Thursday, January 29, 2004

Suriye Hakkında Son İddia: Irak’ın Kitle İmha Silahları Suriye’de

ABD ve İsrail tarafından zaten birçok konu ile suçlanan ve bu doğrultuda değişime gitmesi istenen Suriye hakkında ortaya atılan son iddia ise Irak’ta hâlâ bulunamayan kitle imha silahlarının hemen Irak Savaşı öncesinde Suriye’ye götürüldüğü ve halen orada saklandığı yönündedir. Bu haberlerin kaynağına baktığımızda ise esas olarak İsrail basınının bu iddiayı ciddi biçimde savunduğu ve bu anlamda da Suriye’yi “suçlu” konumuna sokmaya çalıştığı görülmektedir. Bundaki amacının da Suriye’yi gerek ABD gerekse uluslararası toplum önünde zor bir konuma sokarak bu ülke üzerindeki baskıyı artırma amacının yattığı söylenebilir. Her ne kadar ABD Dışişleri Bakanı Powell tarafından Suriye’yi bu anlamda suçlayabilecek doğrudan kanıtlarının olmadığı açıklansa da yönetimin bazı kesimleri içerisinde İsrail tarafından gündeme getirilen bu iddiaların yankı bulduğu görülmektedir. Zira ABD bu anlamda Suriye’yi suçlayan bazı açıklamalar yapmıştır. ABD’nin bu açıklamalarına yanıt ise Suriye Enformasyon Bakanı Ahmet Hassan tarafından gelmiş ve “bu iddiaların tamamen asılsız olduğu ve bunların akılları karıştırmak için ortaya atıldığı” belirtilmiştir.

Suriye tarafından “yalan” olarak adlandırılan bu iddiaların ortaya atılmasının arkasında birkaç nedenin yattığını söyleyebiliriz. Öncelikle, savaşın da nedenini oluşturan Irak’ın kitle imha silahları Irak’ta hâlâ ortaya çıkarılamadı ve ABD bu anlamda ciddi bir kamuoyu baskısı altında. ABD silahların savaştan hemen önce Suriye’ye kaçırıldığı iddiasıyla bu baskıyı biraz olsun azaltmaya çalışıyor olabilir. İkinci olasılık da Suriye üzerindeki baskıyı artırarak, İsrail’le oturulacak olası barış görüşmelerinde Suriye’nin konumunu zayıflatmayı ve İsrail’in taleplerine yakın bir çizgiye çekilmesi amacını taşıyor olabilir. Bu iddiaların kaynağının İsrail olması da bu iddiayı güçlendiren bir olasılıktır. Zayıf olmakla beraber bir diğer olasılık da, ABD içerisindeki bazı kesimlerin de savunduğu gibi, Suriye’ye ileriki dönemde bir askeri operasyon düzenleme olasılığının gündeme gelmesi durumunda bunun altyapısının şimdiden hazırlanması ve Suriye’yi bu anlamda suçlu göstermeye çalışma çabasının yattığı söylenebilir.

Monday, January 19, 2004

In the Wake of Bashar Assad’s Visit

The new regional structuring that has emerged in the aftermath of the Iraq War seems to have triggered a process that is creating a new network of relationships in the Middle East. To ensure a secure place for itself in the Middle East’s changing security system each country is questing for new ties of cooperation, new alliances. This process is making an impact on all the relationships in the region. This new order is giving Turkish-Syrian relations –in which there has been a relative improvement since 1998- a new dimension, clearing the way for a more radical rapprochement. Therefore, the foreign policy concept that has been based on a mutual threat perception for so many years seems to be on its way out in this context.

This rapprochement, which means different things to Syria and Turkey, (See: Middle East – Jan. 19, 2004 and Jan. 20, 2004) has given the two countries a chance to resolve or at least postpone the structural problems between them. In the framework of this process the two sides are refraining from putting issues such as the “Hatay Problem” and the “Water Problem” on the agenda. Obviously inspired by the answers Syrian President Bashar Assad gave to questions posed on such issues during an interview he had given members of the Turkish press prior to his recent visit to Turkey, the Syrian side is making a point of not raising such issues. On the other hand, the Syrian side has refrained from declaring clearly that they are not making any territorial claims on Hatay though many Syrian officials refer to the Syrian arguments on the Hatay issue as a “dead claim”. They hesitate to take such a step probably because this issue has been used as a tool in Syria’s domestic politics since the country gained independence and, as a result, it is still a vivid issue for the Syrian public. On the other hand, it is obvious that such issues have lost their importance for Syria now that the country is faced with new threats in the aftermath of the Iraq War. However, it is too early to say, on the basis of Syria’s current stance, that the structural problems between Turkey and Syria have been solved entirely. In the long run these problems may well be put on the agenda once again between the two countries during periods of tension.

The “grounds for cooperation” from Syria’s standpoint: Syria is aware that it has to change in accordance with the new conditions that have emerged in the region. In Syria’s threat perception Israel is the basic factor. In the new structuring that has emerged in the aftermath of the Iraq War, Israel has gained a much superior position compared to Syria’s from the standpoint of the balances of power. In the struggle waged against Israel in the region the relationships developed with Iraq and Iran had great importance. With the Iraq War, Iraq has been removed from that equation. In the face of the pressure applied by the USA, Iran, meanwhile, has taken the path of trying to develop new relationships in an effort to find a way out. In this context, it has entered into a process of rapprochement even with Egypt, a country with whom it has not even had diplomatic relations since 1979 (See: Middle East – Jan. 7, 2004). Furthermore, Iranian officials are making statements that give the “rapprochement with the USA” or “putting the bilateral relations on the right track” kind of message. Also, Libya announcing that it is terminating its mass destruction weapons research program, that it will be, in a way, permitting the country to be inspected in this respect, has been another regional development that has pushed Syria into more isolation in the region, causing it to come under intensified pressure.

In the framework of this new regional structuring, Israel has gained a much more advantageous position than Syria from the “balances of power” angle. Thanks to this position it staged an operation against targets deep in Syria in October 2003, bombing a camp situated near -to the north of- Damascus on the grounds that it belonged to Islamic Jihad (See: Middle East – Oct. 6, 2003). The Syrian reaction to that operation turned out to be highly limited. Also, last week Israel decided to open up more parts of the Golan Heights for new Jewish settlements. This too can be seen as a result of this new climate. Syria is trying to find a way out of this climate of pressure and isolation. In other words, from Syria’s standpoint this rapprochement is important –not because it reflects Syria’s concern over Iraq’s restructuring – but mainly because it is an attempt to create a new security network against the pressure being exerted by the USA and Israel and thus ensure a continuation of Syria’s existence. Syria is trying to create a new network of relationships in the framework of a new foreign policy strategy in an effort to bolster its position in the region. In this context, the visit Bashar Assad paid to Greece too was highly significant. Syria, who had relatively good relations with the European Union anyway (See: Middle East – Nov. 3, 2003), is trying to bring about a rapprochement with the West via Greece. The rapprochement achieved with Turkey provides Syria not only with an outlet but also forms a bridge that would enable Syria to establish a relationship with Israel. Syria is seeking ways of easing the US-Israeli pressure via Turkey. It is seeking ways of having contact with these countries. A high-level Israeli official describes in the following manner the climate Syria is in, concluding that Syria is, in a way, compelled to change: Syria needs peace as much as it needs air and water and, under the existing conditions, the Israeli has the upper hand entirely. The “rapprochement” is highly important in that it is an effort on the part of Syria to get out of this unfavorable situation, and to find a way out.

From Turkey’s standpoint: For Turkey the “cooperation process” means something else. Turkey attaches a different meaning to this process than does Syria. (See: Middle East – Jan. 19, 2004). The new climate that emerged in the region in the aftermath of the Iraq War causes Turkey to worry about the possibility that Iraq will be divided on the basis of ethnic differences. The possibility of a Kurdish state getting established in the northern parts of Iraq is the basic factor on the basis of which Turkey obviously shapes its regional policies and relations. On the Iraq issue Syria and Turkey has a similar standpoint when it comes to political issues and to preservation of Iraq’s territorial integrity. Although it is not as worried as Turkey, Syria, a country with a Kurdish population of some 1,700,000, is concerned about the possibility that Iraq would be split up. In fact, Bashar Assad refers to that issue as the Syrian side’s red lines. Turkey seeks a rapprochement with Syria basically because it feels the need to develop its cooperation with the regional countries on the Iraq issue and to act together with them. Furthermore, Turkey is upset by Israel’s Northern Iraq policy. Newspaper reports about Israel buying land in Northern Iraq and supporting the creation of a Kurdish state there, have caused a certain coolness between the two countries though this has hardly been expressed out in the open. That too is giving Turkey an opportunity to act with more ease when it comes to developing its cooperation with Syria.

For Turkey this rapprochement also creates an opportunity to solve the structural problems that exist between Turkey and Syria –such as the “Hatay Problem” and the “Water Problem” in its favor. Syria needs this rapprochement more acutely than does Turkey. Therefore, making use of Syria being in dire straits Turkey now has the chance to resolve these problems in Turkey’s favor. Also, the agreements signed on economic issues contained a phrase that indicates that Syria is recognizing Turkey’s existing territories. Though it is of secondary importance, the economic aspect too is one of the factors that have brought about this rapprochement. In fact, the agreements signed during Bashar Assad’s visit had an economic content. Via the agreements for creation of free trade zones and prevention of double taxation, an effort is being made to turn the Syrian border that has been an area of conflict into an area of cooperation. In this context it has been announced that preparations are under way to open a Syrian consulate in Gaziantep. Thus, efforts are being made to serve mutual economic interests by expanding the trade volume.

How far that process would go? It does not seem likely that this process will develop into an alliance between the two countries or into an axis to be formed with the participation of Iran. On the other hand, though the structural differences between the two countries reduce the chances for a long-term potential “alliance” these differences would not prevent tactical cooperation between the two countries. For the time being, the USA and Israel have a cautious approach to the Turkish-Syrian rapprochement. In fact, one could even say that they view this in a warm light, thinking that this might be a positive step that could pull Syria closer to the USA-Syria line.