Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stormy days lie ahead

Within the past few days, Iranian soldiers have crossed into Iraqi territory and taken up position at a southern oilfield. The oilfield’s ownership was disputed by Iran before it withdrew during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
According to some analysts, Iran, with this brief incursion, aims to send a message to the West that it will not bend to Western demands as easily as the West wished to think. Iran does this by displaying how quickly it can escalate tension in the region.
Iran wished to send yet another message as well, according to other sources: a message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reconsider his recent intentions of a more secular and independent governing plan. As the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq draws near, neither America nor the al-Maliki government is in any mood to see the region destabilized. Maybe it is this juncture that urged U.S. civil and military officials to downplay the latest episode.
A few days earlier, I wrote in my last column about some equations of the nearing deadline for the Iran engagement contingency. The escalated air in the region shows that the situation could get more threatening than anticipated. Iran has some strings to pull in the region, and it is showing that it is more than willing to pull those strings at any time.
Ian Lesser, a well-known Turkey expert at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, D.C., analyzed the current predicament from Turkey’s perspective and called this coming “what to do next” era the “Turks’ dilemma.” He shared some of his worries with me over the phone while he was in Lisbon for meetings last week, and said Turkey is getting more uncomfortable with the unpredictability of the Iranian posture.
On the one hand, Turkey has been trying to expand its influence in the region with various policy shifts, and striving to apply a “zero-problems” policy to its relations with its neighbors. On the other, it finds itself within the range of Iran’s long-range missiles, as the latest tests have proved.
Turkey still wants a “strong diplomatic” solution for the crisis, as Iran, along with Russia, provides about 90 percent of Turkey’s energy needs, Lesser argues. And it is apparent that Turkey, with its significant energy and trade ties with Iran, will be one of the biggest losers in the face of the prospect of “crippling sanctions.”
“I am sure that the Prime Minister Erdoğan elaborated these concerns in the Oval Office to Obama,” Lesser added, without confirming that he knew such talks actually took place.
When asked about a possible military confrontation by Israel, Lesser said he doesn’t believe that such an operation would be a solution, as the military operation against Iran would be in an “open account” fashion, meaning a one-time military strike such the one in which Israeli war planes destroyed Syrian nuclear facilities in the past, which would not be sufficient to end the Iranians’ nuclear capability or ambitions. On the contrary, Lesser said, such military operations need to be repeated and may tend to spread to the region with Iran’s proximity wars, implying that such a scenario might bring bigger calamities than the one in Iraq.
Another well-known Turkey and Middle East expert in Washington, D.C., Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, attracted my attention when he said that, from the beginning, the Obama administration had repeatedly extended olive branches to the Iranian regime but received no reciprocity. Cook pointed out that it took about three months for Obama to decide on the Afghan strategy after the commanders of the NATO and U.S. forces submitted their report on the Afghan theater.
On the Afghan question, it was America’s own budgetary and military limitations that strained Obama’s decision-making capability. On the Iranian question, however, the pressures and limitations vary greatly and are multi-dimensional, which will constrain Obama’s decision-making. Therefore, the length and deliberations that the U.S. president went through in the past signal that the coming era of deciding on meaningful actions regarding Iran will prove to be much more difficult and time-consuming than expected.
Cook, in an op-ed article he published in June titled “Why Israel won’t attack Iran,” argued that Israel would not attack Iran anytime soon because the political environment was not ripe at the time. I addressed this issue and asked him if the political environment is ripe for Israel to strike Iran now. He paused first and then told me that today’s political environment is indeed more convenient and that he sees a greater chance for such a confrontation now than when he wrote the article. Since then, the Obama administration has tried the diplomatic options and so far nothing has worked. When the December deadline is over, Cook forecasts, it will be much more difficult to convince Israel to stand still.
When I urged him to make a prediction about the crippling sanctions against Iran and what one should expect from the Turkish administration, if such a tally is to be taken in the U.N. Security Council, Cook surprisingly said that he would expect Turkey to vote against such sanctions because of the increased bilateral ties mentioned above. Cook also conceded that the conditions of such a time and the specifics for such sanctions would present a much different situation than the one we are witnessing today.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration is, without a doubt, quickly nearing its biggest and most crucial shakedown in the foreign-affairs arena since it came to power. Thus far, the AKP administration has been outperforming many of its predecessors in foreign affairs with its pro-active and seemingly self-confident modality. I hope that the AKP is fully aware of the era it is getting involved in, and I also hope that it has already prepared various policy options for such times, which would most likely to go from bad to worst.
The stormy days that lie ahead of us might demand a leader, and the real leaders tend to emerge only in rare occasions and in times of crises, as history tells us. If this is what the AKP leadership has long asked for, it will likely meet its quest in just a matter of time.

1 Comment    


Guest - B (2009-12-22 14:27:55) :

The governments of both Iraq and Iran have denied this Saudi American propaganda. It is unfortunate that a Hurriyet Daily News columnist repeats it.

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