Analysis: The new northern tier?

Analysis The new northe

November 1, 2009 22:52
3 minute read.

In the early '50s, when Israel was still young, the West was feeling the brunt of the Communist threat to the Middle East. The end of World War II had left festering wounds of Stalin's intrusions into Greece and Iran and his attempted appropriation of northeastern Turkey. There was also the unraveling Soviet fraternization with Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The West was concerned with the growing Soviet presence in eastern Mediterranean and the approaches to the Mideastern oil fields. The United States and Britain were working hard to develop a defense organization against the USSR. They turned to Egypt, but Nasser turned them down. President Truman had declared, in 1947, his doctrine to defend Turkey, Greece and the other states of the area. Adnan Menderes, the ambitious and crafty prime minister of Turkey, became the leading local force in developing the defense organization. Nuri Sayid, the then-prime minister of the Royal Iraqi government, joined him. The Shah hesitated, but was drawn into the net. With the inclusion of Pakistan the alliance became known as the Northern Tier. Iraq broke off after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1953. Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize Israel after its independence in 1948. But with the active role assigned to Turkey in the development of the Northern Tier with its Muslim partners, the first flush of cordiality vis-a-vis Israel rapidly faded. Erol Guney, the Turkish-Jewish correspondent working for The Jerusalem Post, asked Menderes for the reason. "You can't make an omelet without breaking the eggs," the Turkish prime minister replied. The long years of Turkey's cooperation with the West notwithstanding, the prospects for its admittance into the European Union are dimming. Turkey continues to maintain strong political, economic and defense connections with the United States and Europe (and Israel), but has decided to go off on its own. The present government is forceful and self-confident; its ascendancy over the army in the latter's attempts to maintain secular traditions has now apparently passed the point of no return. We are now witnessing the resurgence of Turkish involvement with the Middle East. To gain greater international legitimacy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently signed an agreement with Armenia, somewhat soothing a sore point in Turkey's past. Iran welcomes a new and dedicated associate to the Islamic notion, even should Turkey turn out to be an obstacle to its plans. Nonetheless, there is the remembered pain of historical confrontations and the persistence of mutual suspicions: Iran is devoutly Shi'ite, Turkey - worldly Sunni. Beyond smiles and platitudes the two are too enterprising to share the vast expanses of the region. Iraq is slowly regaining its body politic, even if its final shape is open to question. Thirsty Syria looks forward to Turkish mediation over the Golan Heights - and maybe some help by releasing more of the waters impounded by the great Ataturk Dam. In the '50s the Northern Tier countries were sponsored by the West and their internal rivalries were controlled. It is a different West today, trying to safeguard its economic and political interests, endeavoring to impede the rising tide of Islam. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can hardly allow further overextension. Turkey is a strong, vibrant, politically stable and internationally enterprising nation. It is rich in natural and human resources and is at the headwaters of the region's main rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris. The future oil and gas lines that are to cross Turkish territory to Europe will provide an impressionable political vocabulary otherwise denied to Turkey in the EU. No wonder then that the Erdogan government is actively engaged in carving out a geo-political presence for his country in the Middle East. Erdogan is repeating Menderes's concept of relations with Israel. Israel, in his view, must accommodate Turkish ambitions. In his quest for Turkish influence, Erdogan voices his condemnations of Israel and demonstrates his support of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas as well. He preaches atomic disarmament to support Iran and to point a finger at Israel. Thus, Turkey and Iran are emerging as the two rising powers in the Middle East, promoting their own interests rather than safeguarding the concerns of outsiders. There is no Soviet threat on the horizon and the West has no interest in supporting a new concert of Muslim nations, but geostrategic considerations dictate listening and to humoring these countries, insofar as possible and until further notice. The writer is former head of political research at the Foreign Ministry.

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