In the Egyptian government weekly Al-Ahram of March 7-13, columnist Galal
Nassar explains that the real ‘axis of evil’ is not Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, but
the strategic relationship of the U.S., Israel, and Turkey.
Following are excepts of the article:
The U.S. – Turkish plans to carve up Iraq and then Iran
Standing at the doorsteps of the White House, following an audience with U.S.
President George W. Bush last month, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit
proudly announced that Turkey is now a ‘global’ force. Turkey is now an
established partner in the U.S. efforts to rearrange international politics, fight
terror, and smother the evil threesome of Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
But evil is in the eye of the beholder. For Arabs and Middle Easterners in
general, the emerging security pact of the United States, Israel, and Turkey
holds woeful consequences.
Turkey is still facing a grinding economic crisis. Still, the Ecevit-Bush talks were
only marginally concerned with such minor bilateral issues. Rather, the two men
focused on momentous international tasks, on regions where the United States
intends to make a move or two, get the global chessboard sorted out, and
generally make life easier for itself and those ready to play along.
Turkey is more than ready. Ankara will lead the international forces after the
end of the UK command mandate in Afghanistan. It has a finger in other global
pies: Central Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Cyprus, the
Aegean Sea, the Caucasus plateau, the oil of the Caspian Sea.
And just out of the oven, the main course in this sumptuous global
banquet is the joint offensive against Iraq.
Plans for an imminent offensive against Saddam Hussein’s regime are afoot.
Ecevit reviewed these plans during his Washington visit. Military planners
envisage supplying the 70,000 Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, and the smaller
force of irregular fighters in southern Iraq, with weapons and money and
sending them against Saddam Hussein, with aerial U.S. support. In a later
stage, U.S. Special Forces and columns of Turkish tanks would march on
Bush and Ecevit seem to have finalized plans for a joint offensive against
Baghdad. They are likely to have discussed ways of imposing a strategic
military, economic, and political blockade on Tehran. That is two-thirds of the
axis of evil taken care of. North Korea can be left to the devices of closer
neighbors in the Asia-Pacific Rim.
An axis of evil in the making: U.S. – Turkey – Israel
What we have here is not an axis of evil under attack; rather, what we have is
an axis of evil in the making. Cooperation among the United States, Israel and
Turkey has been sharpened through successive security and military
Turkey’s role is central to the plans of this axis. It is the thin end of the
wedge that can take the axis to places it could not have gone, at least not so
easily. Turkey, with its Islamic creed, secular constitution, imperial history and
European location, can act as a primary scalpel in the reconstructive surgery
the United States envisages for the Middle East. It is a role Turkey has been
auditioning for for some time through its previous cooperation agreements with
The distinctive feature of Turkish foreign policy right now is its desire to
promote its national interests, even at the expense of its traditional loyalties and
The conflict between secularism and fundamentalism within Turkey has made it
a model for historic contradictions. The rivalry between secularists and
traditionalists, between state institutions and conventional loyalties, is not new
to the region. But it has assumed a heightened urgency in Turkey, where the
Islamist Refah Party has once made a successful bid for the country’s
Turkey’s campaign against Syria, Iran, & Iraq alarms the Arabs
Turkey, situated at the edge of the world’s arguably most industrialized
continent on earth, seems ready to sacrifice its entire Islamic and Arab links for
a geopolitical/military threesome with the United States and Israel.
The army, patron of the Turkish constitution, is an active supporter of
these new strategic bonds. Turkey’s military institution played a key role in
consolidating ties with Israel. Senior military commanders have actively
sponsored training and cooperation programs with Israel. These same
commanders are now spearheading the campaign against Syria, Iran, and Iraq;
their pretext being that all of these countries support the Kurdistan Workers
Party (PKK) and its perceived ’terror.’
The implications of the Turkish-Israeli-U.S. axis are alarming for the Arabs.
Turkey is the wild card that can effectively upset the regional odds. Let us look
at the agreements, security arrangements and plans that have so far been
forged by the United States, Turkey and Israel. The essence of the security
cooperation agreement between the United States and Israel, and the earlier
military cooperation agreement between Turkey and Israel, reflect changes in
the U.S. strategy in the Middle East…
Israel, Turkey and the United States are holding periodic naval drills in
the Mediterranean, the latest of which was a few days ago, following Ecevit’s
visit to Washington. Arab countries, while monitoring such actions closely, are
making little secret of their displeasure.
The Arab and Iranian position
From the Arab and Iranian point of view, this is the new ‘axis of evil,’ for it
presents a direct threat to Arab and Iranian national security. The threat could
not have been worse-timed, for it comes at one of the lowest points of the
Middle East peace process.
The Turkish-Israeli-U.S. axis opens the Turkish aerial space to the Israeli
air force. It can thus provide Israel with a chance to attack any country in the
Arab region, particularly next-door Syria and Iraq. Iran, mindful of the Israeli
attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, cannot miss the significance of such
arrangement for the safety of its own nuclear installations and arms industry.
The new axis aims to encircle the Middle East from the north. Israel has been
making parallel efforts to encircle the region from the south, through
cooperation with Eritrea, Ethiopia and other African states. This sits well with
the new Israeli security doctrine. It also interlocks nicely with other security
pacts being forged in Central Asia, the Caspian Sea, and the Indian
subcontinent, in which other regional players, such as India, the interim
government in Kabul, and a number of Central Asian countries, are involved.
Arab – Iranian ties must be bolstered
How would the Arabs, and Iran, get out of this fix? There is a number of ways.
One is to bolster Arab-Iranian ties. There are signs that closer ties are
developing between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria on one hand, and the
Iranians on the other.
An Egyptian-Syrian-Iranian-Gulf axis may emerge to confront the
Israeli-Turkish-U.S. one. Egypt and other Arab countries have agreed to attend
the Islamic summit in Tehran. Iranian officials are regularly exchanging visits
with officials of several Arab countries, particularly Abu Dhabi.
A second line of defense is to appeal to Turkey’s cultural heritage; that is, to
persuade it that its historic bonds and traditional loyalties matter. Arab
pressures may range from moral persuasion to a collective boycott of Turkish
goods and economic interests.
The Arabs and Iran may also be tempted to play the Kurdish card. Syria, Iraq,
and Iran all have leverage in the Kurdish question and can use it to reach some
understanding with Turkey. This prospect is perhaps the reason why Turkish
military commanders are so eager to get into Iraq and eliminate this bargaining
chip for good. There is more to the prospective invasion of Iraq than meets the eye.