Foundations of New Convergence in the Region

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mohammad Bakhshandeh

On the same day that President Bashar Assad of Syria started his consultations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran’s new ambassador to Ankara submitted the Turkish side a message on the impending visit to Turkey of the Iranian president. This report clearly indicates the opening of a new cooperation line among the three powers of the region. Although Tehran, Damascus and Ankara have previously had strategic cooperation on the regional developments, but the cooperation was basically bilateral and had rarely elevated to tripartite and strategic level.

Now, however, the cooperation tends towards a tripartite treaty. Numerous elements have come together so that these three regional powers play the role of a connective bridge for international parties in the developments of the Middle East highway.

Maybe it took a decade for the world community to come to a new understanding especially with respect to the role of Tehran and Damascus.

In all the crises that have surrounded these three powers during the eight years since September 11, Tehran, Damascus and Ankara have paid the highest price. Their share from the (US) occupation of Iraq was not limited to organized displacement and insecurity at borders but many peace and development projects were halted in the region as a result of this catastrophe. Therefore it was not out of context that the three big neighbors of Iraq launched a new project for cooperation with the end of Bush’s term in office, which would naturally be followed by the US withdrawal from the Middle East crisis. They have drawn up a plan for new cooperation at a time that many cooperation agreements had been suspended and many important projects related to the “compromise talks” in Cairo, Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Riyadh have been stopped and subsequently confidence and amity among Arab governments and with regional and transregional players disturbed. For this reason, the Middle East is passing through one of its most disturbed times.

Nevertheless, the initial move that the presidents of Iran and Syria made to build this friendship in Ankara has other characteristics which should not be overlooked:

1-    The extent of willingness for convergence among these three powers is “a public demand” rather than a governmental and formal decision. Few can be found in the Iranian, Syrian and Turkish communities that would cast doubt on this plan.

It may be conferred from a distant glance at the convergence of the three countries that contrary to Tehran and Damascus, Ankara had not been much under the sword of sanctions and threats of the Neocons but the Turkish public opinion and media have a different opinion. As they have shown in public demonstrations, the Turks refer to George Bush’s war policy especially in Iraq as a political disaster in their destiny and believe that as a result of the five-year occupation of Iraq by the US army the Turkish border strip and tribal areas have turned into centers of insecurity and crisis. The opinion polls conducted among Turkish citizens over this period indicate that the rate of distrust towards the US in the country is not less than those of Iran and Turkey.

Efforts made by Erdogan government to correct Bush’s policies in the region have failed the same as those made by Bashar Assad of Syria and naturally the only alternative for such a condition is to launch a security cooperation project at a regional level, that is what Ahmadinejad, Assad and Erdogan seem to have agreement on.

Establishment of a convergence triangle is the most important guarantee for the three states which due to historical inevitabilities are adjacent to three big conflicts areas, namely in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine so that they could prevent imposition of a security plan in their neighboring regions.

Furthermore, beside distrust in Bush, there are other factors inside the Turkish community that have boosted the desire towards convergence with Islamic countries. The humiliating treatment of Europe and the tedious story of Turkish membership in Europe (European Union) which has willingly or unwillingly disturbed the national pride of the country are among these factors. It is true that the Erdogan administration is robustly following up the membership project but the Islamic makeup that the government, parliament and presidency of this country has gained, has increasingly beefed up the chances in Ankara for convergence with the Islamic world.

2-    The rapprochement of these three regional powers that enjoy a high political prestige in the world of Islam, has nullified a series of notions and assumptions at political circles.

Since the Egyptian, Saudi and Jordanian parties were marginalized, Ankara and Damascus launched a broad political move to play a role in the political equations of the Middle East which some circles interpreted as signs of change and adjustment in their views towards the Resistance or damage to alliance of Turkey and Syria with Iran. Here, they paid attention to the new friendship of Syria and Turkey with Europe and participation in the Mediterranean Summit in Paris of Bashar Assad and Erdogan and also depicted participation of Damascus in three rounds of indirect talks with Tel Aviv and Ankara as a preface of a shift in the foreign policy of Erdogan and Assad.

This is while all these judgments were in fact one-sided interpretations which were offered by the loudspeakers of the countries opposed to the Resistance such as Al-Arabiya and all these interpretations were entwined with interests and intentions of governments which appeared as Tehran’s common rivals in the three big crises of the Middle East, that is Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. In the end, they all found themselves the losers of this big game.

On this basis and from the viewpoint of Iranians, new developments in the diplomacy of Ankara and Damascus have no meaning but political victory of the Resistance.

In French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new approach to deescalate tension with Syria, Turkish mediation in regional crises and dispatch of Zionist regime’s negotiating team to Ankara to attract attention of Syria, Tehran saw clear signs of withdrawal the European Union showed by dispatching Javier Solana and William Burns to the Geneva talks, after three years of sanctions and threats.

Therefore the correct interpretation of these chain developments is the opinion of those Middle East observers who consider Tehran, Damascus and Ankara as the winners of this big game. It would suffice to have a look at the calendar of the yearly developments of the Middle East after the announcement of Bush’s defeat in Iraq or Lebanon. During several months a number of pompous reconciliation meetings faced impasse one after the other in Sharm el Sheikh, Jeddah and Paris.

The last hope of the Western front was Lebanon where the most difficult anti-Syrian campaign techniques were being used and all the efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President George Bush were that with the coming to office of a pro-West front, at least Beirut would be turned into a stronghold against Damascus and the Resistance. But his last hedge of the so-called isolation of Syria was disturbed with the recent visit to Beirut of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.

Thus the whole of the recent events and developments in the Middle East provide a new image of the diplomacy of Iran, Syria and Turkey. This string of developments indicate the fact that Tehran, Damascus and Ankara have achieved such a success due to “correct analysis” of the complexities of the Middle East politics on the one hand and the incorrect calculations of the masterminds of the war projects of the White House on the other.

In other words, it was clear to the diplomats of Iran and Syria that the military investment of the US in Iraq or their reliance on bankrupt Arab players would bring about nothing but killing the opportunities. The US designers made this error clearly in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.

3- The other lesson from the new Middle East developments is that only treaties and pacts survive in this strategic area that would be based on the thought of attaining the rights of regional nations especially defending the trampled rights of Iraqis and Palestinians.

This is the key to the steadfastness of the 30 years alliance between Tehran and Damascus and it seems that Erdogan’s diplomacy has reached this stage. Therefore, it can be hoped that the foundation of this tripartite unity and friendship would be based on the common weltanschauung towards the world of Islam. An equal commitment to attain the rights of Palestinians and all the oppressed nations will be the key to the survival of this friendship.


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