Category Archives: Middle East Politics

Turkey and Israel: The Revitalization of Relations?

From the 1980s onwards the Turkish-Israeli relations started improving gradually. The year 1996 in particular was a milestone as the two countries signed a series of agreements of military cooperation and training, among others. The agreements were of outmost strategic significance as they gave rise to a pro-Western strategic axis which had a serious impact on the regional balances of power.

From Friends to Foes

The election of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power of the Turkish state in 2002 had a gradually negative influence on the relations between Turkey and Israel for two main reasons. The first reason was the systemic changes that occurred in the region after 9/11 and the American invasion in Iraq (2003). The second reason was the AKP’s ideology which is positioned somewhere in between political Islam and democratic ideals even though the party itself denies any relationship to political Islam and declares that it is a “conservative-democratic” party. As far as the first reason is concerned, after 2001 Turkey had to manage a geopolitical environment which was particularly unstable both for its own and Western interests; this created the necessity for a closer relationship with the Arab/Muslim world. In terms of the second reason, the ideology of the AKP and the “Davutoğlu doctrine” (i.e. Turkey’s foreign policy doctrine based on the writings and approach of its Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlou) called for improved relations with the Middle East and distance from the West and Israel. The AKP’s approach toward the Arab/Muslim world and its anti-Western stance gained even greater momentum after 2006. That was when the European Union disappointed Ankara regarding its prospects for accession, while the friction between Turkey and Washington about Iraq – which includes the dimension of the Kurdish issue – continued.

Continue reading

Israel, Gaza & the Mideast: An ‘Indirect Approach’?

By Zenonas Tziarras & Panagiotis Andrikopoulos*

Published on EurasiaReview, November 18th, 2012

This article is overreaching and it does so because it accepts one axiom: the only politics that matters is the politics that happens “under the table”. While this does not refer to conspiracy theories it does imply that most people do not know most of the things that shape the socio-political and economic realities of our world. Therefore when a political situation unfolds, depending on the broader context, one has to try to look at the bigger picture; in other words, try to think “outside the box”, if they would like to decode what the reality might be.

Having said that, strategic thinking could help us find unconventional solutions to problems as well as better understand real situations. One of the greatest strategists of the 20th century, Basil Liddell Hart, argued that the more indirect the strategy, the shorter the way to the end, and the more decisive the results. Looking at the unfolding events in Gaza through this prism, even though Israel’s approach may be indirect in tactical terms, as it is based on artillery and airstrikes for now, the ‘indirect’ here does not refer to Israel’s operations in Gaza but to the role these operations play in a possible greater ‘indirect’ strategic plan of the West. This means that, at this juncture, we are looking at the Middle East as a chessboard whereon western and non-western powers clash, and pawns (of different value) such as Israel, Hamas, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Russia, the US and others have a role in the moves that lie ahead. Within this framework there are two questions to be answered: 1) what is the grand strategic aim of the West? Put simply, what is the geopolitical end-game that the West aspires to – in the Middle East? And 2) what micro-strategies/tactics (including ‘indirect approaches’) will be employed in order for this aim to be achieved? Lastly, there is one simple question that triggers and drives the whole discussion: why Gaza, and why now?

Continue reading

The Perfect Alibi? – Syria & Turkey in Crisis

It has been reported that a Turkish fighter jet was shot down on Friday, June 23, 2012, by Syrian forces. The Syrian military forces had later confirmed the reports. Leaving aside the technical details about how the crash occurred, and who is to blame, this incident could significantly escalate the existing crisis between the two countries on the one hand, and offer the perfect alibi, as well as credibility, to Turkey and its western allies – namely, NATO – to actively and militarily intervene in Syria, on the other.
Importantly enough, the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, said that Turkey will do “whatever necessary”. But what does “whatever necessary” means? In answering this question, one must take into account earlier reports saying that CIA officers have been helping Syrian rebels through Southern Turkey. Even though the Turkish government rejected this information, it raises concerns about the role of Turkey and other external actors in the Syrian conflict, as well as the near-future intentions of westerns powers. Furthermore, let us not forget that the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, in April, 2012, threatened to invoke NATO’s self-defense article 5.

Continue reading

The Thoughtlessness of the Intervention Advocates – Syria

The horror taking place in Syria is not to be questioned. The way it is utilized by western media, is. The moral need to do something about Syria is not to be questioned. The way morale is utilized for political reasons, is. The fact that Assad must go is not to be questioned. It is the “how” that needs to be discussed and the western-style intervention – which has become a habit – that needs to be questioned. The thoughtlessness of the intervention advocates, with regard to the case of Syria specifically, is unbearable.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been bombarded with “Responsibility to Protect” rhetoric; we’ve been reminded of the (U.S.) need to intervene in Syria to weaken Iran, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas; we’ve been told of all the positive effects a new Syrian regime would have for the region; we’ve been pointed out how useful regional countries (e.g. Turkey) would be in a potential intervention; how Russia would care, but not so much as to cause problems, and so on. It is as if everyone stopped thinking rationally and stopped weighing the costs and benefits. To be honest though, depending on one’s perspective of the situation, the costs and benefits could be entirely different. What would be the objective of an intervention, really? Would it be Iran? Would it be Hamas and Hezbollah? Would it be the Russian interests in the Middle East? Would it be the protection of the Syrian people under the “Responsibility to Protect” umbrella? Or is the “Responsibility to Protect” just the moral cover-up – and the ultimate immoral means – for the achievement of all previous, and more, objectives? I would vote for the latter. In any case, an intervention – if it were to take place – should be about the people. But the fact is that there is no scenario in which the Syrian people – or the region, for that matter – would benefit from an intervention. There are at least five main reasons for that, briefly presented below, which are linked to the simplifications put forward by the intervention advocates.

Continue reading

The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Kurds of Syria

– The ‘Arab Spring’, has not only influenced Arab peoples but other groups as well. –

The wave of uprisings that has been sweeping the greater region of the Middle East is first and foremost a wave of hope, ambition, and inspiration. This wave has also touched the Kurds. To be sure, the most important issue with regard to the Kurds which has arisen in the midst of the Arab Spring, relates to the case of Syria, and, by extension, to Turkey. What are the ambitions and limitations of the Kurdish minority opposition in Syria?

Continue reading

Turkey: Zero Chances for "Zero Problems"

Since the election of Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power in 2002, Turkey followed a different foreign policy orientation. The man behind this foreign policy shift was Ahmet Davutoglu, today’s Foreign Minister. Davutoglu had a whole new idea about how the goals of Turkish foreign policy should be pursued and in his book “Strategic Depth” (Stratejik Derinlik) (2001) he brilliantly drafts a strategic doctrine for Turkey’s new foreign policy. Despite its relative success, this doctrine is seriously challenged by many regional developments, which are making it hard to believe that its implementation could ever be possible.

“Zero Problems”

A central theme of Davutoglu’s, and Turkey’s, foreign policy doctrine is the “zero problems with neighbors” principle. In brief, this suggests that Turkey wants to re-engage with the Arab world and the broader region more generally, by playing the role of the peace broker and mediator for regional disputes and conflicts. Based on “zero problems” Turkey is willing to abandon its crisis prone attitude and resort to “soft power”, cultural and historical bonds with its neighbors, and create economic and political relations of interdependence between the states of the Middle East and beyond, in order to resolve any bilateral or regional problems. At the same time Turkey is not neglecting the good relations that it should maintain with international actors like the US, EU and Russia. However, the last few months Turkish foreign policy has been facing quite a few problems not only in its region but also internationally. This has led many analysts to reconsider the feasibility of the “zero problems” principles and the goals of the Turkish foreign policy themselves.

Continue reading

The Sociology of the Arab Spring: A Revolt or a Revolution?

Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings there has emerged a debate on whether this domino of social movements is a revolt or a revolution. With the Tunisian and Egyptian people overthrowing their countries’ dictators, the civil war in Libya turning into a victory for the rebels against the government of Gaddafi, the Syrian crisis intensifying, and the small states of the Gulf being in a state of uncertainty and social instability, the situation is indeed very fluid but the developments of the last few months allow us to evaluate the situation and reach certain conclusions regarding the nature of the recent Middle East crisis.
The sociologist Anthony Giddens created a definition about the term “revolution” based on three elements that occurred from the study of different revolution theories. In short, he suggests that in order for a social movement to be called “revolution’ it needs to be a) a mass social movement, b) a process that will lead to fundamental and systemic changes or reforms, and c) include the use or the threat of use of violence.[1] He also stresses that those who are to rise to power must be more competent than the overthrown establishment and at the same time they must be able to accomplish at least some of their initial goals.
On the other hand revolts are of smaller scale, they last for less time and have more limited outcomes than revolutions. Of course although these elements characterize the nature of the revolutions or of the revolts, they do not identify their causes. There are different theories about what causes revolutions like the ones of Carl Marx and James Davies; nonetheless, we can safely say that, broadly speaking, a revolution is caused by the need of altering a given, often systemic, reality.[2]
A first look at the situation in the Middle East makes the job of deciding whether these social movements are revolutions or revolts very difficult. However, a second look, from the perspective of the aforementioned theoretical framework, clears things out a little. The following table presents the extent to which the most significant Middle East revolt/revolution cases agree with the three elements of the “revolution” definition. “X” indicates which elements can be found in each case.
Mass Social Movements
Fundamental Changes/Reforms

It should be noted that the results of the above table are subjective since different people have different views on what constitutes “violence”, “change” or “social movement”.[3] For the purposes of this article a mass social movement is not necessarily class-based or organized but it rather consists of large social masses with at least some common goals regardless of class, age, gender or ethnicity. “Fundamental changes” are important systemic or structural changes that bring about a very different order than before (e.g. perestroika in the late USSR and the end of the Cold War). “Revolutionary violence” refers to brutal violence (not to the stone throwing, for example) that is employed by the rebels as the ultimate means to accomplish the end of the revolution.
As we can see on the table, none of the Middle East social movements qualifies as a revolution although some of them are still in progress. Many would disagree with the argument that in Tunisia and Egypt changes have not taken place. However, although Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mumbarak in Egypt were overthrown, or better, stepped down, the nature of those regimes has not changed: the dictators left but the dictatorships stayed. Therefore, the reforms that the protesters have been asking for are nowhere to be seen. Furthermore it is important that the demands of the protesters were not really politicized; rather, they were focused on overthrowing the dictators and not their policies or regimes. Regarding the use of violence, in Tunisia the protests were massive but not as violent as in Egypt where even the military got divided and Egyptian soldiers fought each other.
In Libya the situation, at first, was very similar to the Egypt case: with massive protests and a divided army. The difference in Libya, though, was that the Libyan leader Gaddafi did not step down; instead he ordered a violent crackdown on the protesters. Consequently the protesters, with the help of the anti-regime military factions, became armed rebels and thus a civil war broke out. In this case there is both a social movement and violence. However the goals of the rebels are limited to the overthrowing of the regime and its leader; no one has specific aims regarding the new political system or the nature of the new regime. In Bahrain there was again massive protesting but the regime’s violent crackdown managed to contain it, and ultimately stop it, while there was not any violence from the part of the protesters. However it should be noted that in Bahrain there is also an ethnic element which inevitably gives a different character to the whole situation. The most recent crisis in Syria presents again mass social movements but the monopoly of violence is still in the hands of the government and the military. The strong ties between the government and the military make the situation even worse for the protesters because they limit the possibility of divisions among the armed forces.
In none of these cases is there an ideological or class orientation. It is just the people against the dictators and their regimes, not the people against the political system or the social structures. Furthermore, most of these revolts went on for a short period of time, apart from Libya and Syria. It is essential to add that in Egypt and Tunisia, for example, even after the end of the crackdown and the step down of the dictators the protests re-emerged, a fact which indicates that things remain mostly the same.
Even though it has been made clear that the Arab spring was not a series of revolutions, but rather a series of revolts, and that it was not a world changing fact, we should still acknowledge their importance. Through these events people realized their power and capabilities and they made a start that could mark the beginning of a new era. The fact that these people obtained some kind of political consciousness is a positive development because it could further evolve and lead to a new “Spring” that would be even more political, more organized, more demanding and more efficient.
Zenonas Tziarras,”The Sociology of the Arab Spring: A Revolt or A Revolution”, The GW Post, 13 Aug. 2011.

[1] Giddens, A., Κοινωνιολογία [Sociology], Gutenberg, 2002, p.655 or the English version, Giddens, A., Sociology, Polity Press, 6th edition, 2009.
[2] In brief, Marx argued that industrial capitalism, which succeeded feudalism, will lead to the clash between the capital owners and the working class since the economic gap between these two classes will increase dramatically and the latter will gradually question the capitalists’ authorities. This, according to Marx, will happen because of the increasing economic inequality between the two classes and the shrinkage of the middle class. On the other hand Davies challenged Marx’s argument by suggesting that ultimate poverty is not by itself the cause of revolutions since there have been periods in history when ultimate poverty existed and yet no revolutions took place. Instead, Davies says, a revolution is more likely to take place when life conditions become better. Better conditions mean greater expectations from the people; therefore when the life conditions stop becoming better and the people’s expectations are not being fulfilled the emerging “relative deprivation” creates revolutionary tendencies.
[3] There are also different ideological perspectives on how a revolution should be undertaken like the anarchic and the organized/Marxist-based ones.