Turkish-Egyptian Possibilities

Does a little anti-Israeli PR from Cairo when the Egyptian government obviously needs to calm down its population really matter?

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry website reports:

On receiving the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr affirmed the importance of exerting all possible efforts to maintain stability in Lebanon and protecting it from all regional developments which might be negatively reflected on the country and the importance of excluding any political actor from the Lebanese equation

Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Counselor Amr Roushdi stated that the Minister stressed that the main guarantee for Lebanese and regional stability is the immediate halting of the daily Israeli violations of the Lebanese airspace and respecting the Lebanese sovereignty over its space and soil.

In the context of a world nearly united in favor of the recognition of a Palestinian state, the popular Egyptian calls for an end to the Egyptian-Israeli alliance, the collapse of Israeli-Turkish ties, and the utter loss of U.S. credibility as a peace broker, yes, it matters.

While it is likely that no one would anticipate immediate Egyptian military moves to protect Lebanon, the mere launching of a diplomatic initiative focusing attention on Israel’s belligerence against Lebanon changes the Mideast political environment. It says that now, suddenly, Israel no longer has the essentially unchallenged (except by Iran) right to do what it wants. (It also says that Iran no longer “owns” the issue of supporting Palestinians, something Washington should applaud.) Already on the defensive over the U.N. campaign by Palestinians for recognition of a Palestinian state and over its attack on the international delegation trying to bring aid to Gazans, Israel will now be preoccupied by a third embarrassing diplomatic battle.

Will Israeli FM Lieberman advocate support for anti-Egyptian terrorism, as he did with Turkey? (One might well wonder why Israel would want to legitimate the use of terror as a tool of state policy…) Indeed, Lieberman’s threat suggests more clearly than anything else the disarray of the Israeli government. Israel’s free ride during the post-9/11 years may be drawing to a close.

Given the obsequious attitude of Washington toward anything desired by the Israeli right, the military side of the whole issue of the Israeli campaign of Lebanese border violations seems likely to be minor, although the imminent transfer of Turkish warships to the Eastern Mediterranean with the apparent intent of protecting future popular efforts to break Israel’s Gaza Ghetto blockade raises the possibility of a future military response on behalf of Lebanon.

For now, however, the real significance of Cairo’s statement is its perfect timing in support of Erdogan. Erdogan will get off the plane today in Cairo knowing that his trip is already a success: Cairo is now publicly committed to raising the heat on Israeli transgressions of international law. Moreover, Cairo has selected an issue, very possibly after careful secret discussions with Ankara, that can only make Israel look bad and in response to which Tel Aviv probably will not be able to do much. Beating up on helpless Lebanon only accomplishes one thing: it legitimizes Hezbollah. A real friend of Israel would so inform them, but Israel’s lackeys in Washington are not, in the end, such friends.

So Tel Aviv must watch helplessly while Cairo and Ankara bask in the strong, warm sunlight on the high moral ground. After all, who can object to the integrity of international borders?

One caveat is important: the whole idea of a military alliance between Turks and Egyptians is, well, shall we just say “sensitive” and leave it at that? I mean, all that U.S. military aid in limbo, and Turkey probably does not want to be expelled from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty for Protecting Israel Organization). Then, there’s all that historical baggage…I mean, let’s just say that Cairo and Ankara do create a military alliance and do emerge supreme in the Mideast. Down the road a bit, sure, but let’s just say they do. Then what? Will the land of Nasser, the Custodian of the Three Holy Pyramids play second fiddle to the new Ottoman Empire? Will the neo-Ottomans, who used to rule Egypt, play second fiddle to an impoverished country dependent on U.S. aid?

So, over the long run, many sensitivities will need to be managed. Nevertheless, for now, even a tiny step toward serious Turkish-Egyptian military cooperation in the context of worsening relations between each and Israel constitutes a tipping point. The weakening regional position of the U.S. only underscores this. Arguments over how many centimeters down the slippery slope this carries the Mideast are beside the point. The momentum has shifted. Instead of a dominant dynamic of U.S.-Israel-Saudi control of the Mideast, one now sees the potential rise of dominance of a new dynamic: political initiative shifting to a moderate (primarily peaceful and supportive of international law) coalition with real military power and popular support that will challenge Israel’s right to play by special rules. Washington of course remains free to continue supporting everything Tel Aviv does, but only at the cost of harming U.S. national security a little bit every single time it does so.

And Erdogan? All he has to do is shake hands with Egyptian leaders, congratulate them loudly on their foresight, proclaim Ankara’s strong support, visit the pyramids, and go home. That will suffice to change the dynamics of Mideast affairs. Anything beyond that will be icing on the moderate Islamist, moderate nationalist cake.

And that raises the question of what further steps Cairo and Ankara might indeed take in the context of an Egyptian call for Israel to respect Lebanese security, a Palestinian campaign for statehood, and Ankara’s announcement that its warships will start patrolling off the coast of Israel and Lebanon.

Syria and Palestine. A strongly worded joint call for peaceful resolution of domestic conflict that lays out a set of principles to be applied equally in Syria and in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would put Cairo and Ankara nicely on the moral high ground.

Lebanon. A joint statement supporting the territorial integrity of Lebanon would be a minimal step. Joint naval patrols off Lebanon’s coast would add substance. Holding discussions on possible joint military aid to Lebanon and leaking the story to the media would go a step further. If they want to be really creative, Cairo and Ankara could announce support for the principle of the integrity of “all regional state borders,” specifically including the borders of Bahrain, Lebanon, a future Palestinian state, and the 1967 borders of Israel.

Gaza. And then, there’s Gaza. Some initiative regarding the right of Gazans to participate in international trade, fish off their coastline, receive the income from any hydrocarbons in Gazan territorial waters, and travel into Egypt is the absolute minimum that must come out of the Turkish-Egyptian summit in order to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. Whatever else the two sides do, Cairo must figure out a way to start extricating itself from its complicity in the Gaza Ghetto.

The amazing thing about Erdogan’s visit is the abundance of possibilities on the Egyptian-Turkish table.


Emerging News: Egypt Warns Israel Over Lebanon

Cairo has reportedly warned Israel to cease its constant violations of Lebanon’s border with its warplanes. On the eve of Erdogan’s summit visit, this is an interesting initiative for Cairo suddenly to take. If Cairo wants to make progress toward a military alliance with Turkey, what better issue for joint action could have been thought up than a diplomatic move to protect poor, nearly helpless Lebanon?

If this report is not true, it should be. Is Erdogan kicking himself for letting Cairo take the obvious first step, or might they have jointly decided to allow the Egyptian military dictators to get the credit for it? Keep watching. This could turn into something.

Lebanese Sunni Fight Each Other While Hezbollah Calls for Unity

Miqati becomes prime minister of Lebanon with the Sunnis politically fractured and fighting each other. Is there hope for replacing Lebanon’s delicate and anti-democratic confessional structure with a modern political system?
In a clear reference to former Lebanese prime minister Hariri (junior), the press office of Sunni member of parliament Mohammed Safari held those responsible for inciting violence to be responsible. The offices of Sunni lawmaker Safari were attacked by Sunni protestors angry at his support for the new Lebanese prime minister, the Sunni businessman and briefly prime minister in 2005 Miqati.
The Lebanese political situation is unfolding on at least three levels:
  • Hezbollah vs. Sunni;
  • U.S./Israel vs. Iran and those Lebanese who want a Lebanon free to pursue a policy independent of U.S./Israeli wishes;
  • Internal Sunni politics.
The attack on Safari’s Tripoli offices addresses my question yesterday about the possible significance of a split in the Sunni camp.  With the Lebanese Shi’a probably already the largest and fastest growing “confessional” group in Lebanon, not to mention the one with both the most modern political party and the most powerful militia, an open split among the country’s billionaire Sunni businessmen politicians would seem pretty significant for Lebanon’s balance of power.
If Lebanon’s leaders can manage to cooperate enough to avoid the civil war that Israel may well be anticipating with glee, it is just possible that this split in Sunni ranks might lead to revision of Lebanon’s bizarre and delicate confessional political structure to pave the way toward real democracy. That is the long-term silver lining in the very dark Lebanese political thunderhead we see today.
If Hezbollah wants to seize the initiative as leader of patriotic Lebanese, a convincing policy to help the poor of all confessions that clearly offered something to the poor Sunni of Tripoli and perhaps even the long marginalized Palestinian refugees who fled the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948-9 would be a landmark first step.
Miqati is calling for unity; can he come out swinging as the true reform candidate Lebanon needs? To do so will require some creative thinking: with Saudis, Americans, and Israelis all either alienated or actively opposed to the success of Miqati’s imminent rule, he has few places to go for resources. Mr. Erdogan, are you listening? Some spare change and a small Turkish “peace corps” effort right now would really put Turkey on the map as a regional leader.

One Day in the Life of a Superpower

The last decade in world affairs has revolved around a global conflict between the world’s last remaining superpower and “political Islam,” with a seemingly endless series of horrifying events – African embassy bombings, 9/11, Fallujah, half a million Pakistani refugees, etc. All the deaths demonstrate the importance of tracking the impact of Mideast affairs on the superpower: it is a very big elephant and where it steps will matter. Today was a very bad day for the proponents of empire.

Hezbollah moved gracefully and smartly by the Western democratic rulebook from outsider toward being the new ruling party in Lebanon. It probably does not have the faintest idea of how difficult ruling Lebanon will be,  but that’s another story. Today, Hezbollah looked professional and modern; Washington’s allies looked incompetent and petulant.

Coincidentally, a little leak of Palestinian secrets exposed the utter fraud of the Washington-Tel Aviv position on Israel’s West Bank colonization project that, until today, was known as the “peace process.”

As Roman emperors could tell us if they were still around, a superpower needs to appear effective.

It appears that Washington will soon face a fateful decision. Assuming that Hezbollah legally and peacefully forms the next Lebanese regime, Washington will have to decide whether to accept the democratic process and help Lebanon survive or try to provoke a return to the ghastly civil war of the 1980s. Provoking civil war in tiny Lebanon will have unpredictable consequences over the long run, but over the short run, it is highly likely to constitute al Qua’ida’s greatest victory so far.
Washington playing the “heavy”

Lebanon Upside-Down

Just a quick thought and a question on the latest from Lebanon…

The establishment, “pro-democracy,” “pro-stability,” “pro-US” candidate for prime minister has his guys in the street burning tires and is screaming the most incendiary rhetoric about all his opponents being traitors and refusing to compromise while Hezbollah–that representative of the largest confessional group in Lebanon–is playing precisely by Western democratic rules. In classic British tradition, Hezbollah brought about the fall of the government and now gets the chance to form a new government. What’s not to like? Surely you are not going to tell me we in the West only like democracy when our guys win!?!? I mean, these are “our” rules that Hezbollah is following! Ain’t democracy a beautiful thing?

Question: is the real news here the installation of a Hezbollah government or the splitting of the Sunnis?

Ankara Stumbles and Lebanon Slides Down the Slippery Slope

Rushing to be a player, Ankara trips over its own diplomatic feet.

Judging from a Turkish media report, Ankara seems to have stumbled embarrassingly in its Mideast diplomacy, a misstep that seems likely only to aggravate regional tensions. Reportedly, Ankara agreed to join a French initiative designed to exclude Iran from efforts to resolve the Lebanon political crisis, then–following Iranian protests–backtracked and decided to offer its own approach, of course open to all regional players. What could Ankara have possibly been thinking in imagining that participating in an effort shutting out Tehran could either achieve a solution to a problem that has Iran deeply embedded in its essence or enhance Ankara’s claims of offering a new style of inclusive diplomacy?

Now, instead of seizing the moral high ground as the leader of regional moderation and conciliation, Ankara appears to be the dupe of Tehran. Tehran will not be pleased because it had to push for the inclusion it should have been able to count on. The West will not be pleased because Ankara has gone back on its word. Such clumsy diplomatic miscalculation sets everyone’s teeth on edge; this is not the way to lead a group of violence-prone, zero-sum politicians toward the new win-win world that Davutoglu has been advocating. Ankara’s stumble just pushed Lebanon a little further down the slippery slope to chaos.

Can a compromise solution to murder be discovered?
Lebanon’s future hangs on a case of murder – that of Hariri senior. At first glance it seems hard to imagine a compromise: someone murdered Hariri and that person should be punished. Disagreeing with Palin, those behind-the-scene manipulators should also be punished. But how…without harming the people of Lebanon? Hariri is not the only regional figure to have been murdered recently. Perhaps the politicians who risk so easily the lives of others could start with the voicing of a general principle: political murders are bad. They could cite the case of Hariri, the case of Iranian nuclear scientists, and the case of the Hamas leader in Dubai, and the case of the Mavi Mamara.

Fortunately, much more is going on, with the Erdogan-Assad-al Thani and Davutoglu-al Thani-Nasrallah meetings being prime examples. But public missteps that violate fundamental principles are costly, and the principle of inclusion of all in an effort to find a compromise seems to be a key component of any real solution.

My Safety Requires Your Surrender

Danger: when I am prevented from hitting you. For example, allowing women to defend themselves endangers muggers. Similarly, some countries cannot be allowed to defend themselves.
According to Haaretz, U.S. Representative Steve Rothman has urged France to rethink its plans to sell anti-tank missiles to Lebanon, stipulating that the volatile situation in that country meant that it would put Israel into “grave danger.”
If the Lebanese armed forces obtained anti-tank missiles, then they might actually choose to defend Lebanon the next time Israel decides to invade. Alternatively, those weapons might end up in the hands of Hezbollah, which will surely defend Lebanon the next time Israel invades. Of course, Israel could still destroy Lebanese infrastructure at will from its jet bombers and litter the land with white phosphorus terror weapons, like those that still maim Lebanese children as the result of Israel’s 2006 invasion, but if it could not drive its tanks through Lebanon, Israel would be put in “grave danger.”
Well, yes, this U.S. congressional spokesperson for the Israeli expansionist right wing has a point. After all, the best Israel could manage in 2006 was a draw – it provoked the flood north of a million or so Lebanese refugees, ravaged the land and wrecked civilian infrastructure, but Hezbollah was able to hold on and claim credit for stopping the regional superpower in its tank tracks. So giving Lebanon the means to defend itself would endanger…well, obviously not “Israel” but at least the expansionist plans of the right wing. After all, how seriously is Iran going to take Israeli threats if even tiny Lebanon starts defending itself? The whole house of cards would start to shake.

Turkish Air-Defense Shield for Lebanon?

A logical future step in Turkey’s emergence as an active, independent player in Mideast affairs would be military moves to enhance regional security. Such a step would constitute a regional political (and perhaps military) gamechanger, with winners and losers surprisingly hard to calculate. But could Turkey even take such a step? Here’s one possibility.
Would it be feasible for Turkey to defend Lebanon against Israel? Consider:
Russian S-400 air defense missiles have a range of 250 miles. Lebanon is 135 long and separated from Turkey by less than 100 miles of Syrian territory. Russia and Turkey have been discussing Russian sale of both the S-300 missile that Russia had contracted to sell to Iran and the more advanced S-400.
What would happen if the Israeli F-16’s that regularly violate Lebanese airspace were attacked by Turkish S-400’s from Turkey I cannot say, but politically this would be a Mideast game-changer. An air defense shield over Lebanon from Turkey would:
  • Call into question Israel’s military superiority (“calling into question” constitutes a significant political step regardless of the technical details);
  • Make moderate Turkey rather than radical Iran the main potential military ally for Lebanon;
  • Diminish Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese defense and reduce Hezbollah’s freedom of action since it could not be sure that an offensive move by Hezbollah would be supported by air cover from neutral Turkey;
  • Raise the issue of Turkish air protection of Syria (Turkish-Syrian military relations are already improving);
  • To at least some degree complicate Israel’s tactics for any aggression against Iran.
Aggression by anyone in the region would be harder to pull off, the likelihood of victory would be harder to calculate, the regional political calculus would be more complicated, the influence of the current leaders on all sides (Iran, Israel, and the U.S.) would be reduced; Turkey would emerge as an independent actor with the apparent and perhaps real capacity to influence the outcome of any war in the Levant. A bilateral, near-zero-sum, Levantine confrontation would be replaced by a tri-lateral situation in which calculating one’s self-interest would be more difficult for all, implying that all would have to adopt less risky behavior. Mideast stability would be enhanced.

Background Reading:

The State of Lebanon

Can Ankara Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute?

Might Turkish security guarantees resolve the Palestinian-Israeli dispute?
Israeli media claim Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, not just a politician but a far-sighted academic, is promoting the idea of Turkey as guarantor of Israeli-Palestinian peace. This is a brilliant idea, whether in fact being publicly promoted by Davutoglu or not, that would cut the double Gordian knot of Israeli-Palestinian hostility and Israeli-Iranian hostility by interposing a layer of insulation. All sides would then have the option of avoiding overreaction and childish polemic simply by saying, “Please excuse me momentarily while I consult with Ankara.” More, Ankara might just have the ability to do what U.N. peacekeepers face-to-face with Israel cannot do: actually enforce the peace.

Whatever Davutoglu may have said and whether he was speaking as Foreign Minister or as an academic thinking over a longer time-scale, the fact remains that the question of how an independent Palestine could ever conceivably protect itself from Israeli aggression is the (invisible in the U.S.) elephant in the room of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Aside from a domestic political revolution in Israel that would see the rise to power of a leftist Israeli party dedicated to equality and democracy rather than Zionism and expansion and the garrison state, one rather appealing solution would be to make Turkey the protector, not of the whole Levant, but at least of Lebanon and an independent Palestine. Turkey under a moderate Islamist and seriously democratizing regime is that rarest of Mideast species: an actor able to speak to all sides from (at least relatively) the moral high ground.

It staggers the imagination to conceive of how Turkey could be the “protector” of regional nuclear hegemon Israel. Since Israel is the main source of regional aggression, the only colonial state in the region (now that Syria has vacated Lebanon), and by far the most militarily powerful regional actor, the very idea at present makes no sense, though in theory one could of course imagine a deal in which Iran and Israel both received guarantees. (Such a guarantee would be complicated, since Iran under any regime will surely continue to desire not only security but also a significantly more prominent role in regional affairs and since that is precisely what the Zionist elite currently running Israel most adamantly opposes.) Be that as it may, the more realistic idea of a Turkish security guarantee for Israel’s weak neighbors Lebanon and Palestine is a timely one that deserves careful consideration.

As for Lebanon, Erdogan made it clear during his trip to Lebanon this week that Ankara is already thinking about Lebanese security, noting that Turkey would not remain on the sidelines in the event of yet another Israeli invasion.

Among the many questions that perhaps few interested parties have seriously considered are:  

  1. Does Ankara have the military capability to protect Lebanon from an Israeli attack?
  2.  Does Erdogan have a reasonable shot at unifying Turkish society and his military behind a policy of protecting Lebanon and Palestine?
  3.  Could Erdogan persuade Hamas–as the recognized, legally elected (again) government of Palestine–not to engage in violence in return for a reliable Turkish military cordon sanitaire against Israeli interference?
  4.  Is there any Israeli political faction that could run an election campaign with the policy of welcoming a Turkish guarantee of the inviolability of the Palestinian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli borders? 
  5. Can Washington bring itself to accept the hand of friendship from moderate political Islam?

Right-wing Israeli Faction’s Threat to U.S. National Security

Washington leaders of both parties have ceded foreign policy independence to the military Israeli right wing.
Michel Scheuer, self-described “hawkish” former head of the Osama bin Laden tracking unit at CIA, has given an urgent warning about the danger of supporting the militant Netanyahu regime that should have been headline news in the New York Times:
Netanyahu can take 300 million Americans to war whenever he wants even if Congress has not voted to declare war or if Iran has not attacked us. [As heard in Scheuer’s interview video on Newsmax.]
Scheuer, who strongly reaffirms the danger of the jihadi challenge, warned that the mid-term results may increase the danger of a war with Iran and pointed out that the cause of the jihadi challenge is the nature of U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim world, not Western lifestyle.
The last thing Americans, in recession and with tens of thousands of permanently wounded Veterans, need is yet another war, but the truth is that the U.S. is sliding toward war with Iran. In fact, the danger of a war by mistake is increasing daily because of hostility provoked by irresponsible politicians such as Netanyahu, Ahmadinejad, and (this weekend) Lindsey Graham; the arms race (Iranian defense measures against US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan plus its naval armada in the Persian Gulf); ideological commitment blinding both sides; and the self-defeating habit of speaking only the language of force rather than searching for mutual accommodation.
As if all that were not enough, Scheuer points out the crucial additional element that Washington’s groveling before the right-wing regime in Israel has ceded U.S. independence to the point that Netanyahu could shove us into a war with Iran. And Netanyahu has plenty of reasons to want such a war: it would justify his rhetoric, gain Israel even more free arms from the U.S., enable Israel to expand its mini-empire (probably covering the Israeli colonization of Lebanon); and distract attention from Israel’s campaign to swallow the West Bank.
Handing a foreign country control over the decision of peace or war gives a whole new meaning to the term “abuse of power.” Normally leaders abuse power by grabbing more than society offers them, but in this case Washington is giving up the power to decide the issue of war or peace–one of the key duties assigned to Obama by the U.S. people–by ceding it to a clique of foreigners intent upon manipulating the U.S. for its own private purposes.
It is important to be clear that the issue is not Israeli security but the particular policies of the militant and expansionist Israeli right-wing ruling elite that constitute the danger to U.S. security. Scheuer’s message should be headline news and should remind us all of the similar message Petraeus tried to send last spring.