Haaretz correspondent Yoav Stern has written an interesting article for Syria Comment called “Syria’s Four Seas Strategy“. It’s worth a read, but if you’re too busy to click over, here’s the executive summary.
- Turkey’s cancellation of a joint air force exercise with Israel last week is just the latest nail in the coffin of the Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relationship, which many have been warning is headed for serious trouble.
- Syria is naturally thrilled about this turn of events and is trying to exploit it by cozying up to Turkey in every way it can.
- Stern says that the move towards Turkey is actually part of what Bashar al-Assad has been calling a Four Seas Strategy, a regional alliance between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Syria (i.e. the countries that lie at the shores of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Black Sea, and the Persian Gulf).
- What Syria hopes to get out of this is increased infrastructure and investment opportunities, and a hedge against the isolating tactics of successive U.S. administrations.
If you’re Syria, the strategy is a no-brainer. But I’m wondering what Turkey gets out of this. I had dinner with a Turkish friend a couple of nights ago who suggested that the AK party is committing a major blunder by jeopardizing its relations with Israel in favor of Syria.
I personally wonder whether the current spat between Turkey and Israel amounts to much more than a slap on the wrist, rather than a fundamental shift in a long-standing foreign policy.
PS: This article in al-Akhbar by Jean Aziz is worth reading. Unfortunately, he does not identify his sources beyond implying that they are Syrian and Saudi officials, but it’s an interesting illustration of the fundamental difference in worldview between the two sides of the Middle East’s mini Cold War.
Update: Every now and then, someone leaves a comment that addresses the topic in a way that is far more informed and incisive than the original post. I try to make a habit of bringing those comments up to the main page. See below for one from J of Chalcedon, who knows the political economy of the Eastern Mediterranean better than a Kipchak slave sultan:
Sorry to come to this late. It’s quite important, but doesn’t bear directly on Lebanon. Leitmotif for QN’s future efforts?
The Turkish stake in this is both obvious, and more nuanced than readily assumed. The obvious: First, Syria is a howlingly obvious emerging market. Turkey’s largest mobile service provider wanted, and would likely have received, a concession to enter the Syrian market. American pressure to demur has generally been understood to be decisive in preventing such a deal, which in my opinion may yet happen.
More importantly, why wouldn’t a government whose raison d’etre is market-friendliness embrace a neighbor which might want to buy plastic buckets that don’t have holes in them? A strong retail business that originated in AK party ties, the hard-discount retailer BIM, has already set up shop in Morocco. The point is not that this government embodies a “Neo-Ottoman” policy as its way in the world. BIM is, last time I check, about 49 percent floated and not simply a surrogate for politics by way of commerce. But why wouldn’t people who like the idea of regional influence with vague historic connotations encourage the radical idea of selling Arabs groceries and the odd school supply through a vertically integrated chain of producers?
Less apparent is the presumptive Turkish reading of the regional situation. Do they think that Obama may stare down this Israeli government, and cause it to fall? Either way, commit to an unwieldy pariah ally, when your stock in trade is relations with all? There’s no doubt that the AKP mandarins have no real fondness for Zionism, but they’re also keen not to be overtaken on the (pious/isolationist/chauvisnist) right in holding this Israeli government at arm’s length. Who ever won an election shaking hands Benjamin Netanyahu?
In short: there’s nothing to lose by being nice to Syria – they’ll never be on the hook for the real burden of a Syrian-Israeli deal, namely paying to relocate Golan settlers. And they couldn’t possibly provide Syria’s real demand in that equation, which is a Libyan-style grand bargain, or at least a guarantee of non-intervention. So why over-interpret the matter?
My two cents. The grand regional/civilizational interpretations re Turkey and the “”West” are mostly silly, in my view. Their EU accession process may be doomed for other reasons, including the EU’s constitutional crisis prior to the last round of expansion. (Ghassan Karam,, they’re not negotiating the “if” of membership – it’s supposed to be the modalities of when at this point, which makes makes Romania and Bulgaria a complete snub.) Today’s foreign policy is entirely mercenary, or rational, if that’s better, as yesterday’s. These guys are just better than their predecessors at not spitting in their own faces for no good reason.