Tag Archives: Turkey

RECLAIMING ISRAELI-SYRIAN TALKS, by Ufuk ULUTAS at SETA

Here you will find a serial of three reports -related to Turkey-Syrian relationship and Turkey-Iran relationship- from a Turkey based think-tank called The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) at http://www.setav.org . It is the first time I read anything from this think-tank. Judge yourselves.

N.S

RECLAIMING ISRAELI-SYRIAN TALKS

 

By Ufuk ULUTAS

SETA Policy Report, No. 2, October 2009

 

 

The Israeli-Syrian track has been an important component of the Arab-Israeli peace talks due to its integral role in reaching comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The latest round of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria was initiated under the sponsorship of Turkey on May 21, 2008, and by the end of 2008 both sides were ready to start the direct talks. However, in protest of Israeli aerial and ground offensive in Gaza in December 2008, Syria halted the indirect talks with Israel. Several factors, including the lack of American endorsement; Olmert’s weak prospect in Israel due to the ongoing corruption investigation; approaching early elections, and the rise of rightist parties in Israel, topped by the Israeli offensive in Gaza, rendered the conciliation efforts futile.

 

 

 

The Syrian side has been consistently clear about their principal demands from their Israeli counterparts: “the line of 4 June 1967.” While security concerns have been shaping Israeli demands from Syria in the peace negotiations. Many in Israel consider the Golan Heights as Israel’s first line of defense against Syria and see retaining of the water sources in the Golan as strategic and existential.

 

The Iranian threat has been a crucial factor motivating Israel to reconsider the peace talks with Syria; on the other hand, Syrian determination to end their international isolation has made Syria a willing party for the peace talks. While Syria prefers a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace that include Israeli-Palestinian track side by side with the Israeli-Syrian track, Israel wants to deal with the Palestinian question and peace with Syria separately.

 

Israeli-Syrian peace has the potential to be a turning point in the history of the Middle East, on the condition that it produces a viable solution for the border disputes and security concerns and that both sides comply with implementation of the solution. While facilitating the end of decades-long hostilities between Arab states and Israel, it could also have a positive impact on Iranian-American and Iranian-Israeli relations. Consequently, it could prevent a serious armed conflict between Iran and Israel in the Middle East.

 

Third parties will have to play a more active role during all stages of the peace process: indirect talks, direct talks, and implementation of the agreement. While such countries as Turkey could bridge the gap between the two countries in earlier stages and lay the foundations of an agreement, the U.S. involvement into the process would be critical in later stages. Having Israel and Syria comply with the terms of the agreement would be as much important as bringing them to the table and having them sign the agreement.

 

 

Ufuk Ulutas is the Coordinator of the Middle East Program at SETA Washington D.C. He has taught classes on world history at Ohio State University, and worked as a Graduate Research Associate at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies. He previously held the Samuel M. Melton Fellowship in Jewish Studies, and is the current holder of the George M. & Renée K. Levine Fellowship by the Melton Center for Jewish Studies. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Public Administration from Bilkent University in Ankara, and his M.A. in modern Middle Eastern history from Ohio State University. He is a Ph.D. Candidate at Ohio State University and is finishing his dissertation on the immigration of Turkish Jews to Israel during the inter-war years.

 

 

 

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Turk & Syria – Assad Interview: Muslim Brothers, Kurds, Iraq, Israel By Joshua Landis in Syria Comment

Turk & Syria – Assad Interview: Muslim Brothers, Kurds, Iraq, Israel

Monday, September 14th, 2009

President Assad heads to Turkey Wednesday, Sept 16, 2009.

The Turkish paper Zaman has carried a number of articles on Syria in preparation for his visit.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with the editors-in-chief of several Turkish newspapers, including Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş (L), over the weekend.

An article by Muhammet Minhac Çelik – Turkey’s role in Syrian detente with West crucial, experts say.

The article quotes me, but I copy below the fuller version of what I wrote to Muhammet in response to his question: “Was Turkey an influential player in the recent reconciliation between Syria and the US as well as the EU? (I mean the fact that the US is considering retunring an Ambassador to Damascus and the EU’s future signing of the Partnership Treaty with Syria.)” I wrote him:

Dear Muhammet,

Turkey is a key player in the new Middle East and has great leverage with Syria, Israel and the US. This was very clear in the central role it played in initiating talks between Israel and Syria 2008.

Syria values Turkey’s support over almost all other Middle Eastern countries, and it should. This gives Turkey considerable influence in Damascus. When Ankara asked Damascus to begin talks with Israel, Damascus complied, in part, to strengthen its relations with Turkey.

Turkey is the central player in Syria’s plans for economic growth. Turks form the largest number of foreign entrepreneurs opening new businesses in Syria. Syrian-Turkish trade doubled in three years from 1 billion dollars US in 2005 to 2 billion in 2008. Syria and Turkey plan to double this again in the next three years and they stand a good chance of doing it. Turkey is the doorway for Syrian goods into European markets. Oil and Gas pipelines to and from Syria go through Turkey.

Also, because of Turkey’s leadership of the Ottoman Empire, its economic success, and its pioneering role in developing democracy in the Middle East and finding a progressive balance between Islamic and secular government, Syrians of all classes and ideological outlooks look up to Turkey.

I could also add the importance of Turkey in Syria’s approach to the Kurdish question – not only in Iraq, but in Syria itself. The Turkish government’s success in forging a new, more equitable relationship between Turks and Kurds will surely influence Syria. If Turkey is successful in finding an accommodation with Kurds, it will help Syria do the same. In particular, it will pave the way for the Syrian government to offer citizenship to those 250,000 Kurds living in Syria, who have been denied Syrian citizenship because their male ancestors are believed to be refugees from Turkey or Ottoman Anatolia.

Many Syrians look to friendship with Turkey as an important addition to friendship with Iran.

When Imad Mustapha – Syria’s ambassador to Washington – came to speak at the University of Oklahoma, he was asked by one Syrian doctor, “Why does Syria have Iran as its best friend?” He answered, “Turkey is Syria’s best friend.” Many Syrians believe that Syria would not have come out of its struggle with George W. Bush so well had Turkey and Syria not been on friendly terms.

The importance of Turkey to Syria goes back a long way in history. Before Syria sent its army into the 1948 War in Palestine, one parliamentarian – Farzat Mamlouk – argued passionately in Parliament that Syria and the Arabs should postpone war and wait until Turkey was on their side before taking on Zionist forces. He argued that Turkey had great influence in the West, had major moral importance in the Islamic World, and had the strongest military of all Middle Eastern countries. He insisted that Syria should not go to war without Turkish backing and diplomatic support. This was wise advice in 1948; it is wise advice today.

Bashar al-Assad is keenly aware of Turkey’s role in assisting Syria to break out of isolation, grow its economy, and improve its leverage within the Middle East and international community. The fact that the Syrian government gave up Ocalan, ended its support for Kurdish militias fighting Turkey, and tried to put the Hatay or Liwa affaire behind it, as well has opening up the border with Turkey to free trade and easy movement of people is a very big turnaround. Syria has done all this despite Turkey’s very ambitious plans for Euphrates water, which hurt Syria.

In improving relations with Syria, Ankara is building a very important bridge to the Arab World and a good neighbor.

Best, Joshua

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