Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Dangerous Tie

A brief examination of a potential new axis in the Middle East

True or False: Turkey's central foreign policy of pacifism within and beyond its borders is potentially the strongest reason WWIII won't happen sooner than later, or rather, that it hasn't happened yet.  This is not to say it would not consider forceful policies via proxy conflicts to secure vital geopolitical interests, seen from a purely realist bent.  And with the beating heart of Egypt seeming to wake people of the region up from a decades-long coma it comes as no surprise that major diplomatic revisions were drawn up by the mighty US of A, albeit two eons late.  A recent massive propaganda campaign accompanying the revisions has addressed the Arab world through a determining speech by Obama on May 23 that makes clear as day the importance of current Middle East events to global politics.  A truly historic earthquake that has reverberated far beyond its epicentre in Tunisia in January of 2011 has ignited public awakening in Arab populations and beyond, sending chills through the spines of Western-backed regimes in the ME (n.b. now openly stated as such on Western media channels).  Shockwaves are felt all along the shores of the Mediterrean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.  Even as far west as Mauritania and Spain, through Italy and eastward as far as Pakistan, social aftershocks have rattled many previously tight-lipped societies around the world.  Still, in the midst of political turmoil across the wider region, one danger Israel and its main ally may consider apocalyptic remains the threat of a hypothetical Turkey-Iran-Egypt (TIE) alliance that could form or be under formation under their very noses.  Such a major shift in the balance of power in the region would present a political nightmare for Netanyahu’s volatile nation-state.  With each new war, and with NATO and Europe now considering the expansion of military intervention to Syria as well as Sudan, the risk continues to increase of major international warfare that might become inevitable if major global powers react based on their interests to spark chain-reactions of joint and unilateral declarations of war.

Currently a TIE partnership is not close to feasible even internally since Turkey has by far the most to lose in the relationship; a stable and decidedly moderate domestic situation and a growing international presence means it has little to no direct incentive to stir trouble.  Whether or not Turkey’s policies are self-serving or genuinely based on ushering in a true Golden Age for the Turkish people and its civilization they have successfully managed to develop a ‘clean’ image and a perception among a wider international community of a Turkey as a neutral regional power well on its way to integrate itself into the elite competition of global politics.  With control over one of the important marine trade routes of the world connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterrean, hence Russia to Europe to Africa, a modern Turkey is unlikely to taste any fruit enticing enough to engage in aggressive politics, barring of course any dangerous domestic setbacks or foreign developments (i.e. Egypt and Syria).  This would make Turkey the uncertain yet pivotal player in any bold attempts to undermine Western influence in the Middle East and North East Africa.

In the case of Iran, US sanctions, beyond having a crippling effect on the economy, have effectively undercut Iran’s application for permament status in the SCO, an increasingly relevant international cooperation comprising eastern Asian states including Russia and China that aims to counteract growing US influence as it creeps ever deeper into Asia and Africa.  Serving parallel benefits for the US these sanctions have helped in blocking or limiting Iran’s access to nuclear power through trade restrictions and the US can also be seen to have taken extra measures (tongue-in-cheek) to physically isolate Iran with two wars that have created a Persian burger with US buns on either side, west in Iraq and east in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and let’s not forget US-favourite Saudi Arabia to the south.  The largest political asset of Iran, though, is its alliance with the Syrian regime, Hezb Allah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, Palestine.  This could serve as its richest bargaining chip in any deeper conciliation with a new Egypt and hence in turn with Turkey, a 3-for-1 deal of sorts, and all things considered would likely be the most willing partner of a tri-alliance.

However, the largest current geopolitical question regarding Egypt is still to be answered as the political vaacum has exposed the country to instability while protests have not yet quelled and the country remains under the watchful eye of the West.  Even with Europe to its north, unfriendly SA to its east and NATO and the US directly to its west in Libya, a powerful Egyptian military could present more destructive regional consequences to US and NATO interests than any imagined Turkish rise.  A leap of faith may even lead one to believe the unofficial reason for intervention in Libya was to create yet another sandwich, of Egyptian variety this time.  Even Cairo’s closest African ally to the south has been chopped in half by recent developments in Sudan that have suddenly turned friendly Sudan into friendly North Sudan for Egypt, as South Sudan remains largely under Western backing.  With Nato and the UN hinting threats at the North after it took control of a key oil state along the newly created border when recent clashes erupted, Egypt is not so much a burger as it as a wrap.

As it goes, risk-aversity as well as elements of a Prisoner’s Dilemma force the imaginary TIE partnership into near impossibility, as each ‘partner’ would likely opt for guaranteed political stability with minor concessions over major uncertainty and high-risk political pathways.  Taking into account the sectarian divide especially on the Iran front, the whole setup seems rather laughable and abstract at the end of it all, and indeed it may be so.  Nonetheless, this has not stopped Israel from working tirelessly to ensure that a TIE partnership remains impossible.  Dividing and weakening potential or perceived threats has been Israel’s chosen strategy for ensuring relative superiority or at least balanced influence in the region since its inception, allowing it to continue UN-opposed expansionist policies under pretexts of self-defense and state survival.  The Egypt card has turned up stronger than expected, however, which has and will continue to cause serious problems as Egypt’s role in Palestine has shifted 180° since the dethroning of the Mubarak regime, and presents the most immediate problem for Israel at the moment.  Any repositioning of TIE members that would foster affinity rather than division is unwelcome for Israel, so the case of Egypt and Iran courting each other on a platform of mutual shows of support for the Palestinians has rung major alarm bells in Israel.  This has prompted Israel to send their PM to address the US Congress in an exuberant show of ass-kissing with several Congress-wide standing ovations; a symbolic gesture to show to the world where standeth the powerful men and women of the mighty US Empire.

By Milad Dakka

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