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Middle East Nightmare

By David Warren

Hamas seizing Gaza is only the beginning of a nightmare. One must look at the whole Middle Eastern region, to distinguish the bomb from the fuse. What Hamas will do, by consolidating its power in Gaza, and becoming a true "free port" with terrorist infrastructure for the world's Islamist networks, is to perfect that fuse. As George Friedman has argued, it creates new possibilities for drawing Egypt back into direct conflict with Israel. But also, much more.

There is an interesting piece in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, by the Turkish writer, Ahmet Altan, on the important and still under-appreciated role Turkey may play in the coming disorder. He says his country has reached a demographic tipping point. Turkish society is divided between two electorates, culturally distinct -- rather as, I would observe, Western societies have increasingly divided between traditional, conservative people with religious beliefs; and urban, liberal, "secular," essentially rootless people. Two electorates that are mysteries to each other.

But whereas, in the West, the latter group have been growing proportionally over the years, as the old moral order has disintegrated, in Turkey the former group has been growing -- largely because they have more children. The tipping point has been reached in which the secular party, with which the military are associated, will not be winning any more elections. Much of the present political tension in Turkey comes from that realization, on the part of the secularists, who no longer feel a stake in democracy, and fear a future in which they will be forced to Islamicize. The idea of a military coup rather appeals to them.

Yet such a coup would never be supported in the West, where our principle has long been, "democracy, regardless of the cost (to freedom)." Mr Altan's ingenious thesis -- which I think sound -- is that Turkey will be shunned by the West whichever way it turns, and will be driven (he implies by either route) into alliance with Iran, and Russia.

We have, for the moment, Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan as "secure allies" in a region capable of bringing the Western world to its knees by cutting off our oil supply. We retain a certain number of highly unreliable allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which will swing with the breeze. We failed to grasp, when her "moderately Islamist" party first won power, in 2002, that Turkey was lost as an ally. This was confirmed by the Turkish refusal to allow the U.S. 4th Infantry Division to transit en route to Iraq -- a nasty repayment for NATO protection of Turkish sovereignty through decades of the Cold War.

To blame "Bush," as conventional Western opinion does, even for demographic developments in Turkey, is like blaming Israel for Hamas. It is to flush reality, and inject illusion in its place.

It is to forget history. For if any American president could legitimately claim to have "lost" the Middle East, it was Jimmy Carter, who put the skids under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, enabling the Islamist revolution in Iran, nearly three decades ago. Beneath that, we might look back to the success of the OPEC cartel, in creating the oil crisis of 1973, which the West accepted numbly, while the U.S. was navel-gazing through Watergate, and cutting and running from Vietnam.

More than a generation has now passed since the U.S. State Department could look complacently upon a region cross-anchored by the Shah's Iran, Sadat's Egypt, a trilateral military alliance between the U.S., Israel and Turkey, a pro-American Pakistan, and the self-interested sheikhs of Arabia. The demands made today by the diplomatic establishment throughout the West -- that we devote all efforts to maintaining "stability" in the region, and avoiding military commitments -- overlooks the fact that the possibility of stability was lost irretrievably at the end of the 1970s. The Bush administration had no choice but to think again. Turkey I mentioned as the last straw.

How is Hamas tied into all of this? Very simply, as the Iranian-controlled fuse on a powderkeg of extraordinary size. Note, incidentally, that Hezbollah in Lebanon -- the other Iranian proxy by Israel's borders -- has resumed lobbing the occasional missile into Israel's north, teasing for a response in its usual murderous way. We can only conclude from this that the ayatollahs of Iran think circumstances increasingly propitious for an explosion large enough to blow both America and Israel out of the region, leaving a soon-to-be nuclear Iran with its thumb on the Gulf chokepoint of the world's oil.

This is precisely the ayatollahs' vision of a "new world order," in which, incidentally, China will be happy to replace the U.S., Europe, and Japan, as the principal consumer of that oil, and perhaps lend some military credibility to the redirection of supply. A world in which Iran will hold all the old American cards, and Israel might not even exist any longer. It is why Iran must be confronted, now.

otiosus@sympatico.ca

© Ottawa Citizen


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