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Opinion

Middle East power shifting to Turkey and Iran

President Obama and the West need to adjust accordingly.

By Alastair Crooke / November 25, 2009



Beirut, Lebanon

While the United States and Europe have been struggling to find a path forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan, and Iran, the strategic ground upon which their assumptions about the region rest has begun to shift dramatically.

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Most significantly, Turkey has finally shrugged off the straitjacket of a tight American alliance, grown virtually indifferent to beckoning European Union (EU) membership, and turned its focus toward its former Ottoman neighbors in Asia and the Middle East.

Though not primarily meant as a snub to the West, this shift does nonetheless reflect growing discomfort and frustration with US and EU policy, from the support of Israel's action in Gaza to Iran and the frustrated impasse of the European accession process. It also resonates more closely with the Islamic renaissance that has been taking place within Turkey.

If Turkey continues successfully down this path, it will be as strategically significant for the balance of power in the region as the emergence of Iran as a preeminent power thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the later destruction of Sunni dominance in Iraq by the US invasion.

In recent months, a spate of new agreements have been signed by Turkey with Iraq, Iran, and Syria that suggest a nascent commonality of political vision. A new treaty with Armenia further signals how seriously Ankara means its "zero problem" good-neighbor policy.

More important, however, the agreements with Iraq, Iran, and Syria reflect a joint economic interest. The "northern tier" of Middle Eastern states are poised to become the principal supplier of natural gas to central Europe once the Nabucco pipeline is completed – thus not only displacing Russia in that role but gradually eclipsing the primacy of Saudi Arabia as a geostrategic kingpin due to its oil reserves.

Taken together with the economic stagnation and succession crisis that has incapacitated Egypt, it is clear that the so-called moderate "southern tier" Middle Eastern states that have been so central to American policies in the region are becoming a weak and unreliable link indeed.

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