Does Europe Exist?

Europeans need to decide whether or not Europe exists. If it does, the rich need to act accordingly.

If Europe exists or wants to exist in the future, if there is a community of like-minded people who care about each other and want to stick together, then the fortunate need to help the unfortunate. This remark by former European Central Bank Executive Board Member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi is typical of Europe’s problem:

Ireland has made huge progress over the last year. It is really a pity what is happening in Greece is spoiling all this. Without the Greek events, I think Ireland would be able to come back to the markets. [Bloomberg 5/18/12.]

Well, of course, without those who are in trouble, those who are not would be better off. What is the point of such churlishness? The point, clearly, is that “we” are out for ourselves and could care less about our neighbors. And there are currently more than a few rich Germans who think exactly the same thing about Ireland.

Domino theories usually don’t hold much water, but the idea that eliminating Greece will only pull the plug on Spain…and Ireland is hard to dismiss. It is beginning to appear that the only Europe that exists is the old one that brought us a century of fascism and war. Is there a European community or are there just rich and everyone else?

It seems unimaginable for Europeans to turn their backs on the society that gave democracy to the West, but if the Acropolis no longer means anything, if the various little nationalities over there don’t want to be Europeans working together in the face of adversity, here’s an option: all the Mediterranean societies can walk away from the EEC, leaving it to the cold-hearted Germans who apparently are now quite happy to discover that they won WWII after all. It is not clear what that would accomplish in economic terms since Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece all face the same economic challenge, but at least they might have empathy for each other. And I perceive certain gentlemen standing in the shadows with welcoming smiles on their faces. Erdogan, Gul, and Davutoglu today constitute the most innovative decision-making team in the neighborhood. Could they lead a Mediterranean common market to a better tomorrow?


Is Moderate Turkey Losing Its Balance?

What will happen to the Mideast if the Turkish model of moderation fails to keep its balance on the tightrope of regional affairs?

At one level, Turkey appears heroic in the Mideast for its effort over the last several years to lead, indeed, create from whole cloth a moderate coalition to reform regional affairs. Rebuffed on all sides, it remains a coalition of one and even the one seems to be faltering. Washington slapped Ankara down when it tried to moderate the U.S.-Iranian nuclear dispute before Washington was quite ready even to discuss a balanced resolution, then its ties with Syria fell into disarray, and now Ankara—which by rights should have applauded Ankara’s help in avoiding Israeli attack—prefers Iraqi (!) mediation. Making matters considerably more complicated, Ankara has been violating Iraq’s borders to attack Kurdish separatists, hardly a tactic designed to facilitate the “good-neighborliness” Davutoglu keeps proclaiming, and recently Ankara seems to have been intentionally getting itself embroiled in the very dangerous relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad.
Then there’s that old bugaboo of Turkish military involvement in Turkish domestic politics.

More military officers, including retired Gen. Erol Özkasnak, a leading actor in the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, were detained on Thursday after the Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor’s Office issued warrants for eight retired and four active duty officers as part of a deepening probe into the 1997 coup. [Today’s Zaman 4/22/12.]

The process of bringing rogue military leaders to justice is, at long last, going even further back:

The trial of a former general who went on to become Turkey’s president and another former senior soldier have gone on trial in Ankara over their alleged roles in the country’s 1980 military coup.An Ankara court on Wednesday began hearing the case against 94-year-old Kenan Evren and former air force commander Tahsin Sahinkaya, who is now 87. [Al Jazeera 4/4/12.]

Supporters of Turkish democracy can find reassurance in the ability of the government to investigate old accusations of illegal behavior by the military, and yet, one wonders what troubles this “deepening probe” may bring to a young democracy that simultaneously faces continuing domestic ethnic problems and rising regional entanglements with the same ethnic group. Questionable accusations against the military, shadowy Islamists, the incomplete nature of reforms under Erdogan to place the military securely under governmental control, and pointed public comments about the abortive Turkish military effort in 2007 to tell the government what to do all add up to a confusing and potentially unstable Turkish domestic political situation. Meanwhile, Turkey has found cooperation with Iran to be a political minefield and its trumpeted ties with Syria are worsening by the day as Syria slides toward Sunni radicalism.
As bad as events in the Mideast have been over the past decade, the likelihood of another decade as bad seems high. The moderate Arab Spring has been largely subverted, Israeli threats of war continue unabated, and the Iranian-Saudi competition for regional influence seems to be hardening and spreading. Egyptian democracy advocates may yet regain the initiative, but to date, the bright spot in Mideast affairs has been Turkish domestic democratization and international policy of “good-neigborliness.” Both Turkey and the Mideast will be impoverished and endangered to the degree that Turkey’s domestic democratization and regional moderation processes are undermined.  

Strategy in Iran’s Neighborhood

Imagine the Iranian crisis not as a U.S./Israeli conflict with Iran but as a regional competition involving half a dozen major players and the conclusion that jumps out is: “instability.”

The core level is the double sectarian problem of Azeris living in Iran and Kurds living in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. It would not be prudent for a 21st century strategist to discount the potential of these old sectarian issues to cause problems. Turks, even today in the era of Davutoglu’s “good-neighborliness,” still launch military attacks into Iraq in the endless effort to force the Kurdish circle into the three square pegs of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. As for those who think President Truman resolved the Iranian Azeri issue in 1948 when he faced down Stalin, in now independent Azerbaijan, politicians have not forgotten. Sectarian issues, concerning both justice for minorities and irredentist feelings, lie always ready beneath the surface to complicate whatever other political issues may exist.

Dangerous Neighborhood

The broadest level of the regional political scene is the Iranian-Israeli struggle for regional influence that Americans see through the darkly tinted glasses of the nuclear dispute. Whether or not Iran is truly planning to challenge Israel’s overwhelming nuclear superiority, commonly held to be not just a regional monopoly but a massive 200 or more nuclear bombs, there is little doubt that Tehran wants to duplicate Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity and that Tel Aviv bitterly resents Tehran’s efforts to eliminate by duplication Tel Aviv’s psychological nuclear exceptionalism. Given the questionable utility of nuclear bombs for actual military use, Tehran’s ability to match Tel Aviv’s formerly unique policy of nuclear ambiguity may be more significant in political terms than the question of whether or not it actually manufactures a nuclear weapon.
Another layer of the political onion is political competition among Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan. A recent joint declaration by the three states’ foreign ministers in Azerbaijan to improve relations notwithstanding, realities are less friendly:
  • Major General Hassan Firuzabadi, head of Iran’s general staff and a general enamored of provocative public remarks about international strategy, is now alleged “not” to have “in fact declared that ‘the people’s awakening cannot be suppressed’ or accused Aliyev’s government of ‘giv[ing] freedom to the Zionist regime [Israel] to meddle in [his] country’s affairs,’ according to a statement issued by the Iranian Embassy in Baku. Nor had he accused Aliyev of giving ‘command to bar Islamic rules.’”
  • Whatever the truth of the curiously detailed “misquotations” of Iranian general Firuzabadi, Azerbaijan recently announced an Iranian spy plot against Israeli interests in Azerbaijan.
Sitalcay Airstrip – Base for Israeli Aggression Against Iran?
With Azerbaijan cosying up to Israel to the point of worrying American strategists trying to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran, it seems that Muslim fraternal relations will be put to the test. Not only is Israel now selling arms to Azerbaijan, it appears to be gaining access to Azeri air bases, of which Sital Chay [Sitalcay], an old Soviet base outside of Baku, beckons Israeli strategists—judging from Mark Perry’s important article on the Foreign Policy website–as a convenient location either for spying on Iran or landing at after an attack. Israel’s policy toward Azerbaijan copies its longstanding policy of using Georgia as a potential base for attacking Iran.
Bilateral Azeri-Iranian tensions, exacerbated by the strategically provocative Israeli factor, are further complicated by the Turkish role. Turkey has treated Azerbaijan as an important state since its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union, but the relationship is now clearly troubled, with the recent Israeli replacement of Turkey by Azerbaijan as market for its drones symptomatic. One can easily imagine the $1.6 billion Israeli sale leading to Israeli drone flights from Azerbaijan over Iran. An Israeli-made drone has already been reported shot down over Nagorno-Karabakh. An intruding Israeli drone was also chased, unsuccessfully, by Turkish jet fighters in January, suggesting that Israel is becoming significantly more aggressive (now apparently feeling that it can get away with violating the borders of not just helpless adversaries like Lebanon and Syria but even NATO members). Washington’s example of flying drones over Iran is no doubt seen in Tel Aviv as the pertinent precedent.
More than just imagination, regional drone conflict appears imminent according to Philip Giraldi:

The Israeli government has signed a secret agreement with the government of Azerbaijan to lease two former Soviet military airfields located close to the Iranian border. One of the facilities is being used as an intelligence collection site, with advanced Sigint capabilities and preparations underway for drone operations.

If all these factors fail to give the strategic thinker pause, the number of potential ways in which local misbehavior could pull in the Russians should. After getting a blank international check to demolish Grozniy and cold-clocking Georgia, Russia under the new Putin seems unlikely to tolerate trouble-making on its border. The Heralding the Rise of Russia Blog makes the point clearly:

Moscow has been forced into an alliance of sorts with Tehran due to very distinct geostrategic considerations. Moscow fears that if Tehran falls to its enemies, Russian’s already vulnerable position in the Caucasus and Central Asia may become untenable. Moscow fully realizes that the West’s main long-term agenda in the region is to exploit the region’s remaining energy reserves; to stop emerging nations from growing too powerful; and to contain the Russian Federation and China, the two most powerful nations on the Eurasian supercontinent. 

The full argument is well worth reading. While Turkey may be more of an independent, swing actor than portrayed in Heralding, the point that Moscow’s perspective may fail to consider that remains important. Arming Azerbaijan, which certainly has one eye on Armenia, will not go unnoticed in Moscow, nor will the spreading of the Israeli-Iranian conflict into Azerbaijan. And given the current charged political climate in the U.S., any paw swipes by the Bear reminiscent of its behavior in Grozniy or Georgia will surely ruffle the Eagle’s feathers. 

From the perspective of U.S. national security, the warning implicit in this convoluted and multi-layered regional competition should be clear: its complexity almost beyond any regime’s capacity to manage, the potential both for a war of choice and a war by accident constitutes a significant threat. Several specific concerns relate to U.S. national security. 1) By giving its Israeli proxy such a long leash, Washington may get itself bit on the leg.  As Israeli policy becomes more provocative, the likelihood of reactions that harm the U.S. (e.g., alienation of Turkey) will increase. 2) Washington’s particular combination of a very active but not very effective policy from Somalia to Afghanistan is leading to a power vacuum combined with chaos in the region. This vacuum will suck in Russia, which might not be a problem except that it will, under these conditions, re-enter the Mideast as an opponent of the U.S., a result likely to make Washington’s dilemma even worse. 3) Washington may come to regret establishing the precedent that powerful countries have the right to violate the borders of weaker countries with drones. Drones are rapidly proliferating and their rising use by shortsighted politicians happy to have an unmanned weapon suggests that their potential for exacerbating tensions is being overlooked. In the kind of complex situation developing in the region around Iran, drones may prove to be just the spark needed to light exactly the conflagration that Americans–desperate for time to put their own house in order–do not need.

Erdogan Off to a Slow Start in Cairo

Erdogan, who just kicked the Israeli ambassador out, arrived in Egypt, where the people just kicked out the Israeli ambassador, who reportedly fled dressed as a Muslim. Despite this perfect welcome, Erdogan fell short with a speech to the Arab League lacking creativity and a sour dose of old-style thinking from his guys back in Ankara. This is not the performance he needs if he is to become the leader of a new Mideast.
Erdogans address to the Arab League, judging from media reports, consisted of relatively moderate rhetoric empty of substance, if anything undercutting his stance as self-promoted leader of a new Mideast. Erdogan will need diplomatic creativity rather than warm air to make an impression on famously turbulent but directionless Mideast affairs. In particular, his failure to applaud Cairos demand that Israel stop violating Lebanons border seems to have been a real missed opportunity to establish common ground with an Egyptian military clearly digging its heels in.

Behind the Rhetoric
If Erdogan omitted substance from his rhetoric in Cairo, elsewhere he was taking real action. Turkey is sending three frigates into the Eastern Mediterranean to put some constraints on Israel’s ability to write its own rules in Mediterranean international waters. The Turkish frigates will reportedly sail with orders to disable the weapons systems of any Israeli vessels encountered in international waters. It is hard to believe that Ankara would relinquish control to such a dangerous degree, but true or not, the report sends a message.  [Today’s Zaman 9/12/11.]
A separate report that Turkey has figured out a way to repair its F-16s, previously crippled by U.S.-installed software preventing them from targetting the F-16s Washington provided to Israel, purportedly adds real muscle to Ankara’s military repositioning.
Making the reasonable point that Israel causes the trouble it faces in the Mideast, Erdogan told the Arab League on Tuesday:
Israel will break away from solitude only when it acts as a reasonable, responsible, serious and normal state. While Israel is trying to secure its legitimacy in our region on one hand, it is taking irresponsible steps which unsettle its legitimacy on the other.
Erdogan termed the creation of a Palestinian state not an option but an obligation but, judging from reports, stopped short of proposing any action to back up even those moderate words, thus leaving the door open to working with Israel toward a deal that would support secure borders for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In striking contradiction to Erdogans high moral tone concerning Palestinian desires for justice, however, Turkish Interior Minister Sahin stated the same day that Turkey could launch an incursion into Iraq to attack Kurds at any time. Both Turkey and Israel insist on marginalizing a minority, both refuse to negotiate with that portion of the minority that demands independence, and both assert the right to attack across international borders in order to subjugate that minority. The hypocrisy of Ankara simultaneously criticizing Israels illegal and unjust behavior while asserting the unilateral right of Turkey to behave undermines Erdogans laudable foreign policy project of creating and leading a responsible and moderate Mideast center. If Erdogan looks good, that is only because of the appalling level of incompetence on the part of Mideast rulers.

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.

Building a Mideast Strategic Triangle

Erdogan’s hopes for a new Mideast have been given a boost by…Israel! But as the dispute deepens, its long-term impact becomes more difficult to calculate.
Insisting on its right to murder opponents in international waters, Israel dismissed Turkish demands for a clear apology. What did Israel care? It was supreme in the region. Then, the Arab spring cracked the foundation of Israels strategic plans. Ignoring the shift, Israel killed several Egyptian policemen. What was Israel thinking that they were just Lebanese? So now Israel finds itself having wrecked ties to Turkey precisely at the moment it has infuriated Egyptians, nicely setting the stage for the Turkish-Egyptian summit, where Erdogan wants to discuss a possible Turkish-Egyptian alliance that could reshape the Mideast.
Cairo surely wants to avoid angering Washington, its U.S. military aid being treasured far more than justice for eight dead Turks. But the protesters are in the streets tearing down the wall Israel put around its Cairo embassy, not attacking the military rulers of Egypt, and the rulers of Egypt would just as surely like to keep it that way. Israel has made Erdogans task much easier than it might have been.
And Israels response? Just to ensure that Erdogan does not lose momentum in his campaign to unite his country behind him, Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman is planning a revenge campaign of supporting anti-Turkish terrorism! Responding to diplomatic moves by launching a terrorist campaign may be a bit much even for Netanyahu, but Liebermans brilliant reposte is now openly known so the point made by Israels piracy against the Mavi Marmara has been underlined: cross Israel and you will be attacked.
While Israels tactics may at first glance appear curious, they do have at least one logical explanation: provoking international tensions can be relied upon, as always, to freak out Israelis and win votes for the extremist ruling clique, not to mention even more military aid from the obedient U.S. Congress. The hidden agendas, both at the party and individual levels, contributing to the rising state-to-state tensions will make controlling Egyptian-Israeli-Turkish relations increasingly difficult.

Wouldnt it be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Erdogan sits down with the Egyptian generals!

Erdogan on Stage for the Palestine Play

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With Washington decision-makers AWOL as the curtain rises, can Erdogan become the star of the Romance of Palestine?

Erdogan seems to be making U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood a Turkish foreign policy goal. He announced at a press conference on June 23:

Turkey is determined to support Palestine [in its bid] to become a member of the United Nations.
Erdogan has made clear he is referring to an independent and viable state, whose capital will be east Jerusalem.
To Tel Aviv, violence and diplomatic campaigns confirming that their minds remain firmly closed constitute the best thinking on how to deal with the problem. Israeli commentator Yoel Marcus warns:
It’s crucial that Israel be removed from the discourse about Egypt‘s election battle. It’s important for Israel to be in advanced negotiations for an agreement with the Palestinians at the time of the Egyptian elections, not in a state of stagnation.
Meanwhile, Washington, still in deep denial, is encouraging thuggish behavior on the part of Israel by threatening members of the latest Gaza freedom flotilla and fairly provoking Israel to commit piracy on the high seas. You see, these peace activists who dare to smuggle food and medicine to the people of Gaza are inciting the Israeli two-year-old to play with its matches, so one must punish them, since one surely cannot spank the two-year-old. In the words of Israeli commentator Natasha Mozgovaya:
The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on activists planning to challenge Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, warning that they will face action from Israeli authorities and that American participants may also be violating U.S. law.
Americans will of course be stunned when these chickens come home to roost.
Given such an attitude in Washington toward the flotilla members, it is pretty clear that the world cannot expect much constructive thinking to come from Washington on the real issue of Palestinian statehood. That, it would seem, clears the stage for Mr. Erdogan.

Syria’s ‘Mideast Transformation Scenario’

Could the international community act with vision and pull off a Mideast Transformation Scenario that would end the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute, redirect Iran toward economic cooperation, and redirect Israel away from expansion and militarism?
With Syria convulsed, Iran is off-balance, watching its only state ally (Iraq, still occupied, is not quite a state and is in any case not quite an Iranian ally, either) destroy itself. For an Israel led by sincere peacemakers rather than Greater Israel expansionists, the Syrian implosion would constitute a rare opportunity to cut a legitimate deal with the Palestinians while Iranian influence is minimized. A Palestinian-Israeli settlement would pull the Levantine rug out from under Tehran, removing its free lunch in the struggle for regional influence. Note that the term settlement means just that: not a Palestinian Bantustan but a united, defensible, independent state with a sufficiently inclusive political system to tempt Hamas to work within the system. Israel would have no more right to attack this state than China has to attack the U.S.
Future Scenarios For Syria
  1. The Turkish Tolerance & Greater Israel Scenarios in Can Erdogan Save Syria?
  2. The Spanish Civil War Scenario in  How Dangerous Is Syria?
If Tel Aviv had such far-sightedness, it could perhaps pull off a coup that would leave Israel in better shape both locally and vis-à-vis Iran. Iran would find itself without talking points on the Arab street, and a careful calculus of its national interest would be likely to rate economic development relatively higher on the scale of national goals than fomenting anti-Israeli sentiment. That would in turn constitute an Iran that Washington, as reality punctures hubris, might well be able to live with.
The Mideast Transformation Scenario
Imagine a scenario in which regional actors work for stability. First, Tel Aviv accepts the principle of return to the 1967 borders, opening the door to serious Israeli-Palestinian talks. Given Israeli acceptance of the principles that Israeli and Palestinians each deserve states, that Israel should return to 1967 borders, that Palestinians have a theoretical right to return to their homeland in return for Palestinian acceptance of Israels right to exist, then talks can begin on borders and compensation for Palestinians agreed not to return or for Israelis being allowed to remain in the West Bank. Then, Turkish forces establish a potent humanitarian presence inside the Syrian border, providing not just food and local protection but sufficient weapons to enable dissidents to resist regime brutality but holds back on offensive military action (Libya-light) and keeps the door open to talks with all players. As in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, everyone recalculates their self-interest, and some regime supporters join the dissidents. Iran tries to figure out how to resist Turkeys initiative, but Iran has good relations with Turkey, while Turkey has power on the ground Iran probably has no hopes of matching, and the Levant is in any case looking less and less attractive for national liberation movements since Palestine is suddenly moving toward liberation even without Iranian participation. As Tehran ponders its limited options, a neutral Syrian regime offers Turkish-style friendship to everyone. Israel congratulates the new regime, returns the Golan, and decides that a neutral but independent Syria is a big step forward. Meanwhile, seeing itself with reduced access to military support even as it is consolidating control of the Beirut regime, Hezbollah suddenly receives an Israeli offer of a return of the Sheeba Farms. Resistance is simultaneously more costly, less attractive, and rather an irritant to its new domestic strategy. One more Iranian corridor to the Levant bites the dust. Now comes the time for Washingtons move, touting a new regional nuclear security regime based on the principle of nuclear transparency for all and supporting Iranian economic integration with the region and beyond. Iran simultaneous sees its traditional anti-American and anti-Israeli stance as more difficult, less justifiable, and rather an irritant to its new international economic and security options. Tehran might well see the attractiveness of restructuring its foreign policy to replace risky nuclear braggadocio and leadership of the anti-Israeli front with the two secure pillars of building a political alliance with Shii Iraq and building a hydrocarbon alliance with moderate Muslim Turkey.
Probably no one would consider this scenario likely, but the best way to ensure it will never happen is to fail to imagine it. Anyone can point out endless potential obstacles to the moderate, good-neighbor outcome of the Mideast Transformation Scenario. Al Quaida would do its best to upset the apple cart, Alawite-Sunni discord could provoke sectarian warfare reminiscent of post-invasion Iraq, the IRGC might well go off the reservation and try to provoke a collapse of Israeli-Palestinian talks to shore up its domestic political influence, and a real threat of Israeli terrorism from radical settlers unwilling to return West Bank land stolen from Palestians would exist. Nevertheless, an Israeli decision to negotiate sincerely with Palestine, a rapid Turkish initiative vis-à-vis Syria, and the willingness of Washington to offer Iran a good deal might just transform the Mideast and turn Israel back into a society that shares American values.

Subsequent Events –

June 22 – Syrian troops mass on border with Turkey
After provoking a refugee flow into Turkey and evidently doing nothing to make amends to its erstwhile ally, Syria has now thrown sand in Erdogan’s eye by threatening refugees, provoking more, and implicitly warning Turkey that Syria is ready to fight a war. Since Syria was Turkey’s main practical example of its new moderate foreign policy, that policy now seems to be in tatters. Ankara will not be pleased.

How Dangerous Is Syria?

As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, as the Syrian regime appears to be steadily losing the ability to govern in a rational manner, and as the pressure on Turkey to intervene continues to rise, consideration of the implications of a true disaster scenario becomes increasingly important.

Full-scale civil war in Syria seems unlikely on the surface simply because the protesters have no arms, but an endless stream of refugees will eventually prompt Turkey to do something, and whatever Turkey does will raise the likelihood of significant arms flowing into the arms of dissidents, increasing willingness of dissidents to fight back with force, and Syrian regime resistance with force. Once civil war occurs with Turkish forces inside Syria, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia will start recalculating their options with increasing urgency.

From this point to a Spanish Civil War scenario, in which the powers exploit chaos in Syria to fight their broader fights, could be a short step. So the question becomes:

How likely is the Spanish Civil War Scenario in Syria, and what are the key decision points impacting the likelihood of such a scenario?

Turkey may well be able to intervene without greatly alarming any other actor. If either Iran or Israel were to insert significant military force, in contrast, that would immediately alarm the other, for good reason. The strategic difference between Syria as an Iranian ally and Syria as an Israel ally is substantial. How desperate to shore up their access to regional influence might Iran become?
How desperate to end Iranian influence over Syria might Israel become?

Calculating national interest concerning Syria is not simple. One could argue that, as status quo powers, the U.S., Israel, and Turkey would all benefit from a joint operation to eliminate the Assad regime. But if this operation left Israel effectively doing to Syria what it did in the 1980’s to Lebanon, that would have an enormously destabilizing impact, greatly facilitating an Israeli attack on Iran and thus probably provoking risky Iranian countermeasures. Such destabilization is unlikely to be viewed with equanimity in Ankara. The case has already been made that the U.S. and Israel are trying to overthrow Assad. Whether or not literally true today, the temptation to pursue this old dream is clear…and rising. Will Ankara see this line of reasoning as evidence for a rapid unilateral intervention?

While even senior Israeli officials are sufficiently concerned about a miscalculation in Tel Aviv to express their fears publicly, it seems somewhat alarmist to anticipate Israeli aggression against Iran the minute they get the ability to base planes in Syria. In fact, any major military initiative designed to transform Syria into a proxy state by any outside player seems alarmist at the moment. The more likely route to a Spanish Civil War Scenario for Syria is a long series of short, seemingly harmless little steps in a complex dance in which no outside player actually wants to invade but in which each player feels compelled to match all the others. Politics being politics, the end result will no doubt be that most of the steps will more than match the opponent, like a group of waltzing couples on a slanted dance floor, each of whom is simply trying to keep up with some other couple perceived to be dancing faster; the faster they dance, the harder it is to stay in place, so imperceptibly the whole group moves closer and closer to the edge.

Given Israel’s proclivity for overreaction, any step by Iran in the direction of stimulating a Syrian Hezbollah in the context of a collapsing Assad regime would make it very difficult for Tel Aviv to resist military intervention. A second way disaster could occur would be the rise of a serious Saudi-financed Salafi move to transform Syria into the center of Sunni activism in the region. This would strengthen Saudi claims to Muslim world leadership, constitute a direct defeat of Iran, and serve the Saudi campaign to pull Iraq away from Iran, while pushing the ambitious Turks back to the regional periphery. Once again, Israel would no doubt view this with alarm, though how it would balance off a check on Iran vs. an improvement in jihadi prospects is unclear since jihadis have not focused on targetting Israel. In any case, it is not hard to imagine a Spanish Civil War scenario leading quickly to a Greater Israel Scenario.