Saturday, June 12, 2010

What Israel and Iran have in common

Now it’s done. The UN Security Council approved new sanctions against Iran over its suspected nuclear program. The White House must be satisfied, as it was able to gather the Permanent Five together on what it sees as a crucial resolution. Whether it is strong enough to have an effect is open to debate.

The resolution fell short of the symbolic weight of a unanimous vote. After some heavy telephone traffic and diplomatic contacts, Turkey and Brazil remained resilient and said no. Equally significant of the delicacy of the matter, Lebanon abstained, averting a national crisis.

The “no” votes follow the bloody incident off Gaza and will be viewed against that background. From now on, much of the debate on Turkey, in particular in the US capital, will be on whether to paint Turkey as some sort of scapegoat, by fuelling alarmism and panic on the basis of the “changing the axis” thesis.

Remnants of neocons in the administration, as well as the Israeli lobby and the sworn enemies of the current government -- mainly grouped in papers such as The Wall Street Journal -- will doubtlessly whip up the frustration. Most of the anti-Turkish propaganda will be based on the utterly problematic assumption that the alliance with the US should mean compliance with its policies without conditions. Although these views may be intense and widespread, it does not mean they are valid.

Let me try to broaden the perspective, as much as I can, after listening to what Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had to say hours after the UN vote. Ankara was not happy that the Vienna Group’s negative response to the Tehran agreement came just hours before the vote, and Davutoğlu said that the objection of Turkey must be read as a “yes” to continued diplomatic efforts on the same path as the agreement reached in Tehran recently. (Doubtlessly, Ankara will comply with the sanctions.) So far, both Obama and Clinton’s calls for further talks with Iran is tacit approval of the joint Turkish-Brazilian efforts to reach a reasonable settlement.

Would it not be better for its relations with the US if Turkey abstained? Well, one may argue for or against, but Ankara’s choice is obviously based on maintaining its credibility with the Tehran regime, particularly because Ankara, as Davutoğlu reminded, had made its full commitment to a peaceful settlement clear.

Davutoğlu may be right when he said in the aftermath of the resolution that it does not take the complex reality of the region into account. Turkish leaders, he said, were also busy talking with Lebanese leaders, who were undecided but inclined to a “no.” Turkey advised them to abstain in order not to lead the country into a deep political rift. Furthermore, as Davutoğlu pointed out, Iraq is suffering from the absence of a new government, and if the crisis with Iran deepens it may lead to worrisome consequences there because Teheran is the second most powerful player in that fragile country.

After the off-Gaza incident and the UN resolution, we have entered a period of high intensity, which should make debating whether or not Turkey has been changing its axis completely redundant. Israel and Turkey are now engaged in domestic soul-searching -- albeit at a low level -- and Egypt has opened its Gaza border permanently, putting a hole in the unsustainable Gaza blockade imposed by Israel.

US President Barack Obama, after meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, declared two things: There will be American aid to Gaza, and a “new approach” is needed for Israel’s policies on Palestinians. Turkey plans to continue its talks with both Hamas and Fatah in order to achieve Palestinian unity.

It is neither the fault of the Obama administration nor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government if the increasing complexities of the world are rejected by the circles I mentioned earlier, in Washington.

They refuse to see the following big picture (and will continue to be part of the problem as long as they do): There are two rogue powers in the region, Israel and Iran, which are theocracies (the real source of the problems they produce) with varying degree of pluralism and democracy. Both the Jewish state and the Shiite state are, unfortunately, governed by extremists.

Their defiance to the world on globally vital issues are interrelated, since both threaten, equally, the stability and security of not only the Middle East, but the world. Both undermine the interests of powers such as the US and the EU in achieving peace, fighting poverty and terror and promoting democracy.

When one is able to see the big picture, it is easier to understand Turkey as the third power; benevolent, democratic and secular, attempting to maintain the value of diplomatic talks, economic interdependency and coexistence based on respect and trust.

As long as Turkey is part of the regional processes, the prospects for peaceful solutions will remain high. The White House and the Pentagon know that, and one hopes the ill-intentioned others can, one day, as well. Let me help the latter with a hidden clue: My sources tell me that it was Ankara which helped encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to vote “yes” in Tuesday’s UN vote, with the notion of stability in the Balkans.

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