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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
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Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
         
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Update No: 078 - (28/06/10)

Israel Produces a ‘Turkey’
The United States complains that Europe has driven Turkey away from the West, NATO and Israel, pushing it closer to Iran and Syria. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates blames “someone in Europe having refused to grant Turkey the type of organic relationship with the West, which it was seeking”. Washington has always looked favorably toward Turkey as a member of the EU but has not wanted to understand that the EU has expansion problems already, that it has a migrant problem which could only be worsened by creating a migrant landbridge into Europe from western Asia. The EU nations do want a formal relationship with Turkey but not precisely the “organic relationship” Gates referred to. However, since that is the back story to US problems between its ally Turkey and its adopted ward, Israel, it is very odd that the US would ignore much more evident causes to account for the growing distance between Turkey and Israel (and indeed the West). In 2008, Israel undermined the Turkish mediated Syro-Israeli talks by attacking Gaza and inevitably damaging bilateral relations. Since then, Ankara and Tel Aviv once close, have only become more distant. The Israeli raid on a Turkish ship in international waters on May 31, bearing a Turkish flag, part of a humanitarian aid convoy headed to Gaza, which resulted in the death (which looked like executions) of nine Turkish citizens (possibly militants) has only served to exacerbate the already existing damage. Moreover, public opinion about the US in Turkey has considerably waned in the past few years. The US invasion of Iraq was one of the turning points; Turkey denied the US any use of its territory. It is not surprising, then, that Prime minister Erdogan has started to forge closer ties to its Islamic neighbors who are openly hostile to Israel, namely Syria and Iran. Turkey’s inevitable diplomatic shift toward its Muslim neighbors points to American foreign policy mistakes and Washington’s inability to put pressure on Israel.

The Israeli raid against the aid ship headed to Gaza has only served to increase tensions in the region and the very risk of war. President al-Asad of Syria said that the raid has “destroyed any chance of peace in the near future”. The Syrian leadership understandably never felt that it had a partner for peace in the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which in itself suggests that peace, or even peace talks, remains elusive. That in turn implies that the chances of war are greater. Moreover, the evasive opportunities for peace and Turkey’s shifting strategic alliances are also making it more difficult for the West to confront Iran over the nuclear issue. At the UN, Turkey has voted against approving more sanctions on Iran in view of its pursuit of nuclear technology. Turkey’s growing economy is now translating to expectations of a more important regional role and Syria is clearly entering its orbit, thanks to the continuing lack of any viable Western efforts to restore some balance to the Middle East.

Turkey is also promoting a type of regional integration of the Middle East also in order to become the principal exchange point for oil and gas pipelines coming from other Middle Eastern countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf), at which point Turkey would, ironically, become even more important to the West – including Syria. Turkey’s shift away from the West has been downplayed in the wider media, but it does represent a radical shift; indeed, it was not too long ago that Turkey had, at best, hostile relations with Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Eventually the United States will have to reconsider Turkey’s strategic importance and evaluate whether or not the maintenance of a privileged relationship to Israel is worth the gradual loss of strategic regional partners. Moreover, Israel’s intransigence and the resulting break with Turkey may well prove to be one of its biggest diplomatic mistakes; it has brought an important and well-armed power which is Turkey square into the fold of those opposed to Israel. In fact, Israel is now an obstacle to the regional economic and political union that Turkey has envisaged.

Short of a regional union, the first principal effect of the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli ties is the Tehran-Ankara-Damascus axis. Syria, however, has also managed to secure closer ties to Saudi Arabia over the past two years; it will be difficult for the United States to keep ignoring its requests to discuss the fate of the Golan for much longer. Syria has also secured closer ties to Lebanon in 2010, only serving to increase the ‘legitimacy’ of the new trio in Arab eyes and interestingly has effectively replaced Egypt as the main regional interlocutor. Syria and Egypt have had important differences over the Palestinian question; Cairo has not hesitated to maintain its border with Gaza, at Rafah, closed for long periods of time favoring the Israeli siege, while Syria maintains ties to Hamas. Egypt has also expressed strong concerns about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology. Largely, the disagreements over the Israeli lack of commitment to peace initiatives and to its wars in Lebanon and Gaza tightened the more ‘radical’ axis in which Syria plays a central role. The erosion of Turco-Israeli ties raise a new strategic consideration in case of an Israeli attack against Hezbollah, Lebanon or Syria: will Turkey retaliate?

Turkey’s new foreign policy has essentially forced a rethinking on ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’ in the Middle East, having, in practical terms, displaced the influence of the more traditional pro-West countries of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. As the sole Arab player, in the new ‘tripartite alliance’, Syria’s diplomatic power has increased. Iran and Turkey’s offers of greater security and more room to pursue its ambitions; certainly its closer ties to a major NATO power add clout when dealing with the United States, which cannot be relaxed about losing a key ally linking Europe to Central Asia. The United States will have to act one way or the other, which could take one of two general directions. Either the US starts during this presidency to put pressure on Israel to make real progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state abandoning its settlement policy in the West Bank, its siege of Gaza and occupation of the Golan; or it puts pressure on Europe to include Turkey in the EU which in our judgement will not, cannot happen any time soon by way of the full membership which Turkey seeks. Whichever the approach chosen by the US, president Obama will be forced to take notice of Turkey. It has far more influence over Syria than Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Turkey has also secured important links to Brazil and China and it is not surprising that Syrian president Asad has visited Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina at the end of June. Asad is looking for new sources of investment and technical expertise, some USD 45 billion, to improve Syria’s infrastructure. There are wealthy and important Syrian expatriate populations in Latin America, which could be receptive to Asad’s overtures. Brazil has already shown its interest in the region by opposing the UN sanctions against Iran. 
 

 

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