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Turkey Slouches Toward Iran

The flotilla incident is less about Israeli-Palestinian issues than it is about Turkey.

5:40 PM, Jun 1, 2010 • By SETH CROPSEY
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A new alignment in the Middle East has been in the making since Erdogan came to power.  Unlike his Ottoman predecessors whose ambitions and outlook extended toward both Europe and Central Asia, Erdogan is focused to the east, specifically the Islamist East.  The questions this opens rival in scope and magnitude those that Iran’s Islamic revolution raised.   

Would an entente followed by strategic alliance between Turkey, Iran, and Syria—including greatly increased support for Hamas and Hezbollah—end Lebanon’s existence as a buffer state on Israel’s northern border?  What does so powerful an axis on or close to its borders mean for Israel’s future?  How would such an axis use its weight to spread Islamism throughout other Central Asian states and what would this mean for Russia, China, and India?  Would Turkish-Iranian cooperation strangle the Kurds between them, and what calamitous prospect does this hold for the northern third of Iraq, to say nothing of Iraq itself?  Should a Turkish state with Iran as a partner remain a member of NATO?  Is there any reason to keep Turkey in NATO other than to try to prevent a war with Greece?  And if Prime Minister Erdogan is right that the Mavi Marmara incident is “a turning point in history,” what reason is there to think that an alliance whose main business today is fighting Islamic radicals outside Europe would have any significant restraining influence over an Islamist Turkey in its age-old disagreement with Orthodox Greece? 

Finally, and perhaps most puzzling, what does the Obama administration make of all this?  Does it understand the effect of its policy toward Israel?  Does it see that gradual diminishing of U.S. support for Israel encourages the suggestion advanced by Prime Minister Erdogan’s friend Ahmadinejad that Israel can be wiped off the map?  Does the Obama administration think, for example, that the resolution it supported in the UN on Friday, May 28 for a nuclear-free Middle East, which singles out Israel but is silent on Iran, encourages or discourages the belief that maybe, just maybe, Israel will be forced on terms regardless of their consequences for its security to accede to Palestinian rulers, i.e. Hamas? 

Is this an objective that the Obama administration seeks in its belief that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements stand in the way of peace in the Middle East?  Or does the current administration believe that it can chip away endlessly at the U.S. relationship with Israel without such large consequences as the radicalization and strategic re-orientation of what was once our most powerful Muslim-majority state in the region?  President Obama’s first trip abroad was to Europe and his first stop was Turkey.  How could it have turned into this?  How did the U.S. miss the opportunity to pull Turkey into a strategic partnership consistent with that great country’s ambitions and capabilities? 

Senator Joseph Biden, while he was a vice presidential candidate, said that “it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy.”  Biden was wrong about timing, but right about the crisis.  This one is not about the Mavi Marmara.  It is about the strategic mass created by the increasingly convergent paths of the two of the Middle East’s largest, most powerful, and influential states, one of which could become a nuclear power and the other of which is on the threshold. 

Seth Cropsey is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.  He served as a naval officer from 1985 to 2004 and as deputy undersecretary of the Navy in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. 

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