- (may 2013)
Turkey vs Iran.
(Note: my website is banned in Turkey; Turkish residents cannot read my articles).
Turkey has a problem on its border, Syria, but, generally and historically,
has a problem with the other millennial power of the Middle East: Iran.
For centuries the Ottomans (with capital in Istanbul) and the Safavids
(with capital in Isfahan) fought over control of that region and of Central
Asia. One of the most deadly and longest lasting religious/ethnic conflict of
the last thousand years has been the feud between Sunnis and Shiites, the two
main branches of Islam. Millions have died in this endless Sunni-Shiite civil
war. Every year hundreds of Sunnis and Shiites are killed in Pakistan by the
opposing faction. And future historians will view the civil war in Iraq not
as a war of the USA but as a Sunni-Shiite war, which is obviously what it is
(the USA just happened to be a naive wielder of weapons of mass destruction
for the Shiites to fight the Sunnis who were in power).
Turkey (the descendant of the Ottomans) is Sunni. Iran (the descendant of the
Safavids) is Shiite. Syria is run by an Alawite elite, a hierarchy topped
by its Western-educated president Bashar Assad, and the Alawites are
allied with the Shiites of Iran. In the past Syria has helped Hezbollah, the
Shiite militia of Lebanon, against both the Jewish state of Israel and the
Christian majority in Lebanon. Iraq used to be run by a Sunni dictator, Saddam
Hussein, but is now in the hands of the Shiite majority, and the other two
main ethnic/religious groups (Sunnis and Kurds) are increasingly uncomfortable.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
This is the background necessary to understand what Turkey's leadership
is thinking. Turkey has been active on several diplomatic fronts. First and
foremost, it has tried and is trying in every possible way to drag the USA
and the European Union into the Syrian conflict. It is also shameless the
way Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for military action by
the USA while refraining to put his own weapons and soldiers where his mouth is.
Unfortunately for him, the USA elected a president who has no appetite for
military intervention. Barack Obama has reluctantly helped France remove
Qaddafi from power in Libya, and has reluctantly given his blessing to the
various Arab revolutions without risking the life of a single soldier.
He is unlikely to change strategy with Syria. Initially he said that chemical
weapons would be a "red line". Then he clarified that he meant "systematic" use
of chemical weapons, not just the occasional atrocity. And now that Turkey
keeps providing evidence of systematic use of chemical weapons Obama wants
absolute proof, something which, usually, happens only many years after a war
has ended. Europe is in the middle of the eurocrisis and totally
paralyzed internationally. Gone are the days when France's president Sarkozy
could easily bomb Libya. The new president, Francois Hollande, has to worry
about an economic depression and all sorts of looming economic problems. The
last thing his country wants is to get involved in an expensive war campaign.
Britain has the same problem, except it's even bigger because Britain may
decide to quit the European Union (and Scotland may decide to quit Britain).
Germany has never participated in any military campaign. Obviously Syria is a
very low priority for the Europeans.
Bottom line: neither the USA nor the Europeans are likely to listen to Erdogan's
enthusiastic call for action.
The USA has an additional reason: avoid upsetting Russia. Russia has been
adamant that it doesn't want to lose the last friend it has in the Middle East,
and its last navy bases. Barack Obama has gone out of his way to please the
Russians on the missile shield and other issues and is unlikely to change
strategy on Syria. Obama has even accepted that Russia sells sophisticated
missiles to Syria while opposing any arm shipment to the rebels.
As long as Russia vetoes military intervention, it turns
a regional problem into a global Russia-USA problem. Just what Obama does not
Back to Turkey. First Obama brokered a reapproachment between Turkey and Israel.
They had been on hostile terms since Israel killed several Turkish citizens who
were trying to bring food to the Gaza Strip, a part of the Palestinian
territory that Israel keeps under siege. Turkey reacted the way any country
would react: it got really mad at Israel. Finally Obama convinced the prime
minister of Israel, the ever unpleasant Benjamin Netanyahu,
to call Erdogan and apologize. There is no doubt that Turkey was eager to
accept Israel's apologies. Now they are friends again, as they have been since
the creation of Israel. Turkey, a secular state, has been allied with Israel
throughout all the Israeli-Arab conflicts, occasionally reproaching Israel
but de facto siding with Israel. Their military cooperation dates from at least
1958. Turkey has always seen the modern heavily westernized Jewish state more
appealing than the backwards Muslim states.
Coincidence or not, after the two country made peace Israel has launched a
strike inside Syria to destroy weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon and
Turkey has accused Syria of masterminding terrorist attacks within its borders
(thereby laying the moral, if not legal, foundations for future reprisals).
Meanwhile, Turkey has been extending a huge line of credit to Egypt, a country
that is starving for cash after tourist revenues have been decimated by the
revolution. The new government of Egypt finds itself bound to the old peace
treaty with Israel that is forced on them by the USA and now also bound to the
pressure of Turkey. What Turkey wants from Egypt is that it stays out of the
Syrian mess. Basically, Turkey is buying Egypt's neutrality, so that, for
example, Israel can bomb Syria without fearing the anger of the Egyptians.
Next, Turkey has made peace with the Kurds. This was unthinkable until last
year but it suddenly happened. Turkey was still massacring civilians in its
Kurdish regions (and on the other side of the border, inside Iraq) and the
two sides (the Istanbul government and the Kurdish rebels of the PKK) seem
on the verge of a historical agreement for Kurish autonomy. At the same time
Turkey has befriended the Kurds in Iraq. Like it or not, Iraq is de facto
split into three regions, with the Kurds relatively independent in the north
and the Sunni fighting for similar autonomy in the west. And de facto the
Kurds in the north act as a buffer between Sunni Turkey and the Shiite core
of Iraq. Given the trade potential of that border, it is not science fiction
to imagine that very soon North Iraq will become an economic satellite of
Turkey, the way it never became a subject of the Iraqi central government in
Finally, Turkey has been pressuring the Palestinians to make some kind of
peace with Israel. The Arab world is still determined to side against Israel
no matter what, and the main reason is the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian
territories. Netanyahu's repeated violations of human rights with his obsession
for building Jewish settlements on Palestinian land have exacerbated the Arab
hostility towards Israel, which would prevail over anything else if Israel
entered the civil war in Syria: whichever side gets help from Israel is
guaranteed to lose the support of the Arab world. Only some kind of peace
between Israel and the Palestinians can reverse the damage caused by
Netanyahu's shortsighted and, frankly, racist anti-Palestinian policies.
At the end of the day, what Turkey has done is creating the preconditions for:
containing Iran's influence; limiting Hezbollah's ability to help Syria's
army; keeping Iraq at a safe distance from the Syrian civil war; and
directly influencing the outcome of the war. In other words, Turkey is isolating
Syria's regime more than any United Nations resolutions or Barack Obama speech.
Turkey's next problem is Russia. It is only Russia that keeps the world from
bombing Assad out of power. If Russia withdraws its veto, Turkey could
realistically forge an international alliance under the umbrella of the
United Nations to at least provide the rebels with a "no-fly zone".
This would de facto break up Syria into two (or more) states, one run by
the Alawites (a tiny enclave like the one that Hezbollah has in Lebanon)
and one run by the Sunnis (from the border with Jordan to the border with
Turkey, including Kurds and Christians). Needless to say, this Sunni Syria
would be Turkey's most grateful and most trusted ally in the world.
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