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Turkey, and Qatari Soccer, and Cartoons

First of all, Turkey’s defense minister has announced the conclusion of an operation against the PKK, according to Al Arabiya.  The operation included incursions into Iraq in an effort to pursue the PKK.  This of course comes several days after an earthquake that shook Turkey and has resulted in at least 500 deaths.

Next, a Qatari soccer team is doing well in the Asian Champions League.  The future World Cup host in 2022 ought to have its national team start to winning more, so I suppose this club team is a good sign.

Finally, the New York Times has a nifty read up about Arabs’ expanding interest in animation as a medium.  Especially online, cartoons are an affordable way to create content that carries political messages, or is simply entertaining.

Online Arab creativity has also been galvanized by high Internet and mobile penetration, affordable Internet and cellphone services, censorship in traditional media outlets and the fact that most of the world’s 300 million Arabs are tech-savvy youths who scour the Internet for content that piques their interests.

The two things to pay attention to are whether or not cartoons will be able to make the jump to television, and whether or not the cartoonists themselves can find the financing needed to  expand their operations (basically, a la South Park).

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A Busy Weekend and Tunisian elections

A lot has been happening over the past few days around the region.  Obviously, Muammar al-Qaddafi was killed in Libya several days ago, which will have major ramifications for that state.  Iran has once again had to defend itself against international allegations, this time for supposedly conducting secret executions without adequate judicial proceedings.  Violence continues to accompany protests and unrest in both Syria (although Damascus and Aleppo still stand with the regime) and Yemen (where the UN has once again called for President Saleh’s ouster).  Turkey has been rocked by an earthquake; the details of which are still coming out.

Today is also the Tunisian elections, where voter turnout topped 90% according to Al Arabiya.  Remember, this election is to create a commission that will rewrite the constitution, set up an interim government, and set election dates for the President and Parliament.  Tomorrow we will be able to discuss the outcome, but today consider this New York Times article which details financing leading up to the election.  The favorite to win in the elections is the Ennahda party, which is described as being moderate Islamist.

Ennahda, which had a long history of opposition here before Mr. Ben Ali eviscerated it a decade ago, is widely expected to fare the best, and no one pretends that it owes its popularity only to its financial clout. Its moderate and modern brand of Islamic politics has struck a chord with many Tunisians.

But for months, it has been at the center of attacks from liberal rivals and liberal-leaning election officials who accuse it of taking foreign money, mainly from the Persian Gulf. Islamist groups from Egypt to Lebanon are widely believed to rely on such support from the wealthier and more conservative gulf nations, but the charges have resonated especially loudly in Tunisia, in part because regulators have sought to stamp it out.

The article goes on to express that a difficulty in regulating party financing is that Ennahda is not only a political organization but a social one.  They receive donations from the Gulf that are spent on charitable causes (which may be beneficial politically) as well as financing that is spent on campaigning.  This duel nature makes pinning down financial regulations difficult, especially for a country that is having is first (hopefully) legitimate election.

So with all that news, any thoughts?  Can Tunisia be a beacon for democracy for the region?

Egypt, Turkey, and Israel

The New York Times has an article up regarding Filed Marshal Mohammad Hussein Tantawi of Egypt, the top military officer who would be the most likely presidential candidate to come out of the military.  Yet he has given statements saying that the military has no intention of running a candidate.  Speculation that Tantawi could run began when he appeared in public in civilian dress rather than his usual military garb.  Tantawi not running is good news for those who are concerned that civil society will struggle to take power back from the military.  I’d add that this article does not dispell the possibility of Tantawi leaving the military and then running for president.  Anyone else’s thoughts on this story?

Elsewhere, Recep Tayyip Erdogan ripped Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, and the lack of international concern for Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.  Erdogan discussed a double standard, saying

“Here I am talking about 89 resolutions of the UN Security Council and 247 resolutions of the General Assembly, none of which are implemented.”

“On the other hand you have resolutions for example about Iran, the Sudan and Palestine which are implemented.”

Erdogan also reiterated his country’s stance on endorsing international pressure on the Assad regime in Syria.  The article mentions that the Tureky-Israel spat will challenge Secretary of State Clinton when she heads to Istanbul next month.  If she asked for it, what would be your advice for handling worsening relations between two allies?

Finally, this article from Al Arabiya is kind of funny.  I’m not sure if this prize is a big deal or if it is some obscure thing that Al Arabiya picked up on.

Iran postures

This short article from the New York Times is pretty thick with things that deserve more details.  So I’m going to take it piece by piece.

Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, said the new missile, first unveiled a month ago and known as the Qader, which means Able in Farsi, had been mass-produced “as quickly as possible,” the country’s state-run media reported. The missile, designed to destroy warships and coastal targets, has a range of about 125 miles, the media said.

There is a picture of the new missile behind Ahmadinejad at the top of the article.  The obvious intention here is to have a weapon that threatens the US naval presence in the Gulf.  Iran’s long term goal is likely to push the US military out of the Gulf, which it views as a destabilizing force (and which we Americans view as a stabilizing force).  I’m not a military person, so I can’t get into technicalities of how effective this weapon might be, or how likely it is that the missile could successfully take down portions of the Sixth Fleet, but Iran surely hopes that our Navy is intimidated.

The announcement coincided with front-page headlines in a number of Iranian newspapers quoting the head of Iran’s navy, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, as saying he intended to deploy Iranian warships close to the Atlantic coast of the United States to reciprocate for the patrols in the Persian Gulf by the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The patrols are a constant source of irritation to Iran.

The article also points out that the US thinking is that the suggestion is ridiculous.  The Iranian Navy lacks the capability of deploying boats that far from Iran.  Besides, what is the point? Hypothetically, if such warships were understood to have any violent intent, they would have to cross the Atlantic,  where our military destroy them.  Instead, the idea works as a rhetorical device.  For many Americans, Iran approximates evil, and their deployment of warships to our coast would be anathema.  Yet they view us as an enemy too, and our warships have been patrolling their coast for years.

In another slap at the United States, General Vahidi also rejected any thought of creating a telephone hotline between Tehran and Washington. The idea that was floated a few weeks ago by Adm. Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a way of avoiding an accidental confrontation in the Persian Gulf, where American and Iranian naval vessels and aircraft sometimes operate within sight of each other.

“We do not need such a line in the region,” General Vahidi said, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. “They are seeking to set up a hotline in order to solve any potential tensions, whereas we believe if they leave the region, there will be no tension.”

The US does not have any diplomatic relationship with Iran.  Perhaps Mullin’s desire to have a military channel of communication reflects the poor logic of that diplomatic stance, which we discussed here a few days ago.  Score one debate Zing! for Vahidi here.

His remarks may also have been an indirect slap at Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who endorsed the idea of a hot line when asked about it last week at a news conference at the end of his visit to the United Nations. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s standing within Iran’s hierarchy is in question because of his clashes with Parliament and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

There has been a lot made over the past six months of a fall out between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.  Part of me wonders if it is exaggerated, wishful thinking on the part of those in the media who detest Ahmadinejad and would like to see him removed.  In this case, I’m reminded of when McChrystal was critical of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone interview.  But then this case seems less severe than its American counterpart that I’ve brought up.

Iran’s latest military pronouncements come against a backdrop of continued foreign skepticism about its claims of peaceful nuclear energy development. Even Turkey, which has cordial relations with Iran, recently agreed to be one of the host countries for part of a new missile-interceptor system designed by the United States, which has expressed concern that Iran may be developing a nuclear weapon that can be delivered via a long-range missile.

This paragraph implies that Turkey feels threatened by long-range nuclear missiles flying out of Iran, which I believe is not the case.  My understanding is that the US had to strong arm Turkey into putting up that missle-interceptor system.  So it is the US that is concerned and is working to surround Iran, much like we hoped to contain communism, which reminds me of a fantastic Foreign Policy article from last year.  Continuing…

Last week, American officials confirmed that the Obama administration had quietly provided Israel with bombs capable of destroying buried targets, including sites in Iran that could possibly house such a nuclear weapons program. Israel considers Iran its most dangerous enemy, and had been pressuring the United States for a supply of the so-called “bunker-busting” bombs .

I missed this news when it happened.  Bunker-busting bombs implies a preemptive strike on Iran from Israel, or at least that is the implication Iran will take away.  That would be incredibly destabilizing for the region.  I don’t like that the US made this sale.  Maybe it was to comfort Israel in the face of the Palestinian UN bid, I don’t know, but the move removes some ability of the US to control how events might transpire in the future.  If Israel were to use these bunker-busting bombs in a first strike, would Iran’s response not be to deploy as many of those Qader missiles as possible on our fleet in the Persian Gulf?  I know that the popular view is to see Iran as the irrational, militaristic, rogue, evil state, but in my view it seems like the US is doing its share of saber-rattling as well.

Honestly, I am incredibly liberal in my views on Iran.  I would prefer that the US aggressively seek rapprochement.  But what do you all think?  If Iran is damned determined to get nuclear weapons, how do we stop them?

Turkey’s Role

This article was in the New York Times yesterday, but it’s worth coming back for.  The article discusses the ambitions of Turkey in the Middle East, which in my opinion are no less than to settle all conflict in the region and become its key player.  Turkey, shunned by the EU, may now be turning east, seeking to stabilize political and social upheaval in order to encourage new economic growth.  Can it work?

 The Arab world’s long-held suspicion toward Turkey has faded, helped by the soft power of popular Turkish television serials and Mr. Erdogan’s appeal. Yet senior officials acknowledge the potential for an Arab backlash in a region long allergic to any hint of foreign intervention. Somewhat reflexively, Egyptian Islamists, piqued last week by Mr. Erdogan’s comments about a secular state, warned him against interfering in their affairs.

Turkey still has its own internal problems.  Solving the issues revolving around its Kurdish population is paramount.  Striking the right balance between Islam and secularism is also key.  Then there is still the challenge of figuring out Turkey’s relationship with the EU and the US.  But Turkey has the greatest GDP in the region, a popular leader, a visionary foreign minister, and a good run of policy stances over the past two or three years.  My tendency is to expect Turkey to be successful in its foreign policy goals, even though I’m still not completely sure what exactly they are.  One more quote from the article that I will leave alone to marinate:

Some Turkish officials […] believe that Turkey is bent on supplanting Israel as the junior partner of the United States in the Middle East.

Diplomatic developments

Yemen has seen a large outbreak in violence.  This Al Jazeera link includes video.

With this post I want to link two articles relating to diplomatic developments.  First is an Al Jazeera report on the upcoming Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations.  The other is a New York Times article on the growing relationship between Turkey and Egypt.  For those interested in the politics of the Middle East, the story is a must read.  Here is an interesting excerpt:

The portrait was described by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey in an hourlong interview before he was to leave for the United Nations, where a contentious debate was expected this week over a Palestinian bid for recognition as a state. Viewed by many as the architect of a foreign policy that has made Turkey one of the most relevant players in the Muslim world, Mr. Davutoglu pointed to that issue and others to describe a region in the midst of a transformation. Turkey, he said, was “right at the center of everything.”

He declared that Israel was solely responsible for the near collapse in relations with Turkey, once an ally, and he accused Syria’s president of lying to him after Turkish officials offered the government there a “last chance” to salvage power by halting its brutal crackdown on dissent.

Strikingly, he predicted a partnership between Turkey and Egypt, two of the region’s militarily strongest and most populous and influential countries, which he said could create a new axis of power at a time when American influence in the Middle East seems to be diminishing.

9-11, and What should Israel do?

It should be said that a lot of people in this group had their interest in the Middle East sparked by a desire to understand what happened on September 11th.  The whys.  Deepening our understanding is the biggest goal of MEDG.

That said, here are there are two articles in the New York Times today that are worth reading through.  The first discusses the current frustration that many Pakistanis and Afghans feel as America continues its war effort in those places.

The second looks at Israel’s current issues.  Their two biggest regional partners, Turkey and Egypt, aren’t exactly great allies at the moment.  Now, with the physical manifestation of destruction at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Israeli diplomats are very alarmed, and asking for additional US support.  The last four paragraphs are outstanding, so I’m going to post them here:

Initial Israeli fears about the Arab Spring uprisings have begun to materialize in concrete ways. When the uprisings began in Tunisia and Egypt at the start of the year, little attention was directed toward Israel because so much focus was on throwing off dictatorial rule and creating a new political order.

Traditionally, many Arab leaders have used Israel as a convenient scapegoat, turning public wrath against it and blaming it for their problems. The faint hope here was that a freer Middle East might move away from such anti-Israel hostility because the overthrow of dictators would open up debate.

But as the months of Arab Spring have turned autumnal, Israel has increasingly become a target of public outrage. Some here say Israel is again being made a scapegoat, this time for unfulfilled revolutionary promises.

But there is another interpretation, and it is the predominant one abroad — Muslims, Arabs and indeed many around the globe believe Israel is unjustly occupying Palestinian territories, and they are furious at Israel for it. And although some Israelis pointed fingers at Islamicization as the cause of the violence, Egyptians noted Saturday that Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, distanced themselves from Friday’s protests and did not attend, while legions of secular-minded soccer fans were at the forefront of the embassy attacks.

So the question is, what should Israel do?  Standing firm is an option.  So is aggressively seeking to create a peaceful Palestinian state.  A middle route might be to take diplomatic steps to ease tensions with Turkey and Egypt, on the governmental level.

My only thought is that I hope the United States tries to act proactively, rather than wait for Israel to choose its course and support that decision wholesale.