A new player in the Middle East

A new player has appeared in the Middle East, an arena where the political landscape has been defined by the United States for several decades now: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who launched a vehement attack against Israel for its violent interception of a flotilla of ships carrying international aid through the Gaza Strip blockade. Erdogan is clearly a very effusive politician, but he is not so naive as to overlook the fact that the openly hostile stance he has adopted is at odds with the American and Israeli line. Nevertheless, he took the risk to set his country apart from them, obviously because he believes that Washington and Tel Aviv not only lost their credibility long ago, but also the power to create a new order in the region. We have seen other players emerge in the Middle East in the recent past, the most potent of which was the Soviet Union, which began its gradual withdrawal in 1978 when then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a peace accord at Camp David with US President Jimmy Carter. It was a huge step for America’s monopoly on politics in the region and Carter’s single most important diplomatic achievement. Since then, the battle to undermine Israel has been led in succession by Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran. But these moves were not much more than exercises in rhetoric, to which the West responded in a unified manner, with a common stance that was mainly dictated by Washington. One exception was Greece’s vocal opposition to Tel Aviv under Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. Ankara’s recent intervention is of a very different type because Turkey is the biggest power in the region with a predominantly Muslim population of many tens of millions, while it is also a longtime ally of both the US and Israel. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a lecture on Israeli security in the 1980s, had included Turkey in the third wave of threats that his country would one day face. But he was alone in his concern. Of course Turkey is not about to go to war with Israel, but it will very likely be one of the key players in getting the embargo lifted on the Gaza Strip, a move that, if successful, will secure great influence for Ankara in the region.