Monday, June 07, 2010

Bin Laden, Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad and Now Erdogan!

By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid


It goes without saying that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan aimed to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, however – and perhaps without meaning to – he managed to break Iran's blockade of the Arabs.

Before jumping to conclusions, let us try and read the situation today. Following the traditional proclamation "The King is dead. Long live the King!" posters of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were covered over and replaced with posters of Erdogan. Since every party has a star, the Turkish leader has become the Arab's favorite star for this political season.

Posters are the most revealing means of gauging the public mood in the region, and so in the past posters of Bin Laden could be found everywhere when Al Qaeda was mounting deadly attacks on the West in the name of Palestine and Islam. However following crushing defeats suffered by Al Qaeda, posters of Bin Laden were replaced by posters of Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah enjoyed immense popularity in the wake of Hezbollah's war on Israel, and posters of him could be found everywhere, from on the walls of coffeehouses to plastering the windows of buses.

However Erdogan has taken over from Bin Laden and Nasrallah today, while the Turks have replaced the Iranians, and this is by creating an uproar over the Freedom Flotilla [which was raided by Israel] and by making fiery speeches. This has allowed the Arabs to vent their suppressed feelings of bitterness and resentment, especially as the region had been experiencing a period of dull calm after Hezbollah's guns fell silent, and after Hamas gave up on its principles when it announced last week that it consents to finding a solution through peaceful negotiations, and that it would be willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

For his part, Erdogan has been escalating the conflict with Israel since the infamous incident at the World Economics Forum in Davos when he clashed with Shimon Peres and walked out of the Forum. The latest example of this conflict can be seen in the Israeli assault on the Gaza-bound [Turkish] aid ship.

However the hot-blooded Turkish rhetoric is different to the Iranian shouting. Turkey did not sever its ties with Israel, and it did not halt its security, military, and political cooperation with Tel Aviv. Israel is also continuing to use Turkish territory and air space for its war games in preparation for a possible war with Iran. The Arabs, however, are not concerned by this, for they are well-accustomed to duplicity.

Erdogan, who wanted to break Israel's blockade of Gaza, broke the Iranian blockade on the Arabs instead, and this is an important event if it truly comes as part of a political project, for this has caused Ahmadinejad's image to fade, and Nasrallah's presence to wane. More than this, the Arab regimes have welcomed the Turkish competition [with Iran]. Are there those who are encouraging Ankara's emergence with the aim of diminishing Iran's presence?

The Arab's problem with Iran playing a leading role is their fear of Tehran, for they believe that Iran is hiding a political agenda that is hostile to their interests. By supporting the Palestinian cause, Tehran is strengthening its staunch ally Hezbollah, and this is with the aim of imposing Iranian hegemony on the entire Arab region. As for Turkey, the most that Ankara could benefit from by raising the Palestinian flag would be by advancing its political status, particularly in the face of deliberate European reluctance [to deal with Turkey]. This does not contract or marginalize Arab interests, unlike the Iranian goal which directly undermines the Arab position.

Some argue that Turkey's appearance on the Arab political scene, despite the fact that this embarrasses Arab regimes, also serves them by keeping Iran's political and propaganda onslaught at bay. It might have occurred to some Arabs, who are being politically besieged by Iran, to attempt to bring in Turkey to counterbalance Tehran. This is in line with the specifications of the new conflict in the region, the most prominent of which is sectarian.

However an opposite point of view sees Turkey as an alarming and additional power in the region that is not a substitute for Iran. They believe that Syria, Tehran's strategic ally, invited Turkey to have a role in the Middle East when it suggested Ankara as mediator for its negotiations with Israel. Without Damascus, Turkey would never have gained a foothold in the Arab world today. So the question is, is Turkey a part of the Iranian axis, or is it part of a plan to exclude the Iranians?

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