5. Since then, the more diverse security environment led to NATO engagements far beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, and provided new importance to Turkey given its geographical and cultural position in contemporary ‘out of area’ missions” she says. “For example, Turkey’s strategic geography has helped facilitate European involvement in Afghanistan where Turkish troops have been stationed since 2001, holding command of the Kabul–‐based International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) both in 2002 and 2005”
Turkey’s contributions to NATO are put in order by U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs as follows:
“The Republic of Turkey has contributed forces to international missions under the banners of the United Nations and NATO since 1952, including peacekeeping missions in Somalia and the Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, support to coalition forces in the Operation Desert Storm, and in the global war on terror.
Beginning in December 1995, the U.S. and several of its allies deployed peacekeeping forces to Bosnia for Operation Joint Endeavor. That contingent, known as Task Force Eagle, was comprised of 20,000 American Soldiers and forces from 12 other nations, including Turkey. The task force implemented the Dayton Agreement, the peace treaty that put an end to the three-and-a-half year war in Bosnia.
Soon afterward Turkish forces provided assistance in another Balkan region when they supported the NATO-led peacekeeping force known as the Kosovo Force. Turkey, along with other military forces, entered Kosovo in 1999 to support the NATO mandate to deter hostility, establish and maintain a secure environment, and demilitarize the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Turkey has played a key role in the global war on terror and helped to establish peace and security in Iraq and Afghanistan. Turkish forces have been deployed to Afghanistan since 2001 as part of the U.S. stabilization force and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. Since then Turkey has twice held the leadership of ISAF, has helped train thousands members of the Afghan National Army; has spent nearly $1 million dollars on anti-narcotics efforts; and has operated two fully equipped hospitals, two clinics and two mobile clinics that have treated around 650,000 patients annually.
Turkey provided extensive logistical support to American troops in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, including humanitarian airlift operations, refueling and sustainment operations and other military operations.
Recently European countries throughout NATO have joined with the U.S to begin laying the framework for a NATO-led missile defense shield in Europe. Turkey chose to support the development of the shield and the stationing of an early warning radar system on its soil.”
On the other hand, “we’ve had a long-standing military partnership with the Turkish Land Forces, we’ve trained together, we’ve fought together, and because of that close relationship and those experiences, our U.S. Soldiers are better trained and prepared and I believe, the Turkish Soldiers are as well,” said USAREUR Commander Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling in a USAREUR release about the general’s December visit and discussion with Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. Hayri Kivrikoglu.
NATO-Turkey Relations after the Cold War
“In the post-Cold War world, the role of NATO and Turkey’s position within it has changed as both parties have had to adapt to new security challenges and keep the Alliance relevant and efficient,” says Menekse Tokyay. “With its active participation in a number of NATO missions, ranging from Afghanistan to Libya and the Balkans, Turkey has demonstrated that it is committed to playing a responsible leadership role within its strategic region and beyond.”
In the document of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the changing concepts of NATO are mentioned as follows:
“In recognition of the need to adapt itself to post Cold war realities, NATO has for some time been undergoing a comprehensive transformation process. The basic elements of this process were reflected in the Strategic Concepts of 1991, 1999 and lastly in the new Strategic Concept of 2010. This is a process of both internal and external adaptation. On one hand, NATO undergoes its forces through a comprehensive modernization process to preserve its collective defense and crisis response capabilities. On the other hand, the Alliance with the perception of ‘security based on cooperation’ reinforces its present political and military partnership mechanisms and also frames new ones to develop its ‘soft power’ capacity. The Partnership for Peace Program, Mediterranean Dialogue, NATO-Russia Council and NATO-Ukraine Commission, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, relations with Contact Countries and comprehensive dialogue and cooperation built with Afghanistan and Pakistan are concrete examples to demonstrate NATO’s determination to this end. Furthermore, NATO’s open door policy and its collaboration with other international organizations such as the UN, OSCE and the EU prevail as important elements on this area.”
On the other hand, according to Assoc. Prof. Selcuk Colakoglu, there are different processes which correspond to different strategic concepts.
“Throughout the 1990s, NATO’s basic mission was to ensure that the countries of Eastern Europe made a rapid transition from communism and that they raised their standards as far as human rights were concerned. Mainly using the instruments of soft power, the goal of helping the countries of Eastern Europe to prepare for membership in the alliance was successfully completed with twelve of these countries becoming members between 1999 and 2009. The same humanitarian considerations led to air operations being successfully carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999, and civil wars in these two countries were stopped” he says. “The terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11 caused a radical alteration in NATO’s security concept. The alliance discarded the concept of soft power which it had adopted in the 1990s and returned to its former approach of hard power against international terrorism and radical groups. To this end, NATO launched a military operation against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan on the grounds that it had given shelter to the terrorist organization al-Qaida. Afghanistan was outside the North Atlantic region which until then had been the geographic area for the alliance’s security operations. However, during its period in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011, despite all its military and civilian casualties, NATO failed to score the sort of success it was hoping for against the Taliban, something which raised questions about the use of land forces and military power.”
Axial Dislocation Debates and Missile Shield Radars…
Up to the ‘axial dislocation’ debates about Turkish foreign policies, it was taken into account as one of the most loyal members of NATO. But, when Turkey’s foreign policy turned its face towards to East, many commentators supposed that Turkey is abandoning Western Bloc and after this day, anything will be like former. But, all these anxieties got lost after Turkey’s acceptance of hosting missile shield radars on its soil in the NATO Summit in Lisbon-2010.
Although Turkish Foreign Minister said that Lisbon Summit was not a loyalty test because there is no any country that tests us like this; actually, his explanations were very optimistic because the U.S. generally has first call on Turkey’s issue. On the other hand, as Mostafa Zein emphasizes, “Turkey has never faced such a test in the past. It is true that it refrained from allowing the United States to invade Iraq from its soil, and sided with Iran in many stances, the latest being voting at the Security Council against sanctions on Iran.
However, this time its options are not many, especially after having crossed a great distance towards establishing itself as a regional power that has its own strategy in the Middle East and in Central Asia, far from the policies of NATO and the United States. Will it then abandon its new Ottomanism to follow Atatürk’s dreams of being European?“
Here, remembering the debates of axial dislocation will be very productive:
“As Turkey’s relations with Israel continue to deteriorate, its foreign policy has come under scrutiny in the West. The diplomatic spat between the two countries led to a trenchant bipartisan letter being sent to the White House criticizing Turkish policy and questioning its commitment to NATO” says Avnish Patel. “In other quarters, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is being accused of expressing a renascent ‘neo-Ottomanism’ as he re-aligns Turkey as a beacon for the Arab and Islamic world in the wake of the Arab Spring. The escalating hostile rhetoric towards Israel is indicative of a leader keen to shore up Islamist support domestically and to a wider regional audience.”
After these comments, Patel focuses on Turkey’s position on different issues in favor of NATO and the West.
“Yet Turkey is still an indispensible member of NATO and is still pragmatically robust against traditional Western enemies in the form of Iran and Syria” he says. “The decision to host the radar, being integral to the EPAA, politically reaffirms Turkey’s commitment to NATO. In the post-Cold War security environment it is a hardnosed security decision, indicating that Turkey is firmly under the Alliance’s security umbrella and forewarning those with hostile intentions towards it. In the talks preceding the declaration at the Lisbon Summit, Turkey campaigned that its regional neighbours (in particular Iran) not be named as a specific potential threat. There was an insistence on proclaiming the defensive nature of the Missile Defence system rather than explicitly antagonizing any single country. Despite these positive intentions linked to the ‘zero problems’ foreign policy as espoused by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Iranian fears have predictably not been assuaged. Whilst Turkey’s positioning within the EPAA secures its position within NATO, clarification is required on the issue of data-sharing with Israel. Presently the US has remained coy on the subject and further risks inflaming the current impasse between Turkey and Israel. Transparency is required on the US intention to collate data from Turkish, Israeli and other radar sites to create a comprehensive picture of the missile threat.”
“Turkey’s interests and hyper-active foreign policy sometimes result in a divergence from NATO or the stance of individual member states. However, experts note that initial disagreements between the parties end up with the alignment of Turkey’s policies with those of the Alliance,” says Menekse Tokyay. “The NATO-led military intervention in Libya and the anti-missile defense shield are often cited as recent examples.”
On the other hand, as NATO prepares to announce the completion of the first important phase of its ambitious nuclear missile defense system during the alliance’s Chicago summit this month, Turkey’s decision last September to host the early warning radar system for the shield has proved to be a turning point in the government’s relations with the West, said Professor Mustafa Aydın, the rector of Kadir Has University.
His answer to the question “Many believe Turkey’s decision to host the radars for NATO’s nuclear defense shield was a turning point in Turkey’s relations with the alliance and the U.S. Do you share this view?” in his interview, deserves to be thought over it:
“I agreed that it has been a very important turning point, but this decision was not just limited to refreshing mutual confidence. I look at the bigger picture. Turkey’s links to the West were questioned. Recall the discussions on whether Turkey was changing its axis. There was confusion. The [nuclear defense shield] decision is a psychological sign that Turkey, under the ruling Justice and Development Party, has chosen its side. What does Turkey want? It wants to be powerful in its region. It wants to have good relations in its neighborhood. But when it comes to joint decisions about the future of the world, Turkey says ‘We still want to move together with the West and want to cooperate more with the U.S.,’ and this [hosting the radars] is not an isolated decision. Look at the change in rhetoric of the politicians. Take the example of Syria. Turkey and the U.S. have similar policies and similar rhetoric on Syria. It was absolutely the opposite a bit ago. Turkey’s prime minister went to Egypt and told the Egyptians to have a secular constitution. Was his message to Egyptians, to Turks or to the West? We need to ask this question as the amount of oil bought from Iran starts to diminish. All these are messages that say ‘I will act with the West in shaping the world; I want to be an influential country in this region, but I’ll do this without cutting my links to the West’.”
The Arab Spring Process and Turkey’s role in the Middle East…
“Turkey’s increasing regional role makes it a strategic ally to NATO following dramatic changes in many Middle Eastern and North African countries. As these countries still transform, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen sees Turkey’s role in this region as crucial for the new strategic environment and future partnerships not only because of its size and location, but also with respect to its cultural and historical experience with neighboring countries” says Sofia Hafdell. “Further, the Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz believes that Turkey’s economic growth, Muslim identity, democratic values, and links with the West both as an EU-candidate country and military ally serve as criteria by which Turkey can act as a model for many countries in the MENA(Middle East and North Africa) region.”
Moreover, “Commemorative Meeting for the 60th Anniversary of Turkey’s Participation in NATO” in Istanbul Aydin University, it is said that in the context of events in North Africa and the Middle East Turkey, with its expertise and experience, has a special role as to the future in the region. “Turkey can rightfully claim its place as a leader and mentor in democracy, promoting a more peaceful, cooperative and prosperous Mediterranean and Middle East. NATO can and should firmly support Turkey in this role, because the security of NATO and of Turkey depends on the relationships that we forge beyond our borders. Turkey thus shapes security for the Alliance.”
In contrast to these comments, Mostafa Zein criticizes Turkey’s role in the Middle East in favor of NATO.
“Turkey does not get its reputation from the history of its empire, despite the theories of its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and despite the attempt to renew Ottomanism and return to the country’s roots and to its neighborhood, after the illusion of exile to Europe. Neither does it get its reputation from the history of its army, which ruled it and upheld ‘its secularism and its democracy’ until the Justice and Development Party (AKP – Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) came to power, nor from oppressing Kurds and forbidding them from speaking their language” he says. “Turkey gets its reputation and its power from being the second military force in the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). In other words, Turkey is the arm of the Europeans and the Americans in the Middle East, not to say the policeman entrusted with guarding Western interests, without being accepted into the European Union because of its ancient and modern Islamic history.”
“Such recent history could not be erased by the leader of the ruling AKP party Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His stances on Shimon Peres at the Davos forum, as well as his stance on the Gaza war, were only attempts at distinguishing himself from the Europeans and the Americans in order to prove that he had a regional role to play, without this meaning to depart from the interests of both, especially when it comes to issues that have a direct impact on his own domestic situation, such as his stance on the Iraq war.
Based on such a stance, Erdoğan started, from the first day of the events in Syria, behaving on the basis that this was an ‘internal Turkish matter’. He thus went on to exercise his policies on this basis. He hosted conferences for the Syrian opposition and adopted its slogans. Moreover, he contributed to shaping an Arab and international public opinion opposed to the Syrian regime, making use of the presence of those displaced from Jisr Al-Shughur on Turkish soil near the Syrian border.”
Moreover, according to Emine Deniz, Turkey is the key component for sustainable relationships between NATO and the Middle East and North Africa. As a NATO member, Turkey represents a military and economic bridge between the West and MENA. NATO must utilize Turkey’s connections to improve the Alliance’s relations with the region.
“Turkey’s importance is two-fold, political and military” she says. “As soon as the dictators were toppled, the most prominent concern in the Western world was the question of the Muslim Brothers and like groups and their rise to power. The legitimacy of this concern is open to discussion. However, I believe that Turkey’s contribution in the political arena to the region’s countries is not. Both the Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdogan and the President Abdullah Gul during their visits to the region emphasized the importance of a secular state. The idea of a secular state may seem trivial, but it is not. Coming from leaders of a political party known for their religious faithfulness, advice on a secular state means a lot to the region’s leaders. Democracy cannot be forced upon nations unless they ask for it themselves, and bottom top approaches are important for consolidation of democracy. Role modeling and mentorship become important in that case, and NATO has the best role model to present available in its alliance, Turkey.
The second point is military intervention, namely R2P. Being the second largest military power in NATO, Turkey is an important ally in military interventions conducted by NATO. The country’s importance doubles, even triples, in the region due to the aforementioned relationship. In many Middle East countries, the military is part of the ruling elite of the old regimes.”
As Sofia Hafdell said, after 60 years of membership in NATO, both Turkey and NATO have vested interests in continued cooperation. Turkey’s role in the alliance remains important due to its strategic geography in reaching beyond the Euro-Atlantic region.
But on the other hand, as Pepe Escobar says, Turkey can be NATOstan. “But Cold War remix it is, and Turkey runs the risk of being just a paw in their game. Profiting from NATO’s new Strategic Concept, the ultimate goal of the US global missile dome – complete with cyber warfare and Prompt Global Strike – is to encircle the heart of Eurasia and isolate, who else, Russia, Iran and China. War is peace. Welcome to the pleasure dome. Welcome to NATOstan.”
In other words, between all these ‘exciting’ scenarios, it is most probably that Turkey will be only pawn in this game rather than being a play maker.
Marking the 60th anniversary of Turkey’s accession to the North Atlantic Alliance, the Secretary General stressed the country’s vital role. “Turkey plays an important role in our operations and we are particularly grateful for your steadfast commitment to our ISAF operation. Turkey has an important voice in our decisions. And Turkey has a vital part to play in shaping our partnerships”, he said.
The Secretary General highlighted Turkey’s crucial leadership role as the Arab Spring unfolds.“Turkey does more than just share our security: you shape it. Your experience and your expertise in the Middle East and North Africa are invaluable. They benefit the whole of NATO.”
On the other hand, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has also said NATO is still the main pillar of Turkey’s vision 60 years after the country’s accession to the organization, while declaring Turkey needs NATO more than it did back then. “Turkey became a member of NATO as a result of a strategic decision it made in the Cold War era, and it has become one of the top contributors of NATO in its regional and global peace efforts in the past 60 years,” Davutoğlu said. “Although a lot has changed in NATO and in Turkey, one thing has not: NATO has remained the main pillar of Turkey’s strategic planning and vision,” he added.
Unfortunately, the statement of Ahmet Davutoğlu is very dangerous for Turkey’s future. In recent years, we are talking about Greater Middle East Project more than ever. In this picture Turkey’s relations with NATO and the U.S. is very crucial.
“During the NATO Chicago Summit in May, the alliance is set to agree on a range of key priorities, including smart defense, stability in North African and Middle Eastern countries, and the missile defense capability, to which Turkey’s position is crucial.” says Sofia Hafdell.
We hope that Turkey reviews its relations with the world’s military mafia-NATO- and produces particular policies in the Middle East independent of NATO and the U.S.
How does a prostitute make an officer reveal military secrets? Rather easily, according to evidence assembled against a group of Turkish officers who allegedly ran a sex-for-secrets ring.
The prostitute “accidentally” drives into the targeted officer’s car, seduces him, secretly films him in the act, and blackmails him. At least 80 people, 60 of them serving officers, have been arrested in connection with the “escort girls” case. This was launched in 2009 after police in the western port city of Izmir were tipped off by an anonymous e-mail. (Because of the highly sensitive nature of the case the prosecution has refused to reveal all of the evidence and a formal indictment is still pending.) Arrest warrants for 50 more officers were issued this month, after the shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria, on the ground that the honey trap was aimed at army personnel working at radar installations. Nineteen prostitutes have also been arrested pending trial.
The army’s pro-Islamic critics have eagerly seized on the case as further proof of its decadence. At least 362 serving military officers are being held in a separate case called “Ergenekon” on charges of seeking to overthrow the government of the Justice and Development Party (AK). The army, NATO’s second largest, has toppled four governments so far. In 2007 it threatened to do so again when the AK nominated Abdullah Gul as president. The fact that Mrs Gul covers her head was deemed by the generals to pose a threat to Ataturk’s republic. AK refused to budge, Mr Gul was duly elected and the army’s hold has been weakening ever since.
Yet even the generals’ fiercest detractors are beginning to worry that efforts to bring them under civilian control may be degenerating into a vendetta. Western observers agree that, although the army almost certainly contains coup-plotters, overzealous investigators may have doctored some of the evidence against officers and that innocents are being caught in their net. Paradoxically prosecutors have shown little interest in well-documented atrocities committed by the army during its scorched-earth campaign against Kurdish separatist rebels. Ihsan Tezel, a defence lawyer in the “escort girls” affair, insists that the prosecution’s case rests exclusively on the contents of the hard drive of a computer seized from the home of a businessman who is accused of being one of the ringleaders of the gang.
Another ongoing sex-for-secrets case brought against 54 officers in Istanbul has run into trouble. At a recent hearing, a 52-year-old woman named as one of the prostitutes broke down in tears as she produced a medical certificate proving that she was a virgin. And there is no evidence to suggest that the defendants were selling secret documents. The presiding judge has called for all of them to be acquitted. A final verdict is expected by the end of July.
Gareth Jenkins, an expert on the Turkish army, says that the barrage of cases has had a devastating impact on army morale. “How can they function effectively when they live in constant fear of being arrested?” he asks. Amid Turkish threats of retaliation against Syria, the question is growing more pertinent by the day.
Turkey is a paradox: it is secular and Islamic, modern and traditional, wants to be Western – yet tends to looks eastwards. But whatever Turkey is doing, it seems to be working.
Last year, Turkey emerged as a source of inspiration for countries in the Middle East during the Arab Spring; the country is now considered to be a regional superpower. Wherever Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan goes in the Arab world, he is mobbed by cheering crowds.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s dynamic economy is breaking records. In 2011, it became the fastest growing economy in Europe – and the second fastest in the world. Foreign businesses are queuing up to invest in Turkey.
Is it any wonder that the country is thus held up as “the model”, both for emerging economies and for Muslim-majority countries struggling with the transition to democracy? However, inside Turkey, some say liberal democracy and secular freedoms are under assault. There does seem to be a climate of fear in the country’s largest city. In Istanbul, I met nervous journalists and bloggers willing to speak only in hushed tones about the growing number of restrictions on free speech. Within 24 hours of our arrival, one of my Al Jazeera colleagues was detained by police officers, who went through his bag and rifled through one of our scripts. They loudly objected to a line referring to the country’s “increasingly authoritarian government”. Who says that Turks don’t do irony?
The Republic of Turkey now imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world; nearly 100 journalists are behind bars, according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Yes, that’s right: modern, secular, Western-oriented Turkey, with its democratically elected government, has locked away more members of the press than the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran combined.
But this isn’t just about the press – students, academics, artists and opposition MPs have all recently been targeted for daring to speak out against the government of Prime Minister Erdogan and his mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP. In February, Nuray Mert, a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper, was sacked and her TV show cancelled after she was publicly singled out for criticism by the prime minister. In May, Ali Akel, a conservative columnist for the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, was fired for daring to write a rare critical article about Erdogan’s handling of the Kurdish issue. In June, Fazil Say, one of Turkey’s leading classical pianists, was charged with “publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation” after he retweeted a few lines from a poem by the 11th century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, that mocked the Islamic vision of heaven.
Say’s trial is scheduled for October, and, if convicted, the pianist faces up to 18 months in prison. The irony is not lost on those Turks who remember how Erdogan himself was imprisoned in 1998, when he was mayor of Istanbul, for reading out a provocative poem.
Erdogan, re-elected as prime minister for the second time in June 2011 and now considered the most powerful Turkish leader since Kemal Ataturk, has become intolerant of criticism and seems bent on crushing domestic opposition.
“He is Putinesque,” says Mehmet Karli, a law lecturer at Galatasaray University, referring to reports that Erdogan plans to emulate the Russian leader’s switch from prime minister to president and thereby become the longest-serving leader in Turkish history. “Yes, he wins elections,” adds Karli. “But he does not respect the rights of those who do not vote [for] or support him.”
Let’s be clear: Turkey in the pre-Erdogan era was no liberal democratic nirvana. Since its creation in 1923, the republic has had to endure three military coups against elected governments: in 1960, 1971, and 1980. The AKP government is the first to succeed in neutering the military – and should be praised for doing so. Meanwhile, the ruling party’s paranoia is not wholly unjustified either: Turkey’s constitutional court was just one vote from banning the AKP in 2008, and a series of alleged anti-government plots and conspiracies were exposed in 2010 and 2011.
“I am concerned by the numbers [of imprisoned journalists] but they’re not all innocent,” the AKP MP Nursuna Memecan tells me. “Many of them were plotting against the government.” It’s a line echoed by her party leader. “It is hard for western countries to understand the problem because they do not have journalists who engage in coup attempts and who support and invite coups,” declared Erdogan in a speech in January.
Perhaps. But the AKP’s crackdown on dissent, on basic freedoms of speech and expression, has gone beyond all civilised norms. “We do need to expand free speech in Turkey,” admits Memecan.
Those of us who have long argued that elected Islamist parties should not be denied the opportunity to govern invested great hope in Erdogan and the AKP. But the truth is that Turkey cannot be the model, the template, for post-revolutionary, Muslim-majority countries such as Tunisia and Egypt – until it first gets its own house in order. To inspire freedom abroad, the Turkish government must first guarantee freedom at home.
Thursday marks the two-year anniversary of the 2010 flotilla incident, a crisis on the high seas that triggered a tailspin in Turkish-Israeli relations.
In the aftermath of the incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador and demanded an apology from Israel as well as reparations for the nine slain activists. Ankara even announced that its warships would escort future missions to Gaza.
Attempts to mend fences have stalled over the issue of an Israeli apology. With Turkey willing to accept nothing less than a full apology, and Israel for the moment unwilling to accommodate this demand, the two sides seem to be at an impasse.
Yet below the surface, not all is grim in Turkish-Israeli relations. Remarkably, economic ties have been flourishing between the two countries.
Turkish-Israeli economic ties took off in the late-1990s as part of a growing strategic convergence. Deepening trade was underpinned by a series of bilateral agreements opening Turkish and Israeli markets to each other. Notable agreements included a free trade agreement (1996), a double-taxation prevention treaty (1997), and a bilateral investment treaty (1998). These agreements ushered in an era of improving political and economic ties. Trade jumped from $449 million in 1996 to more than $2.1 billion in 2002. This remarkable acceleration continued with bilateral trade increasing 14.6% per year, on average, from 2002 to 2008.
Surprisingly, the diplomatic crisis has not translated into an economic crisis. Take for instance, a boycott announced by several Israeli grocery chains in the wake of the flotilla incident. Despite the assertions on the part of these retailers, Turkish export of vegetable products has remained steady since 2007, and exports of prepared foodstuffs, beverages and tobacco doubled between 2007 and 2011. From 2010 to 2011, trade increased by 30.7%, far surpassing the growth that occurred during the heyday of Turkish-Israeli ties.
Still, defense ties have been hard-hit. Following the flotilla incident, Turkey froze at least a dozen defense projects with Israel, including a $5 billion deal for tanks and an $800 million sale for patrol aircraft and an early-warning radar plane.
Despite these bruises, economic ties seem destined to deepen even further in the long term.
For starters, all the aforementioned trade and investment treaties remain solidly in effect. Secondly, neither side seems eager to disrupt the trend of booming bilateral trade. In the aftermath of the flotilla incident, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his intention to cut all relations with Israel, including trade. But Ankara rapidly corrected the statement, adding that commercial ties would not be downgraded. Similarly, when an Israeli investment house announced its plans to divest in Turkey, the head of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce urged firms to refrain from any actions that might hurt Turkish-Israeli business ties.
The mutual reluctance to rupture trade ties is understandable, especially in light of the global economic climate. After all, both countries owe much of their growth in recent years to buoyant exports, a large portion of which were sold in European markets. This means that both countries are vulnerable to a sluggish European recovery. Greater bilateral trade could pick up some of the slack, especially on the Israeli side, where Turkey constituted Israel’s sixth-largest export market in 2011 and could climb the ranks as Israel’s traditional markets remain anemic.
Israel is important for Turkey as well. In terms of volume, the Israeli market is small, but it presents significant opportunities for Turkish producers to move up the value chain. In March, the Turkish Industry and Business Association identified Israel as a priority investment partner, underlining the advantages of coupling Turkey’s land and labor with Israel’s innovation economy. A telling example of this potential can be found in Bursa, where Turkish manufacturers are assembling electric cars as part of a venture with the Israeli company Better Place. Thanks to this venture, Turkey is now producing its first electric car with technology that would not have been easy for the Turks to develop on their own.
There is also a political angle that could bode well for bilateral ties. Faced with an increasingly volatile Middle East, some Israelis are concluding that they are better off rebuilding ties with Turkey, even if this does not mean going back to the honeymoon years of the 1990s. Meanwhile, Turkey faces a popular uprising in Syria that holds the potential of spilling over its borders. Along with downward-spiraling ties with Iraq, not to mention regional competition against Iran, this suggests that Israel is perhaps not the biggest fish to fry.
Turkey and Israel seem to have potential for a fresh start. Even if the pair continues to diverge on certain core political issues, both seem to secretly prepare for the day they can make up again. As always, the flag follows the money.
“The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is reordering political dynamics not only in Baghdad but also in the broader Middle East. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a number of actors are seeking to fill the outsized role that America has played in Iraq over the last eight years.” says Sean Kane in his report ‘The Coming Turkish-Iranian Competition in Iraq’. “The two rising powers in the region, Iran and Turkey, share borders with Iraq and are rapidly becoming the most influential external actors inside the country.”
In this analysis, we will focus on the rivalry between these two rising powers in Iraq. Although it seems that the relations between Turkey and Iran are getting better in recent times, Iraq has become litmus paper in order to understand the real face of this friendly relationship. After a bit the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, first signals of conflict of interests between these countries began to emerge.
Neo-Ottoman and Neo-Persian Competition?
“From the sixteenth century until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Iraqi history was largely determined by the ebb and flow of conflict between Ottoman Turks and the Safavid Persians. After Persia converted to Shiism, control of Shia holy sites in Najaf, Karbala and Samarra became symbolically significant to the Safavids, and the Ottomans tried to maintain Iraq as a Sunni buffer against the spread of the rival sect. In this centuries-long struggle, military conflict between the two empires focused on Mesopotamia rather than Asia Minor.” says Sean Kane. “The last century—the British mandate in Iraq, several decades of a strong independent Iraqi state, and the post-2003 American occupation—has been a hiatus from the historical pattern of Turkish and Iranian struggle for preeminence in Iraq. U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw by December 2011, and the Iraqi state is not yet reconsolidated. Is competition among the heirs of the Ottoman and Persian empires likely to resume?”
I do not agree with Sean Kane in his categorization and approach because it is possible to skip political categorizations of 21st century when we get to the historical roots of this competition. In other words, secular/religious and cultural Islam/political Islam categorizations are more suitable for me in understanding this issue. If we pass over the Turkish model in the region and ethnical and sectarian divisions in Iraq, historical reasons will be more attractive to us. So, we should look at the different elements of this equation.
As Iraqi foreign minister Hoyshar Zebari says, this is the fact that today, Iran and Turkey are the biggest players and rivals inside Iraq. Soner Cagaptay, from Hurriyet Daily Newspaper, witnesses to this reality so: “Although both Turkey and Iran opposed the Iraq war at first, the fact that they have supported opposing camps in successive Iraqi elections has rekindled their competition. Today, Ankara and Tehran eye each other warily; neither wants the other to have more influence in Baghdad or over the Iraqi Kurds.”
Revelation of competition after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces
“The efforts of the Shi’ite to have a control over the fate of Iraq half-opened the way going towards the split. The Shi’ite Prime Minister Maliki’s show of force, his trying to push the Sunni out of the cabinet and the political course, his lashing out at Turkey, and Iran’s using itself for Syrian politics should be assessed as the first steps in Iraq going towards split.” says Cetiner Cetin, ORSAM Advisory Board Member.
As he mentioned, in the last period, Nouri al-Maliki revealed the coldness they have had with Turkey for a long time by indicating that they are concerned about Turkey’s interfering, rather than Iran’s, in the Iraqi internal affairs. “Right after the accusing and critical statements of Maliki, who draws his strength mainly from Iran, about Turkey, his accusing political attempts against the Sunni Vice-President Tariq al Hashimi, who is known for his close relations with Turkey, and against the Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak are actually the first signals showing that there will be attempts to block Turkey’s effectiveness following the U.S. withdrawal.” he said.
Here, we want to focus on the roots of this competition.
The roots of this competition
“Eighteenth-century English statesman Lord Palmerston famously stated that nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” says Sean Kane. “The starting point for forecasting the direction of Iranian-Turkish relations is therefore to examine each country’s interests in their old battleground of Mesopotamia.”
As he said, their political sway was made clear during Iraq’s extended 2010 cycle of government formation, when they were respectively instrumental in consolidating the two leading political groupings: Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya and Nouri al-Maliki’s National Alliance. While Turkey’s preference represents ‘secularism’; Iran’s preference represents ‘religious viewpoint’.
“Although Turkey and Iran have a lot of grounds on which to cooperate — the number of Iranians coming to Turkey last year was 2 million — the two countries struggling for leadership in the region have also opposing interests.” says Aydin Albayrak. “Iran is a major actor in Iraq, where it supports Shiite groups, whereas Turkey tends to support the secular movement while still maintaining good relations with Shiite elements.”
This means that although Iran and Turkey have good relations, their viewpoints are different from each other. “The relationship between Turkey and Iran has received heightened attention in the United States since the effort by Turkey and Brazil to negotiate a deal on the handling of Iran’s nuclear fuel in mid-2010. Although Ankara argues that Turkey’s new foreign policy platform of ‘zero problems’ with its neighbors and independent stance toward Western policy in the region poses no contradiction to its traditional Western alliances, some American policymakers and analysts view this approach as a realpolitik move by Turkey to reorient itself to the Muslim world, including Iran, based on Turkish economic and energy interests. Others believe that, despite this shift, Turkish and Iranian relations remain dominated by mutual mistrust and that the two countries view themselves as competitors for influence and preeminence in the region.” says Sean Kane. “More recently, a flurry of analyses has looked at Turkish and Iranian involvement in Iraq and whether the two countries consciously consider themselves rivals there.”
In addition to these, according to Joschka Fischer, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is trying to maintain good relations with Iran, its ambition to become the leading Sunni power means that Turkey must sooner or later contest Iran’s influence in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Palestine. And that means conflict.
On the other hand, there are some commentators who reject the claims about the rivalry between Turkey and Iran. “Marina Ottaway disagrees specifically with the notion of a Turkish-Iranian rivalry in Iraq, arguing that Turkey has no interest in antagonizing Iran by playing the Sunni card in Iraq and has shown through its votes at the United Nations that it values good relations with Iran.”
What are roles of Iran and Turkey in Iraq?
“Ankara is now Tehran’s most viable rival for preeminence in the region, but compared to Iran, it has repeatedly failed to take decisive action.” said Alakbar Raufoglu. “With less than two months before American troops withdraw from Iraq, the question of whether Turkey is prepared to take the necessary actions to play a leading role in the region remains unclear. If Turkey fails, it risks ceding its influence to Iran.”
Moreover, according to Cetiner Cetin, now, we can more clearly see the fact that Iran does not intend to leave Iraq to anyone after the withdrawal of the U.S.
“The timing of the crisis shows that after the withdrawal of the U.S., Iran is not intended to leave Iraq to anyone else.” says Assist. Prof. Serhat Erkmen. “Another dimension of the timing of crisis is the fact that it came right after Maliki’s accusing and critical statements on Turkey. As it is well known, some time ago, Maliki revealed the distance with Turkey they have had for a long time by stating that he has hesitations not because of the possibility that Iran could interfere in the Iraqi internal affairs but that Turkey could do it so, in a statement he made to one of the U.S. journals.”
As we can see, many commentators and writers fear Iranian influence in Iraq. For them, Turkey is a balanced element in Iraq and they prefer secular Turkey to religious Iran.
“Turkey has the advantages of being neither Arab nor Persian and of demonstrating a newfound distance from Western powers. Its strategic goal of becoming an energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe also gives it a compelling economic interest in a unified and prosperous Iraq fueled by increased hydrocarbon production.” says Sean Kane. “Iran, on the other hand, has the advantage of religious and cultural ties with the majority of Iraq’s population, but its involvement in the country is toxic for the minority Sunni population and watched warily by all Iraqi nationalists.”
Additionally, according to him, “Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to represent the starkest opposing tendencies in Iraq, but Turkish influence is the most significant regional counterweight to Iranian preeminence. That Turkey is not identified with either pole of the region’s toxic ethnic (Arab-Persian) and religious (Saudi Wahhabi–Iranian Rule of the Jurist) divides means that it has greater acceptance in Iraq and potential for positive input. From the Iraqi Shia point of view, Turkey, despite being Sunni Muslim, is not perceived as a source of terrorist attacks in Iraq or intolerance toward Shiism in the way that the Wahhabi creed is.”
Here, it is required to look at the commonalities and differences between Iranian and Turkish policies in the region. Sean Kane summarizes these topics briefly:
“First, the commonalities. Both emphasize maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, particularly as it relates to their own restive Kurdish minorities, and avoiding a return to all-out sectarian conflict. Both also, somewhat reluctantly, accept the model of a federalized Iraq, but likely differ on the extent of decentralization this should entail.
It is on who should rule Baghdad and how that Ankara and Tehran have profound differences. As a secular democracy, Turkey publicly advocates for a genuine political process and broad, representative, and inclusive Iraqi governments in which no single group dominates. Although in practice tinged by its own Sunni orientation, particularly since the Islamist AKP came to office, Turkish political activity in Iraq does not approach Iran’s overtly sectarian approach. Tehran’s irreducible priority continues to be to ensure a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that would turn a traditional security threat into a friendly state.
Tehran and Ankara also differ in their reactions to the U.S. policy goal of a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq capable of positively influencing regional stability. Turkish officials assert that they cannot overemphasize the importance of a stable Iraq to Turkey, remarking that Turkey has paid a heavy price whenever Iraq is not stable, and that when Iraq is stable, the region is stable. The view from Tehran is radically different. Iraq has since ancient times been a rival and, more recently, a check to Iranian influence in the Middle East. This latter role encompasses the disastrous eight-year war Saddam Hussein launched in 1980, which included chemical weapons strikes against Iranian cities and the death and injury of as many as a million Iranians. Given this history, the prevalent view among Iran’s academic and political elite toward Baghdad is still one of mistrust and perceived threat. In fact, it is the veterans of that conflict that now rule Iran and they largely prefer a relatively weak, divided, and passive neighbor incapable of posing a future political or conventional military threat.
The third major area of diverging interests is trade. Both Turkey and Iran are vying to become Iraq’s leading commercial partner. Turkey sees Iraq as an integral part of its effort to become the economic bridge from the Middle East to Europe. Iran sees an opportunity to shift Iraqi trade eastward, away from its traditional orientation to the Arab world and Turkey, as part of its effort to become the connection between the Middle East and central Asia. Iran estimates its 2009 trade with Iraq at between $4 billion and $5 billion and has set a goal of increasing this to $20 billion within two years. Turkey estimates its own Iraqi trade at greater than $6 billion and expects it to grow to $20 billion within four years. In an ironic twist, the Kurdistan region has become the Turkish economic beachhead into Iraq, and Turkish companies now have leading roles in the construction, trade, and energy sectors in the north of the country. Iran, meanwhile, has the pride of place in southern and central Iraq, where it has become a leading investor in infrastructure, energy, and religious pilgrimage projects. Iranian scholar Mohsen Milani sees this as part of Iran seeking to realize a key foreign policy goal of establishing a ‘sphere of influence’ in Iraq’s southern provinces.
Despite the importance of trade with Iraq to both Iran and Turkey, the future of Iraq’s energy sector is even more significant and yet another area of difference. Turkey is not significant oil or gas producer but instead a rapidly growing hydrocarbon consumer. Moreover, a key strategic plank of its neo-Ottoman foreign policy is to become the main energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe. As a hydrocarbon consumer and transit point, Turkey stands to gain on two fronts from dramatically increased Iraqi hydrocarbon production. Consequentially, Turkish state-owned and private energy companies have directly invested in six gas and oil fields in southern and central Iraq and are major players in oil exploration efforts in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Iran is a hydrocarbon exporter, and, though it has explored gas transit deals with Iraq, its ability to tap its own vastly underexploited oil and gas reserves is precluded by international sanctions. Iraq’s ability to move forward with major international investment that Tehran cannot even contemplate for the forseeable future. Even partial Iraqi success in production increases could see Iraq overtaking Iranian production levels by 2015, and OPEC production quotas would therefore have to be recalculated.
Any possible continued U.S. military presence in Iraq is the final point of difference between the two countries. The Turkish parliament famously refused to provide permission for U.S. troops to use Turkey as an invasion route in 2003. Privately, however, they now express support for a small, continued U.S. presence in Iraq after 2011 on the basis of worries about Iranian dominance in Baghdad and the future of the trilateral security mechanism established between Turkey, Iraq, and the United States in 2008 for combating the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). This mechanism, from the Turkish perspective, has proven useful in addressing a top national security concern and provided a diplomatic channel through which Turkey was able to conduct its outreach to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). For Iran, the national security priority is the departure of ‘encircling’ U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tehran lobbied against the 2008 Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States that authorized the American military presence in the country until December 2011.”
When we compare the commonalities and differences in their policies, we can say that although it seems the direct opposite, their agenda is very different.
In that case, why many Western and American analysts emphasize the role of Turkey as a balanced element. If we can understand the expectations from Turkey in Iraq, it will be easy to show the whole picture.
What are the expectations from Turkey?
“Some suggest that the withdrawal of US troops has finally opened a new space for Iran to maneuver in the region that will strengthen Iranian domination. Some Turkish analysts suggest that the new Iraq is nothing but a new axis of an Iran-Damascus pact that enables Iran to have free geographical access from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean.” says Emre Uslu, from Today’s Zaman Newspaper. “ Against this argument, some US experts, including political science professor Stephen Van Evera of MIT, think that ‘fears of Iranian domination of Iraq rest on the premise that Iraqi Shi’a identify so strongly as Shi’a and so little as Arabs or Iraqis that they will accept domination by Shi’a Iran. In fact, however, Iraqi Shi’a have a strong identity as Arabs and Iraqis. They have affinity for other Shi’a, but will not accept Iran or other non-Iraqis as overlords. Iranian dominance of Iraq is not in the cards’.”
In my opinion, this comment is very optimistic. It is a fact that the U.S. is afraid of Iranian influence and its receipt for this fear is Turkey’s balanced role.
As Vladimir van Wilgenburg mentions, a recent report by the United States Institute of Peace suggests that Washington should be less concerned about increased cooperation between Turkey and Iran because the two countries have different visions for the Middle East, suggesting that the “renewal of the historical Ottoman-Persian rivalry in Mesopotamia is likely as the dominant American presence fades.”
In addition to this reality, as we said before, it is very difficult to find any conflict between American and Turkish interests. So, many Western analysts suggest that Ankara’s engagement will be critical in limiting Iran and Syria’s (mostly negative) influence in Iraq.
“Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of the American Interest magazine, said Turkish success in Iraq would lead to a less pro-Iranian coalition in Baghdad, referring to Turkey’s rivalry over the country.
Mead connected any Turkish success in the Middle East as equal to Iran’s failure. He said ideologically, Turkey hopes to lead the Sunni Islam world while Iran aspires to lead the entire Islamic world. He also added that the same thing could be applied to Syria where Turkey’s success there could be spelled as Iran’s failure as well as loss of Iranian ties to Hamas.”
Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, also, says Iraq’s other Sunni-dominated Arab neighbors — such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait — should stop isolating Iraq’s Shiite government and embrace it instead. If they don’t, he says, then Iraq will only be pushed closer to Iran.
Moreover, “They (Turkey) are doing this throughout Iraq, in Kurdistan as well as in Baghdad and even Basra, which is not usually an area of Turkish influence,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. “The presence of a Turkish consulate in Basra is very much part of a strategy to dam in Iranian influence in Iraq through investments and trade.”
According to diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz for the Turkish daily Milliyet, Ankara shares Washington’s concerns about growing Iranian influence in Iraq. “The increase of the Iranian through Shia elements in Iraq, that is what Turkey will be worried about,” said Idiz. “And with Turkey there is a political competition going on for influence between Iran and Turkey.”
In addition to this, as Dorian Jones mentions, last month, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said Washington has proposed to take over the influential role of training Iraqi military personal, now that U.S. troops are pulling out.
“We have been contributing in training military elements in Iraq within the framework of NATO,” said Unal. “This issue has come up to the agenda, and of course, we will be considering it. According to Dorian Jones, such a move is seen as strengthening Turkey’s influence in greater Iraq and countering what observers say is expected growing Iranian influence with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
When we look at the picture from this side, it, unfortunately, seems to us that Turkey’s regional role is shaping around the Western and American interests in addition to its own interests. This Turkey is distant from being an alternative to Shi’a-Sunni polarizations. It means that Turkey sooner or later contests Iran’s influence and interests in Iraq. It also refers to the Turkish role and model in the region:
“This is partly a replay of Ottoman era politics. The new Turkish Islamist government is eager to revive Turkey’s historical role as the leading power of the region. (Two hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire ruled everything from the Danube to the modern Iran/Iraq boundary and across North Africa as far as Algeria.) As Arab nationalism has failed and declined, Sunni Islam has replaced it as the leading political movement in much of that world. Arab nationalism was both secular and anti-Turkish; Arab nationalists regarded the Ottomans as an imperialist great power. But if Arabs look at the world through a religious lens, Istanbul used to be the seat of the Caliph.”
Is Iran the winner?
“When the United States’ last election surge withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi contest to produce a government, Iran stepped in to broker a settlement involving current PM Malaki (Malaki also serves as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior but is not a dictator) and the jolly Sadrists. Malaki, a Shia, happily recalls his days in exile in Iraq during the Saddam reign while Sadr hid out as a religious “student” in Qom when he was on the U.S. military’s capture or kill list post-2003.” says Peter Van Buren. “Both men remain beholden to Iran and continue to shift Iraq closer and closer to Tehran’s policy positions. Iran has its own proconsul in Baghdad, well-known locally but not discussed much in the west. The guy moved into the job after a tour as head of the Iranian special ops Qods Force.”
In parallel to this comment, according to some analysts, the real winner of the war in Iraq is neither the Iraqis, nor Americans, but the Iranians.
But, Emre Uslu does not agree with this approach. “Does this means that Iran will have the freedom to do whatever it wants in Iraq?” he asks. “A simple answer to this question is no. There are at least two reasons why that is. First, despite the fact that US troops have withdrawn from Iraq, US influence on Iraq still remains strong through US advisors and Iraqi dependence on US armaments. Therefore, the US would exert its influence on Iraqi leaders to limit Iranian domination in Iraq. Second, Iraq’s dependence on US weapons systems prevents Iraqi Shi’a leaders from opening up wholeheartedly to Iran. Therefore, beyond the identity issues to be considered, there are more complex issues for Iraqi leaders to consider when leading their country.”
“In the Middle East, there is room for one shah or sultan, but not a shah and a sultan.” says Soner Cagaptay. “Ankara and Tehran appear locked, once again, in their centuries-old competition to become the region’s dominant power.”
Although “Turkey adopted an attitude in favor of a broad-based government” in Iraq, Turkey prefers to be a side of the Iraqiyyah Party. Actually, this preference play along with a new Turkish role in the Middle East. As Sean Kane emphasizes, Turkey’s blend of Islam, democracy, and soft power is a more attractive regional template than Iran’s formula of Islamic theocracy and hard power.
This Turkey’s rising influence in Iraq will please the U.S. and Western countries. So, they encourage Turkey in order to be effective in Iraq. “Any attempt by Ankara to challenge Iranian influence in Iraq will likely strain relations with Tehran.” said Dorian Jones. “Those relations are already under pressure over Ankara’s support for the opposition against Tehran’s key ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
On the other hand, as Veysel Ayhan mentions, “despite the fact that some Iranian writers argue that Iran defends the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, when one observes Iran’s policy over Iraq, it can be seen that Tehran has a policy of making relations with all the Iraqi groups.”
“This way, it is seen that it takes steps in directing all the groups in line with the interests of Iran or threatening them when needed.” he says. “It is also necessary to indicate that the countries defending the territorial integrity of Iraq are not pursuing a determined policy on this matter. On the other hand, the main target of the Iran regime is known to establish an Iraq that is easy to control and direct.”
As Brian M Downing emphasizes, sectarian conflict in Iraq is again a concern as the Shi’ite government seeks the arrest of a Sunni vice president whom they tie to an assassination team. But neither Turkey’s these approaches nor Iran’s privileged policies can solve the problems of Iraq. The stability and security in the region are not independently of the developments that may take place in Iraq and policies/influences of neighbouring countries.
In this game, Turkey should stay out of being a pawn for Western interests and adopt unique policies. In this way, Turkey may bring into a friendly connection with both Iraq and Iran. This approach will be approved from all the groups and fragments in Iraq.
Western nations and Israel have employed all conceivable means to stop Iran’s nuclear program, from sabotage to assassination, from diplomatic pressure to economic embargoes and even cyber attacks.
Iranian airplanes carrying nuclear weapons-related technological equipment have been destroyed, nuclear laboratories have been blown up, imported equipment has been delivered to Iran in broken pieces, and scientists have been murdered. But the greatest blow thus far to Iran’s program came from a computer virus called Stuxnet, a joint US-Israeli venture. First an exact replica of the Iranian facilities was built by the Israelis in the desert at the Dimona nuclear site. This virus targeted command centers run by Siemens computers, which the Iranians were using to enrich uranium. The virus had unprecedented strength, with the ability to penetrate all Siemens systems worldwide, though it would only be active in the process of uranium enrichment. The virus made the tubes inside protective cylinders suddenly rotate very rapidly, ultimately breaking them apart.
It was in the latter half of 2009 that Stuxnet was released. Then, in the first months of 2010, the enrichment process in Iran began to falter. Thousands of tubes shattered due to Stuxnet, thus drastically slowing down its uranium enrichment program. By the end of the year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Tehran’s nuclear program had been set back many years. Meir Dagan, then head of Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, also said that Iran would not be able to produce nuclear weapons before 2015. America and Israel believed that their computer virus had accomplished what many had expected a military attack to do. This also explains why Iran’s nuclear program was put on the geopolitical back burner until mid-2011.
Turkey’s role as mediator
In May 2010, as a result of Turkey’s mediation, Iran accepted an exchange of the low-grade uranium it then possessed. But although the US had agreed to an identical exchange just the previous November, this time it refused. This change of mind was almost certainly connected to the Stuxnet virus. At the end of 2009 it was still unclear what the virus would achieve. But by the next May, even though the public was in the dark, Washington surely knew the damage had been done by the virus, and knew that such an exchange would be to Iran’s advantage this time around. Moreover, from the other side of the fence, this is probably the same reason that Iran was ready to accept an offer that it had rejected just six months earlier.
As it happened, however, the West was once again mistaken in its analyses. Iran was able to quickly shake off the effects of Stuxnet. By mid-2011, Iran was able to run even more centrifuge tubes, in more developed models, which revolved even faster. An unexpected consequence of all these attempts to derail its nuclear program was that Iran simply gained more experience and skill with nuclear technology.
To produce nuclear weapons using uranium, the most critical part of the process is to enrich it to weapons grade, around 90 percent purity. Iran has now succeeded in the most difficult steps: obtaining uranium enriched to at least 20 percent. Getting 90 percent enrichment in a few months no longer appears very difficult. In the meantime, there is some evidence indicating that Iran has initiated work to assemble nuclear warheads. Western countries are now planning to try to stop Iran with an oil embargo. If that doesn’t do the job, the West may come to the conclusion that it has no choice but a military operation.
An attack on Iran?
It is known that the Obama administration does not look warmly on an attack on Iran, and that it opposed the idea of Israel single-handedly carrying out such an assault on more than one occasion. The biggest supporter of a military solution is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who obviously hopes for an attack sometime this summer or fall, capitalizing on the competitive atmosphere of the US presidential campaign, and pressure Obama may possibly be facing. But even in Israel many stand opposed to an attack, including influential defense and security establishment figures, some prominent right-wing politicians and even members of the current government. For instance, after stepping down from the helm of Mossad, Dagan began an unusual media campaign. He publicly argued that attacking Iran would be “stupid,” and would cause a strategic catastrophe for Israel, leading to years of chaos in the region, along with adding legitimacy to Iran’s alleged reasons for developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, he contended, Israel lacks the military capability for an effective strike against Iran without help from the US.
What should Turkey do?
Even if a military attack on Iran — which currently seems unlikely — were to occur, Iran now possesses enough know-how that the production of nuclear weapons is ultimately only a matter of time and political will. In such a case, Turkey will face a thorny question: Should Turkey also have nuclear capabilities?
Nuclear weapons were used for the first and last time by the US during World War II, on two Japanese cities. In the decades since, the huge effect of nuclear weapons on the strategic balance of global politics has come not from their use but rather their mere possession. According to the dictates of international strategy, the power of a country is, until it is used, the power that others assume it has. During the more than half-century of the Cold War, the single greatest weight on the strategic balance between the two blocs was the Soviet Union’s deployment of nuclear weapons.
A sound strategy, one with a good chance of standing the test of time, should take into consideration what might look like unthinkable options. Strategic efforts should aim at avoiding surprises. History has seen many victories and defeats emerge from options that once seemed totally unlikely. The winners have often been those who were able to think outside the box, while the losers were undercut by their inability to do the same. Politics and diplomacy, in protecting the interests of a country and even its survival, must always run reasonable, even calculated, risks. A policy aiming for zero risk is a policy of impotence. The risks that diplomacy can run are proportional to the margin of safety enjoyed by a country. Additionally, the risks faced by a country tend to rise as the power and associated ambiguities of the other sides also rise.
If and when Iran conducts its first nuclear test and continues to build up a nuclear arsenal, this would deeply upset the strategic geopolitical balance and psychology in this region. In fact, what follows would be unlike anything ever seen in the Middle East. Israel currently maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear weapons, to keep the world guessing what conditions would lead to their use. If Iran also finally manages to obtain nuclear weapons, it will probably take a similar path. Such developments in turn would sow ambiguity even denser than that of the tense Cold War period.
If Iran does go nuclear, the US will most likely offer its nuclear protection umbrella to a number of countries in the region, including Turkey. For Ankara to accept such an offer would be reasonable only if it doesn’t relinquish its own nuclear option. Otherwise Turkey could be, as circumstances develop, a strategic hostage to the US in the Middle East. Turkey has a legitimate right to consider all future possibilities. For instance, the US might choose to withdraw into its own shell, pulling back beyond the Atlantic. Or a new administration may emerge in Washington under the influence of the extremist pro-Israel and evangelical Christian groups. And if the current Iranian regime changes or even if it doesn’t, there is also the possibility — currently a remote one, to be sure — that Washington and Tehran could build an alliance of sorts. Each of these possibilities may force the need for nuclear capability for Turkey.
EU membership and the nuclear option
European Union membership would certainly reduce Turkey’s risks, and largely eliminate the nuclear option. The opposite scenario, in which Turkey’s EU membership prospects die and Iran builds up a nuclear arsenal, would pose a troublesome situation. In that case, to avoid getting stuck in a bottleneck of heightened risks, Turkey would need to seriously consider developing its own nuclear capability. To date, the relationship between a possible nuclear option for Turkey and its EU prospects has not received a great deal of attention. Yet this relationship ought to be handled carefully.
For the time being, Ankara could initiate a well thought-out and comprehensive nuclear technology program. It should aim to develop its technological know-how, essentially in pilot plant capacities for nuclear fission chain reaction materials. This could encompass various methods, including centrifuge and laser technologies. And finally, Turkey must also improve the range of its guided missiles.
When Congressman Charlie Dent was offered an opportunity to visit Turkey, he thought this could be a great opportunity to assess the country’s influence in a tempestuous region.
He had a chance to see Turkey over the span of a week with his wife, Pamela. Although they had different reasons to be excited about the trip, they both found many more during their stay.
Since 2005, Congressman Dent has represented Pennsylvania’s 15th district in the US House of Representatives. Although a member of the Republican Party, the congressman has been elected four times in an area that generally favors Democratic candidates. Congressman Dent is a member of the US House Committee on Appropriations and serves on several of its subcommittees, including Homeland Security; State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies.
He has visited different parts of the Middle East at various times, but had not been to Turkey until October. The trip gave this distinguished couple a chance to meet people from different walks of life in Turkey. Upon his return, Congressman Dent spoke with Sunday’s Zaman on topics ranging from politics to culture and from history to current affairs.
What was your perception of Turkey before this trip? Did your thoughts change after it?
I wasn’t sure if Turkey was going to be a more European or Middle Eastern country before the trip. I wasn’t quite sure. I always sensed that İstanbul was much more European and other parts of Turkey in Anatolia might have been more Middle Eastern. That was my perception walking in, but the more I visited Turkey, the more it struck me as frankly more European than Middle Eastern. The country is much more modern and more secular than I [had] anticipated. Particularly İstanbul is much more secular.
What were your expectations when you accepted the offer to travel to Turkey?
I wanted to visit Turkey because, one, it is a very good ally to the United States. Two, Turkey is strategically very significant, with the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, with what is happening in Syria and its proximity to Iraq, to Iran and the missile defense program, and certainly to Armenia and Georgia to the east. So it is strategically very significant. The fact that Turkey is playing a much larger role as the Arab Spring unfolds is consequential. It appears that Turkey is going to exercise a great deal of leadership, and I believe most Americans think that leadership will largely be constructive. When Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan went to Egypt and talked about the need for Egypt to be a secular nation … I know [this] caused him to be criticized in Egypt, but it was a good message to deliver. My main reason for going was to understand this important ally better. The Iranian missile program, America’s exit from Iraq and the uprisings in Syria are critical issues to Turkey. Turkey is in the middle of it all.
I’ve traveled throughout much of southwest Asia: Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Georgia. When I travel to the Middle East, I usually do not visit tourist destinations. So another added pleasure of Turkey was its fascinating cultural heritage. For me, I had the best of both worlds. This trip was different: We had a lot of traditional government briefings and we also gained the knowledge of Turkey’s rich cultural heritage.
We had better exposure to the Turkish economy and industry then I had anticipated. That was very useful for me to understand the depth of Turkey’s industrial capacity. Their industrial progress over the years is far more advanced than I had anticipated.
There have been comments about Turkey having shifted its axis. The criticism is that Turkey, under the rule of the Justice and Development Party [AK Party] government, has turned its back to Europe and its face to the East. You have met so many politicians in Turkey. Did you feel this shifted axis? In this respect, what is your consideration about the relationship between Turkey and the US?
In terms of Turkey shifting its position to a more eastern orientation, the current administration under the prime minister, Erdoğan, seems to have more appeal to the Islamist elements within Turkey. What I also notice is that Turkey is trying to rebalance its relationship with Islam. And this relationship is different from what you would see in the Arab world. I get the sense that Turkey is very secularized because of Atatürk. It seems that Atatürk’s imprint on Turkish society remains very strong, and he left a very indelible secular mark on the country. There are people within Turkey who want to rebalance the relationship between Islam and the government. But it struck me differently than what you might see in Egypt. In Turkey, the debate between Islam and government is carried out within more confined parameters. I sensed the debate was a narrower one. For instance, should women be covered in government buildings? This is a much more limited discussion then what you might hear from some of the other Arab countries with large Muslim populations. There is a culture war of sorts in Turkey. We use the term “culture war” in America to describe at times political differences on sensitive social issues. But it seems the culture war in Turkey is contained within more restricted parameters.
Turkey wants to play a bigger role within the Middle East. I do not think that it is coming at the expense of its relationship with the United States, although it saddens me to see two great American allies — Turkey and Israel — at such a low point in their bilateral relationship. I know that I am and our government is committed to bringing that relationship to a better place.
What do you think about the military and economic relationship between Turkey and the US?
Our military and the Turkish military enjoy a very strong working relationship. The American military does share information and intelligence in real time with our Turkish allies and partners. Again, there is a very close collaboration between these two militaries. I believe the Turkish military would agree with that comment. Our military has been very supportive of Turkey’s attempts to crack down [on] the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. We absolutely recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization and a very nasty one of that. I think that the Turkish leaders are justifiably concerned as the American presence in Iraq draws down so significantly over the next couple of months.This can make the situation more tense along the Iraqi-Turkish border. We have a debate within our own country: Should the United States draw down its troop levels to just 150 people — 150 soldiers as opposed to a number closer to 10,000, which is what our American military had recommended to President Barack Obama? Is the American drawdown too steep? This can have an effect on the future of Iraq, which will certainly have an impact on Turkey as well as other neighboring countries.
But one more thing I learned throughout the trip was our economic relationship is much more underdeveloped than it should be. Given the economic turmoil in Europe, and it appears Turkey is not likely to be accepted into the EU in the near future, there may be greater opportunities for American and Turkish economic collaboration.
You have seen some institutional examples of the Gülen movement, which promotes education and dialog activities for peace in the world. You visited Melikşah University and the Private Kılıçaslan High School in Kayseri and Zirve University in Gaziantep. You have met businessmen who support these institutions inspired by Mr. Gülen. What are your thoughts about the Gülen movement?
What is fascinating to me about the Gülen movement is that in Turkey, Gülen seems to be a household name. People know who he is. Very influential industrial leaders and government leaders all know who he is and what his philosophy is. Gülen lives 45 minutes from where we are seated, and I suspect that no one in this community has any idea who Gülen is. Gülen is unknown to most Americans. It’s fascinating that we have a man who lives here in the United States and is such an influential figure within Turkey. He strikes me as more of a philosopher, whose ideas have been embraced by the founders of the universities and institutions we visited. The universities seem to have embraced a secular curriculum, teaching disciplines like arts and humanities, social sciences, English, other languages, math, sciences and engineering. They do not appear to be religiously oriented schools.
04 December 2011, Sunday / ESRA KOŞAR , LEHIGH VALLEY
Turkey will not take part in any military intervention aiming to change the regime in Syria, Turkish Foreign Ministry sources said Nov. 18.
“Contingency planning is ready,” a source told a group of journalists in a briefing in Istanbul. “There might be a few exceptions to that policy, but Turkey believes the [ball has been] passed in Syria both for the [Bashar] al-Assad regime and the opposition. The Syrian regime will not explode, it is likely to implode. The change of regime in Syria is inevitable and no one – including Turkey and even Iran – are considering that the Assad regime will continue.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a number of sources gave examples of scenarios in which the Turkish military could take part in a military operation against Syria.
Turkey could become involved if the Syrian Army advances toward a city close to the Turkish border, such as Aleppo, thereby producing a flood of refugees.
There would be “hundreds of thousands” of refugees, not just thousands,” one source said. “We don’t want to face with another Iraq flood like the one in 1991,” the source added in reference to the refugee wave caused by the actions of Saddam Hussein.
In such a case, the Turkish military would enter Syrian territory solely to establish a buffer zone to both protect refugees and keep them south of the border.
In an alternative scenario, Turkey could become involved if there are large-scale massacres in cities such as Damascus and others against the opposition. If that were to happen and the United Nations Security Council – with Russian and Chinese support – decides to approve a military intervention on a humanitarian basis, then Turkey would take part.
Turkish diplomats have given a detailed analysis of how Ankara sees the Assad regime. According to this analysis, the regime is a combination of the Arab nationalist Baath Party and the Nusayri (Alawite) sect of Islam, which is a minority of around 12 percent in the country.
“Baathist ideology is strong. The supporters of the regime got rich and strong in time and they are united among themselves, unlike the case in Egypt or Libya,” one source said. “They have blindly strong solidarity among themselves, so it may take some time for the regime to collapse. Plus, it’s built on naked fear. After the 1982 massacre in Hama and Homs, we have an example from 1987 in which after a protest in Aleppo, police arrested every student in a high school classroom; nobody ever heard what happened to them again. Yet people in Syria are not afraid of the regime anymore. Amid killings everyday we observe more people taking to the streets every other day. We now what the Baath is, but when that critical moment comes, it will collapse like houses built by bad contractors in an earthquake.”
Diplomats underline that Turkey wants to prevent the eruption of an ethnic and sectarian civil war in Syria that could cause further instability in the region.
“The current regime can no longer produce stability,” one source said. “Either on a basis of values or Turkey’s interests, we believe that with each day that passes under the Assad regime, the threat to stability increases. We believe stability in Syria and in the region will only be possible again under a democratic government.”
The entire Middle East must be cleared of nuclear weapons, the direction of an anti-proliferation organization has said, criticizing the singular focus on Iran while warning of a domino effect if the Islamic republic acquires such arms.
“The Middle East should be a ‘nuclear weapon-free zone.’ Israel’s nuclear capability gives Iran an excuse to have nuclear weapons, and if Iran gets nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would certainly like to have nuclear weapons, too,” Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, said at the “The Role of the CTBT in regional and global security” workshop, which was hosted in Istanbul by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. CTBT refers to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The workshop aimed to promote the entry into force of the CTBT, which bans all nuclear explosions, as well as the completion of the treaty’s verification regime.
The Islamic republic trails North Korea and Pakistan in terms of the nuclear threat it poses to the rest of the world, according to Fitzpatrick. “Iran is the third problem because it doesn’t have [weapons] yet,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said an International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) report released last week showed that Iran’s nuclear program had a military dimension.
“No one can claim that it is purely peaceful. They are pursuing every aspect [to do with] weapons,” he said. “How far they got is not clear.”
Meanwhile, the ratification of an international treaty banning nuclear tests by a host of critical countries would help in preventing proliferation but it is not the only answer, Tibor Toth, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Nov. 15.
The ratification of the CTBT by Iran and others “would be a right step to the right direction. However, this step is not sufficient; we need additional steps on both nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament,”
Toth said the treaty still needed to be ratified by key countries such as Iran, Israel, the United States, North Korea, China, India and Pakistan. The secretary added, however, that the ratification of the U.S. would be a “game changer.”
“There is an opportunity for these countries, including Iran, that would like to move to cooperative security. If Iran ratifies the treaty together with the other steps of transparency in the context of the non-proliferation treaty, it would be a good demonstration of a positive and constructive approach,” Toth said.
Toth also said they would be working with Turkey on ways to promote further ratifications of the treaty. “Turkey plays an important promotional role for the treaty because Turkey’s political voice is listened to as well,” he said.
Some 182 states have signed the treaty so far, while 155 states have ratified it, including France and Russia, which possess nuclear weapons. Forty-four countries that possess nuclear technology, however, must sign and ratify the CTBT before it can enter into force.