Turkey and Iran carve up a ruptured Arab world
Many analysts say the Middle East is the focus of a geopolitical power struggle between the United States and Iran. That misses the primary thread of events – namely, the ongoing soft partition of the Arab republics between Turkey and Iran, with Turkey the stronger power.
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Since then, however, Turkey has drifted out of the Western security orbit. First it opposed the 2003 Iraq War; next, after the 2010 Gaza flotilla resulted in the death of nine Turks in international waters, it increasingly switched to the Palestinian side of the conflict.Skip to next paragraph
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Only in Syria are Turkey and Iran seemingly on opposite sides of a military conflict. Whereas Iran and its client Hezbollah back the Assad regime, the Turks arm, train, and provide safe haven to the Syrian rebels.
However, this conflict may be more apparent than real. In a fragmented post-Assad Syria, Turkey will support the Sunnis, while Iran will remain the patron of the Alawites. Moreover, both will surely find a way to protect their strategic and financial interests in whatever regime emerges.
Throughout 2011, the continued Western obsession with the Iranian nuclear menace prevented policymakers from grasping the most salient dynamics at play in the new Middle East. Those who, like Mohammed Ayoob, have warned that “Beyond the Arab Democratic Wave” lies a “Turko-Persian Future” have been mostly ignored.
The Arab Spring has vastly weakened the Arab states, leaving them open to fragmentation, increased federalism, and outside penetration. With hindsight, 2011 may come to represent as sharp a rupture in the political landscape of the Middle East as 1919 did.
Back then, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the British and French divided the Arab Middle East among themselves, with the British as the senior partner. In today’s soft partition of the region, the weaker, less stable partner is Iran. The true victor of the Arab Spring is surely a resurgent Turkey. And those who ignore that fact do so at their peril.
Jason Pack researches Libyan history at Cambridge University and is president of Libya-Analysis.com. Martin van Creveld is one of the world’s best-known experts on military history. He is the author of “The Age of Airpower.” © 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.