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Turkey and Perspective of Syria-Israel Talks

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mohammad Khajouei

The second round of indirect talks between Syria and Israel with mediation of Turkey ended behind closed doors in Ankara while no positive sign is seen in the trend of these indirect talks.

The first round of the talks was held in Istanbul on May 19-21.

This is while Turkish officials in a statement described the talks as positive and constructive. It is said that senior advisor to Turkish prime minister and Turkish deputy foreign minister are mediating in the indirect talks between Syria and Israel.

Also, two advisors of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and a Syrian
representative had traveled to Ankara to hold this round of talks. Official news sources announced that the two sides raised the issue of withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Golan Heights, Syria’s rupture of links with the Hizbullah and Hamas as well as the two sides' joint use of water resources as the axes of indirect talks.

Questions and ambiguities have been raised  with regards to these talks and the trend that most possibly the remaining talks in the next two rounds will follow, which need to be studied and rational answers must be given to them.

Regardless of the fact that whether Israel can achieve its occupying objectives through holding these talks or not and to what extent Damascus - which has always laid emphasis on its principled stances on withdrawal of Israeli army from the Golan Heights and also rational support for Islamic resistance in Palestine and Lebanon – would be able to make Israel understand its international obligations, there is another issue namely the role of Turkey in these talks.

There are questions on Turkish mediation and the role it plays in bringing Syria and Israel to the negotiation table and it is necessary to answer each of them. The question is that although most political experts believe this round of Syria-Israel talks (like the previous round in Istanbul) would bear no fruits, why Ankara has taken the initiative to hold these talks and is insisting on settling the issue and principally what benefits the talks would have for Turkey, and ultimately, whether this is a political task bestowed upon Ankara by certain governments or whether there are other cases the Turkish government has not raised so far.

Providing responses to these questions can to some extent prove the failure of the talks and at the same time clarify some other ambiguities regarding Ankara’s role. Maybe Ankara is more than any other government aware that a clear result from the continuation of the talks is inaccessible and with respect to the past records of such talks the most important of which was held during the tenure of the late Syrian president Hafiz Assad with Israeli officials, it is well aware that Israel is not bound to international laws and regulations and will not carry out its obligations.

Ankara has accepted mediation under conditions that Israeli forces are beefing up their attacks on the Gaza Strip every day and the media and news sources are transmitting reports on these attacks to the entire world.

Continued construction of settlements at the border strip and parts of the Golan Heights also indicates that the occupying regime of Qods does not intend to withdraw from these regions. Moreover, the announcement of shifting Israeli capital to Beit-il-Moqaddas is among major issues, which has faced opposition of the world of Islam and Syria in particular. While none of these issues are concealed from the statesmen of Cankaya Palace in Ankara, then what is the reason for insisting on holding such talks.

Some political experts hold that emergence of certain political crises in Turkey, especially on probable dismissal of the government and closure of Justice and Development party, has put the Turkish officials in general and Recep Tayyib Erdoghan in particular, in a position to think about taking advantage of international relations to get rid of his and his party’s problems.

These experts maintain that in case Erdoghan would be able to materialize the age-old wish of the Zionists on peace in the region, then it would be considered an international victory for him and would be very effective in getting rid of the domestic crises. Although this argument can be taken into consideration but it has been raised very naively and with respect to the present condition of Turkey at international arena and the prominent status of this country in the regional developments it is to some extent ambiguous and perhaps irrational.

On the other hand, a number of political experts suggest that Turkey enjoys suitable stability and security at political and economic arena. This has put the Turkish government in a position to adopt policies to stabilize its regional status. This can faintly be true because the first rational outcome of regional stability and security is increasing the domestic stability and security for the regional countries and all governments know it well that any kind of regional clashes and quarrels causing insecurity would undoubtedly leave adverse impacts on the domestic security and stability of other countries.

However, the fighting and insecurity Israel has created in the region, are not something to have occurred overnight and has continued for years and will continue in case the country survive, therefore, this issue cannot be included in the emergency programs for Turkey as a country a major part of whose territory is located in the Middle East.

Beside these cases, this issue can be observed in another way and without intending to make it complicated and in a very simple way, another result can be achieved from this mediation. Turkey is a country that has funneled all its potentials to achieve economic development and get rid of the crises caused from this issue. The country has a strong willingness to strengthen its economic and political structures by relying on its resources, particularly non-oil resources.

Rapprochement with the West, efforts to promote tourism, establishing the biggest transit lines in the region, establishing the biggest road, marine transportation fleet in the world, inviting big Western and Eastern companies to make investment in this country, organizing taxation system and tens of other cases are the things Turkey is forced to fulfill for its economic survival. The Turkish government has well realized that several issues can help stabilize the status of this country in the critical Middle East region and if these cases are materialized through Turkey’s mediation not only the economic conditions but also the political status of the country would take a positive and more speedy turn in a not distant future.

The first issue is attempts to establish peace in the critical Middle East region with the aim of attracting Arab investors to Turkey. Turkey’s entry into settlement of age-old quarrels in the Middle East can be taken by Arabs as such that Turkey has reached a level of stability and security that is striving for establishment of peace and security in the region, therefore, Turkey can be a safe haven for investment. The point that the Syria-Israel peace trend might not bear results has no place in the preliminary interpretations of this plan and the issue can open a new chapter in the big movement for investment in Turkey.

At the same time, the United States and Western countries and a number of political partners of Turkey support this trend. Another point in the active diplomacy of Turkey is the role played by Erdoghan in these talks which will greatly improve his political status both inside and outside his country. It is for some time that numerous reports are heard about emergence of political crises in Turkey and such reports do not provide a desirable political status for the Turkish government outside the country.

The incursion of Turkish army into north of Iraq, the case of terrorists affiliated to PKK, the indictment of the prosecutor of the Supreme Court against the ruling party, the abolition of freedom of hijab at universities of the country on the orders of the constitutional court, and …, are issues that prove the critical sate of political conditions of the country.

Ankara’s effort to join in settlement of Syria-Israel clashes can help remove some concerns about its domestic challenges and crises at international circles especially the Arab states of the region.

The last issue is that some observers believe the Turkish mediation is a prescription written by the West and Turkey, despite the challenges it faces, has to implement the scenario presented to it by the US.

If Turkey manages to implement this scenario a little successfully, whether Syria and the Zionist regime reach agreement (in their talks or not), it would undoubtedly take bigger roles both in the regional and trans-regional levels in the future.

Anyway, the second round of indirect talks between Syria and the Zionist regime ended after several days behind closed doors and the Turkish prime minister merely termed it positive and constructive without elaborating.

Nevertheless, in a not far future, the sides will publish the results of the talks and it can be seen what commitments the Zionist regime has made to the parties in the talks. Therefore, one should wait and also take into account Israel's past commitments and see to what extent it will carry out these commitments.

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