THOMAS MATTAIR, executive director, Middle East Policy Council
Well, I’d like to thank all of you for coming and attending this conference — this 67th Capitol Hill conference that we have done. Now can — yeah. I was saying, it’s the 67th in the series of our Capitol Hill conferences. And it’s being live streamed, so we have a virtual audience who can also ask questions. And before we begin I will say that the council — the Middle East Policy Council has been here for 30 years. It’s celebrating its 30th anniversary. It has three major programs.
The first and oldest is our quarterly journal, Middle East Policy. And the — we’re very happy that articles in this journal are now being cited and noted in places like The New York Times and The Atlantic and The Economist, in addition to comments that are made here at our Capitol Hill conferences.
The Capitol Hill Conference Series is our second program, started in 1992. And our third program is a program in which we travel around the United States doing workshops for K through 12 educators, helping them understand how to present the Middle East to schoolchildren in a more fair, balanced manner than is often done elsewhere, so that they enter college better prepared for that serious coursework in the field. And that program, I think, has been in existence since about 1985.
So we’re proud of these three programs. We invite you to visit our website, at www.mepc.org, to read the journal, to see what we have on the Teach Mideast website and to see videos of these conferences that have been done in the past.
Now, let me just say a few brief words of introduction. And by the way, I’m Tom Mattair, I’m the executive director of the — of the council. And the title of this conference is “Israel, Iran and Turkey in the Changing Arab World.” By way of introduction I’ll just say that given the changes sweeping the Arab world, especially the demands for popular participation in government and the success of Islamist movements, we want to consider in this conference, to put it very roughly, who are the winners and who are the losers among the Arab world’s neighbors.
For example, will Israel be more isolated than before, and if so, why? And is there anything Israel can do about this? How much does Israel want to do about this? And turning to Iran, does Iran have any ability to gain any advantage outside of Iraq or have its ideological, economic and political tools been too diminished? Are the balancing and containing efforts of other powers in the region going to keep Iran isolated?
Turkey has made a decision to abandon its zero-problems foreign policy by taking very strong stances against Gadhafi and Mubarak and Assad. And it has also developed a version of Islamist democracy. So are those two developments going to make Turkey a model to be emulated by other Islamists in the region? And will they make Turkey a power to be courted or a power to be countered in the region? Will it be able to contribute to Arab-Israeli peace? Can it be, will it be a partner for the GCC states? Will it be able to help counter Iran or help integrate Iran?
Some of you — because this has been going on for a year — probably have fairly well-formulated answers to some of these questions. I have semi-well-formulated answers to some of these questions. But we have a panel that, I think, can really dig down very, very deeply, help all of us test our thinking. And so I’d like to introduce them very quickly.
And — but first, actually, I’d like to say, we’re going to do this just a little differently from the way we normally do. Opening statements will be a little bit shorter; the moderated conversation will be a little bit longer. And we still will have a question and answer session from the floor and from the virtual audience. If you are in the virtual audience, please do submit questions.
Our first speaker, who’s going to speak about Israel’s role in the Arab world, is Robert Malley — Dr. Malley. He’s director at the International Crisis Group, directs analysts all over the region who assess the risk of conflict and make recommendations for avoiding it. He was the special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998 until 2001, and had other very important positions on the National Security Council as well. He attended Yale, was a Rhodes Scholar and has not only a Ph.D. from Oxford but also a law degree from Harvard. So, well done. (Laughter.)
All of our — all of our panelists are very distinguished. Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment, was formerly at the International Crisis Group with Rob, has spent a lot of time in Tehran and has interviewed officials and people from every conceivable walk of life in Iran and therefore knows that country extremely well, has lectured at many of the country’s finest universities and has been a Fulbright Scholar and has degrees from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
And Ömer Taşpiner is a professor of national security strategy at the U.S. National War College, director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution, previously on the faculty of Johns Hopkins where he’s still an adjunct faculty member. And one of the courses he teaches there is called Turkey and Its Neighbors, which is exactly what we’re looking at today. He holds a — he’s a graduate of the Middle East Technical University and holds a doctorate from Johns Hopkins.
So this is a panel that can answer a lot of questions for us today. And I’m — once again, thank you for coming. And I’ll without further ado turn it over to Rob.
Sitting is fine, if you like.
ROBERT MALLEY, Middle East & North Africa Program Director, International Crisis Group
Well, thank you and good morning. Thanks for coming out right after the holidays. Before turning to the question of how the Arab Spring or so-named Arab Spring, perhaps poorly named, is affecting Israel and how Israel is seeing it. Maybe just a few words on where we are in the change in the Arab world —
Turn on your mic? Is it working now? I’m sorry.
So I was saying, before addressing the question of the impact of the events in the Arab world on Israel and how Israel might react to them, let’s just say — spend a few minutes on where we are today with the tumultuous events that have shaken the Arab world over the last 12 months.
First of all, sort of a truism — it’s very much a work in progress, only the first chapter in a multivolume book. And I think the early enthusiasm about the pristine days of the Tunisian uprising and then the Egyptian uprising certainly have given way to something very different, in which many of what — the — sort of the key features of the uprising, its nonviolence, the fact that they were very much indigenous without any foreign intervention, the fact that they were — that they were unanimous or at least consensual movements, much of that has given way as we moved from Tunisian to Egypt to Libya to Yemen to Bahrain and Syria.
I don’t want to spend too much time on that, but I think it’s important to look at the background, but also to understand that in some ways the Arab uprising is — today has become a combination of two phenomena, at least. One is a political — a complete political rebargaining of the social contract in virtually every Arab country. And that is affecting the domestic political balance of power. But added to that has been a completely — a complete renegotiation of the strategic balance of power in the region because of what’s happened in Egypt and because of what’s happening Syria and because of what’s happening in Bahrain and so on and so forth.
And the two obviously interact. In other words, changes at the domestic level in Egypt, in Syria and elsewhere are affecting the balance of power strategically in the region because of the changes in regimes and of outlooks that that entails. And conversely, of course, the completion on the regional level is affecting how countries are positioning themselves in the domestic struggle for power — again, in Syria, where you see Iran and Hezbollah taking one side and the West taking another side; in Bahrain where you see Iran taking one side and the West perhaps not being as forceful in its support for democracy movements on the other. So it’s the interplay of this political domestic and the strategic regional which makes it all the more complex, difficult and ambivalent in the reactions of foreign countries.
Now, true — and I think it was very much said at the beginning — at the outset of these uprisings — they’re not about foreign policy. Fair enough, but to say that that’s not going to affect foreign policy, it’s as if to say that if Mitt Romney were elected president — certainly he wouldn’t be elected on the basis of foreign policy — it certainly would have a huge impact on America’s foreign policy, just as the fact that these uprisings in the Arab world, which don’t have much to do about foreign policy at the inception, are having and will have great impact on foreign policy, which is why a country like Israel must as — or Turkey and Iran — are looking at this through that dual prism of what’s happening domestically and how it’s going to impact the regional balance of power.
So with that background in mind, now let’s turn to Israel. If you were sitting in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and looking at the regional landscape and trying to figure out what’s changing and how it’s going to affect your calculations, I’d say there are about six features of the — of this new environment that would come to mind from an Israeli point of view.
The first is it’s — as I was just saying — the great uncertainty and unpredictability of the situation in the region, which is a real challenge to Israel’s strategic outlook because it’s a strategic outlook that has been based historically on the notion of pre-empting threats. This is not a Bush doctrine; it’s very much an Israeli doctrine. You pre-empt threats and you take action about them.
But in order to do that, you need to have a pretty good sense of what those threats are and how they’re going to unfold. It’s almost impossible to do so when you don’t even know what the character of the regime in which the threat might appear might be in a year’s time. It’s one thing for Egypt to develop a certain strategic posture if you have President Mubarak or General Tantawi in power; it’s very different if you have the Muslim Brotherhood. So the whole strategic concept on which Israel has sort or relied over the last several decades is challenged by this unpredictability and uncertainty of the landscape.
Second feature is the greater role — unprecedentedly greater role of public opinion in Arab countries. Whether we move toward democracies or not is not really the question; it’s the fact that you have an actor that wasn’t able to play the kind of role it wanted to play that is now in a position to impact, influence foreign policy and strategic choices. And that, of course, has a direct impact on Israel because, as I — because one of the issues that is going to guide public opinion in the Arab world is the question of Palestine. Again, that’s different from saying that people care that much on day-to-day level about what’s happening to the Palestinians. But the question of Palestine, the symbolic question of Palestine, the psychological, moral question of Palestine, weighs heavily on how public opinions act.
And I’ll just take one anecdote, which I’m sure Ömer could say much more about in a few minutes. The Turkish model — what Erdoğan and the AKP represented in the region — might have been popular or could have been popular for many years. You had a case of an economically vibrant country that had managed to bring an Islamist movement to power, in which the military was slowly being put back in its barracks. But that model didn’t really inspire the Arab world.
Turkey began to inspire the Arab world when Erdoğan took on Israel. It’s when he walked out of his meeting with Shimon Peres at the Dallas Forum, it’s when we had the flotilla, it’s when we — it’s when Turkey started to speak loudly about the Palestinian cause. That’s what gave Turkey its resonance and its leadership today — its resonance in the Arab world, not all the other things that it — that Turkey could be proud of.
I think that’s — it’s just an anecdote, but that combined with other things we’re seeing today in the Arab world tell us that the question of Palestine still resonates more deeply than any other, and it’s going to be very hard for any political — aspiring political leader in any of these countries to try to gain any capital by advocating normalization or by advocating peace with Israel. I’m not foreseeing breaking treaties, I’m just saying that it’s — you’re not — it’s not going to be a very popular stance today to say that we need to reach out to Israel. And that’s going to have, obviously, a big impact on how Israel measures its situation and assesses its situation in the region.
Third feature which is directly related is the rise of Islamism. The Islamic ascent, which many had — sort of, again, one of the truisms at the beginning of the uprisings was to say: This is not about Islamism. Some of us challenged it at the time. I think now it’s become quite evident — in fact, surpassing my own expectations — of how well Islamists are doing in Tunisia and Egypt and Morocco and elsewhere.
And that certainly is a feature that Israel is looking at extremely carefully and somewhat warily, if not very warily. And particularly because they see that it’s becoming a wave that is going to force the West itself to re-evaluate and reassess its relationship with Islamism, perhaps even force Israel to reassess its relationship with Islamism in Egypt to begin with, perhaps, if you start with Egypt, Palestine and Hamas can’t be too far behind.
Fourth feature is reduced margin of maneuver. When I was in Israel a few weeks ago people were speaking very openly about the fact that had the events in Eilat — the terrorist attacks in Eilat or the rocket attacks from Gaza happened several years ago, Israel’s response would have been much more aggressive. Much harder to do now when Egypt is on the cusp — when Egypt is in a period of transition and when Israel wants to make sure that it’s not going to do anything that’s going to push either the SCAF or Egyptian public opinion even more violently — or in a most hostile stance.
So it has to be careful now in measuring what it does. It can’t simply calculate what a Mubarak might do or a King Abdullah might do. It also has to think about the more complex dynamic of how it’s going to affect public opinion, and therefore how it’s going to affect the actions of leaders who have their eyes much more focused on public opinion than they do on Washington these days.
The sixth — fifth feature is a declining U.S. and Western influence. Again, it follows from everything I’ve said before, President Obama can’t pick up the phone and speak to an Egyptian leader and tell him what he wants to be done or what he hopes to be done because the calculations are much more complex, because relations with the U.S. now have become much more delicate.
Now, the declining U.S. role in particular is a much more long-term, secular endeavor and process, probably goes back many, many years, with two accelerators. One was the Iraq War, which discredited the U.S. and weakened its posture most militarily and morally in the Arab world. But the second accelerator is the Arab Spring because it gives the U.S. much less leverage, much less familiarity with the new actors and a much less powerful position or leverage with which to influence actors on the ground. And that too, of course, is going to impact how Israel views the region.
And the final characteristic or new feature of this region is, if not the end of the peace process — but we could talk about that more — certainly its dramatic transformation. Dramatic transformation because Palestinians now are looking at the rest of the region and seeing a future horizon very different from what they saw before — the people, I mean — but because the leadership no longer can rely on the leaders it relied on before either.
President Abbas can’t look to President Mubarak as the kind of ally he looked at before, and more broadly because the entire paradigm of the peace process, since Oslo, was built around the notion that you’re going to have these, quote-unquote, “pro-American, moderate, Arab leaders” who would bolster the peace process, who would give cover to the Palestinian leadership and who’d reassure the Israelis that ultimately if there was a peace deal then Arab leaders would come in and normalize relations. That’s the very foundation of the — our peace initiative.
You could forget that, at least for now. Who are the Arab leaders who are going to stand with President Abbas in the event of a peace treaty? You have King Abdullah of Jordan who never was, never had the kind of — the role and influence that others had. But are you going to have a General Tantawi? Are you going to have King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Who will be there to give the kind of credibility and legitimacy to an agreement, when on the other hand you likely will have — or a peace process, forget even an agreement — you’ll have Al Jazeera and other Arab media denouncing whatever happens as either at best a farce, at worst a betrayal?
So the whole structure of the peace process, which was perhaps defunct for a long time, but certainly today I think has become much more clear that there’s going to have to be a reinvention of the paradigm because what it was based on in the past — strong Arab leaders who could bolster Abbas and who could reassure Israel, strong U.S. role — all of that is now in question.
So given all this, how is Israel going to react, if you look at this? Some people have argued that, well, the Arab Spring is good for Israel — good for Israel’s leadership today because it advances democracies. Under the freedom involved, democracies are less likely to make — to go to war with other democracies, because it’s — because Islamists are going to have to govern, and therefore they’re going to be less interested, or — just in general, militants are going to be less interested in being hostile to Israel because they have to focus on the domestic affairs; because it means that any future agreement will be reached with real, legitimate, representative governments and therefore will be more solid; and because it will bring down a regime like the Assad regime in Syria, and therefore weaken Iran and Hezbollah. So that’s sort of the good-news story.
There’s a bad-news story, which — from today’s perspective in Israel, and given the features I just described, I think is much more likely to be the prism through which Israel views the Arab world — a world in which pro-American leaders have been toppled; in which the margin of maneuver of leaders has been reduced because they have to take into account public opinion; in which popular feelings, of which a basic trope has been hostility to Israel, have been empowered; in which Islamists on the — on — or in — on the ascent; in which regimes today may not be there tomorrow — look at Jordan, it may not be there tomorrow — look at — and in which the notion of popular uprising may very well spill over to the Palestinians themselves — and they may, perhaps, someday, embrace a notion of a nonviolent popular uprising in Palestine — and because uncertainty and the collapse of authority will multiply areas of lawlessness and statelessness, as you see in the case of Sinai, and the transfer of weapons from Libya and Sinai to Gaza and elsewhere.
So the more likely read of these two prisms — the most likely one through which Israel is going to look at the region, in my view, is the latter one, which would — which accounts for Israel’s reaction so far: Say very little, do very little, and what you do, do very cautiously. And that, I think, summarizes how Israel has reacted so far, sort of a hunker-down mentality, not a time to take risks, not a time to do anything when we don’t know whether those with whom we will be dealing today will be there tomorrow; perhaps tomorrow will have a different regime in — certainly in Egypt, in — maybe in Jordan, maybe in some Gulf states, and perhaps even in Palestine itself.
So the notion that Israel is going to seize the moment and decide now is a time to make peace with the Arabs and the Palestinians — because therefore we could strengthen the secular, moderate forces and weaken the Islamists — I don’t buy it. And it certainly is not what I feel when I go to Israel these days. I think more likely, perhaps — and we’ll — I’m sure Karim will speak about it — a more likely reaction, if Israel were to do anything bold today, it would be on the Iranian front.
Looking at a dangerous — what it considers to be a dangerous horizon; looking at the fact that there are elections here, which means that the U.S. is going to be less likely to take a forceful stance; the fact that the U.S. has withdrawn from Iraq means that logistically it may be easier to reach Iran; and the fact that the Arab world is distracted with its own problems, and more worried and — certainly in the case of Gulf Arabs — are more worried about Iran today than — even than they were yesterday — may give Israel the opportunity to do what it believes it needs to do at some point anyway, which is to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
So this is a picture of a landscape that, from Israel’s point of view, is almost entirely bad news, with the exception of Syria, which — but even Syria itself doesn’t seem, at this point, to be going anywhere very fast. But that’s not a situation in which I suspect the Israelis — Israeli leadership is going to be looking to — for opportunities to reach out, but much more likely for look — to look for reasons to hunker down. Thanks.
DR. MATTAIR: OK, thank you. Thank you.
Karim, would you like to take over?
KARIM SADJADPOUR, Middle East Program Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Good morning to all of you. Thank you very much, Tom, for inviting me. There’s a time-honored tradition among scholars and writers, when they write books, to thank those who have been their mentors but take responsibility for any errors in their books. And I’m neither a writer nor a scholar, but I mention this because Rob was my former boss at the International Crisis Group for four years. And Ömer was one of my first professors in graduate school. We used to call him Doogie Howser, Ph.D., because he was so young. But I thought, in kind of a Persian tradition, rather than taking credit for my own potential errors in this presentation, I’d like to deflect some of the accountability to Rob and — (laughter) — to Ömer.
So I thought what I’d do is talk briefly about the domestic situation in Iran, and then talk about Iran’s vision for the Middle East and how Iran’s ambitions are playing out. The trend lines in Iran in many ways are the opposite of the trend lines in the Arab world — meaning, in the Arab world, power is going from being centralized to being quite diffuse, and in Iran the trend lines over the last decade or two has — have been the opposite, in that power was much more factionalized and diffuse, but over the last decade, power and influence and decisions in Iran are increasingly driven by one individual, one personality — that’s that of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
And kind of a shorthand way of looking at Iran domestically is to say that, you know, Iran is driven by the worldview of Khamenei in the same way in which, you know, Egypt was driven by Mubarak, Syria by Assad, et cetera. And Khamenei has now been supreme leader for 22 years, and he has a fairly shrewd modus operandi, which is to try to wield power without accountability. And in order to wield power without accountability, he needs a president who has accountability without power. And President Ahmadinejad has, up until recently, played that role fairly conveniently.
But I think what we’ve seen over the last year or so is, there’s been — then — there’s been tension, in that Ahmadinejad seems no longer content with simply being Khamenei’s loyal subordinate, Khamenei’s loyal lieutenant. And there are tensions between the two of them. But I think, when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program, major domestic decisions and Iran’s role in the Middle East, decisions are very much driven by Khamenei and the revolutionary guards who act at his behest.
And Khamenei’s view of the Middle East has always been that the more democracy there is in the Middle East, the more representative governments there are in the Middle East, the better it is for Iran. He’s seen over the last decade or so that when democratic elections have taken place — in Lebanon it empowered Hezbollah. When democratic elections took place in Palestine, it empowered Hamas. When democratic elections took place in Iraq, it empowered Shiite Islamists. So he’s confident that the average citizen in the Middle East has much more in common with Tehran’s worldview than Washington’s worldview. So that’s — and I think when the uprisings began in the Arab world, Khamenei felt fairly confident that this was going in line with Iran’s interest, not American interest.
But I would argue that, so far, the results have been decidedly mixed for Iran. I’ll start by talking briefly about Egypt and say that the dynamics in Egypt are going to be, likely, mixed for Iran in that — on one hand, whatever the post — wherever the cards happen to fall in Egypt, it’s fairly likely that a post-Mubarak Egypt is going to have a better bilateral relationship with Iran than Mubarak-era Egypt. So the bilateral relationship between Egypt and Iran is likely going to improve.
But at the same time I would argue that one of the reasons for Iran’s ascent in the Middle East over the course of the last decade has been as a result of Egypt’s decline over the last decade. And I think in the coming years, it’s obviously going to take many months and years before Egypt is ready to look externally. It’s still very focused internally. But once I think Egypt does start to focus externally, the return of a proud and assertive Egypt is going to challenge Iran in many arenas, like the Levant and the Gulf and elsewhere. So that’s point number one.
Point number two is Iran’s relationship and Iran’s rivalry with Saudi Arabia. And I would argue that the two countries are trying to forward two very different paradigms for the Middle East. The Saudi paradigm is a very sectarian paradigm, and their calculations are purely demographic; and that’s to say that around 90 percent of the region’s Muslims are Sunni. Iran is Shiite, so let’s wave the Sunni banner in order to undermine Iran in these Sunni countries. And Iran’s paradigm is the imperialists versus the anti-imperialists — to paint countries like, you know, the Bahraini ruling family or what, you know, Mubarak’s Egypt was, the Jordanian ruling family as being lackeys of the United States, against kind of the resistance — Hamas, Hezbollah, more Islamist groups. And I would argue that neither one of these paradigms has tremendous buying power these days in the Middle East.
And that’s a good segue to talk briefly about Turkey, and the growing rivalry between Iran and Turkey. And Ömer, I’m sure, is going to touch upon this as well, but I think that this has been a point which has been somewhat misunderstood in Washington, when there’s talk about this growing alliance between Turkey and Iran, because I think the reality is that, in various arenas throughout the Middle East, the two countries are increasingly competing for power and for influence.
And I’ll share with you an anecdote which, for me, kind of crystallized Iran’s vision for the Middle East as opposed to, say, Turkey’s vision for the Middle East. Several years back, I was at — I was at a track two meeting in Europe, and there was an Iranian official present, a deputy foreign minister. And I relayed to him a question which a Lebanese Shiite friend of mine once posed to me. He said to me, think about all the money Iran has spent over the years on Hezbollah since Hezbollah’s inception in 1982. It’s — a conservative estimate is a couple of billion dollars.
And think of how many Lebanese Shiites Iran could have sent abroad, educated to become doctors and professionals and engineers, and how much better off the Shiite community in Lebanon would have been, even vis-à-vis Israel, with those types of academic opportunities. And likewise the Palestinians, instead of, you know, spending this money over the years arming Hamas and Islamic Jihad, how many Palestinian youth could have — Iran could have educated and sent abroad over the years to become members of the professional classes.
So I posed this question to this Iranian deputy foreign minister, and he said, what good would that have done for Iran? I said, what do you mean? And he said, well, do you think — had we sent these young Lebanese Shiites and Palestinians abroad to become doctors and lawyers and engineers — that they would like to come back to South Lebanon and Gaza and fight Israel? I said, no, of course, they would have liked to remain doctors and lawyers and engineers.
So I think what this crystallized for me is that Iran is cognizant of its strengths and weaknesses. And it’s cognizant of the fact that it can be champion of the region’s most — (inaudible) — as we call them — champion of the region’s downtrodden and alienated and disenfranchised. But they’re cognizant of the fact that they can’t necessarily be the champion of the region’s upwardly mobile and professional classes. So I would argue, in a way, Iran benefits the most when the region is in the throes of tumult and chaos, and when people feel most outraged and disenfranchised.
And there was a — an interesting passage from Tony Blair’s recent autobiography which jumped out at me. And Blair was talking about his transition from the Old Labour Party to New Labour. And he said that the thing about Old Labour was that they were really interested in celebrating the working class, but they didn’t seem to focus on turning the working class into the middle class. And I think that, you know, that’s Iran’s strategy.
And I think that, in a way, Turkey is becoming the New Labour to Iran’s Old Labour in the Middle East, meaning: Young, upwardly-mobile-aspiring Arabs don’t aspire to live in a system like the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that Turkish model is increasingly becoming the model which people look to, because Turkey — like no other country in the region, no other country in Middle East’s history — has managed to reconcile how you can simultaneously be modern and Muslim and democratic. This is these kind of three things simultaneously, I would argue, no Muslim country in the region has managed to yet reconcile.
So again, I would just argue that Turkey and Iran are increasingly going to be competitors in the region rather than allies. And Iraq is going to be an important arena of competition between the two of them, because arguably no country in the world stands to benefit more from Iraq’s burgeoning energy resources than Turkey. And arguably no country in the world stands to lose more from Iraq’s burgeoning energy industry than Iran. So I think there’s going to be some tension there.
With regards to Syria — and this is when I said that, you know, the Arab Spring is decidedly mixed for Iran — I think the Iranians anticipated that the uprisings would only occur in countries which were aligned with the West, whether that was Egypt or Tunisia or Bahrain. And they really didn’t anticipate this uprising in Syria. And why this is so troubling for Iran is the fact that Syria has been Iran’s only consistent ally — not only consistent regional ally, but consistent global ally — since the 1979 revolution.
Syria — you know, Iran’s patronage of Hezbollah, which has been the crown jewel of the Iranian revolution, is going to be very difficult to sustain in the same fashion absent that Syrian causeway. And I would argue, you know, just in terms of the strategy in Syria, their philosophy at home, whenever the regime is under siege, is not to compromise at all, because they believe that when you start to compromise, that actually emboldens the opposition. It projects weakness and emboldens the opposition.
And I would argue that that’s probably been their advice to Assad, to basically hold on and not give an inch, because if he starts to give an inch, people are going to ask for six inches. And I would argue that that’s what they’re doing operationally. There have been some statements in recent months — not from Ayatollah Khamenei but from President Ahmadinejad — condemning some of the violence. But in general I think that the loss of the Assad regime would be a tremendous blow for Iran.
Now briefly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, another ramification, which may not have positive results for Iran, is related to Syria, and that’s Hamas’ potential relocation from Damascus to Doha, to Qatar. And there’s already reports — and I’m not sure if these have been corroborated — but reports that Iran has threatened to withhold funding to Hamas if they abandon Assad’s and they relocate to Qatar. But again, the fall of the Assad regime in Syria could have, you know, important implications for Iran’s approach to Palestinian politics as well.
And let me just end on how the uprisings in the Arab world may have influenced Iran’s nuclear calculations. And for several years now, there’s been a conventional wisdom that Iran is in pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. They want to pursue the so-called Japan model, which is to remain a screwdriver turn away from having a weapon, but stopping short of actually building and testing a nuclear device. And I think the experience in Libya, the experience of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, may have altered somewhat the calculations of the Iranian supreme leader.
There was a very interesting article which came out in The New York Times right around the time of the — shortly after the decision to go into Libya, the NATO intervention in Libya — and it was quoting a senior White House official. And the senior White House official said that one of our calculations for going into Libya was to send a message to Iran, that if — that they shouldn’t think that they can simply slaughter their own population and the United States will stay on the sidelines and sit on their hands.
And the message which Iran received from the intervention in Libya was decidedly different. And the Iranian supreme leader gave a speech, around that same time as The New York Times article came out, saying that the main mistake of Moammar Gadhafi was giving up his nuclear program, because when he gave up his nuclear program, that made him vulnerable to this type of outside intervention.
So I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the strategy of the United States — I’m not necessarily saying it’s an incorrect strategy — but the strategy of the United States is to subject Iran to significant pressure in order to compel it to come back to the negotiating table and make meaningful compromises on its nuclear program. And looking at the world from the eyes of Ayatollah Khamenei, and increasingly his back is up against the wall with these very draconian sanctions against Iran Central Bank in a currency crisis and a disgruntled population. It’s unclear to me whether he will seek salvation in a nuclear compromise with the West or whether he will seek salvation in a nuclear weapon.
So on that happy note, let me hand it over to Ömer.
ÖMER TAŞPINAR, nonresident senior fellow and director of the Turkey Project, Brookings Institution
Good morning. Thank you for all — thank you to all of you for coming. And what I’d like to start with — but maybe I should just first thank Tom for inviting me and Karim for reminding me how old I am now. (Laughter.)
I’d like to give you a kind of broad picture of where Turkey is right now, in terms of its vision of the Arab revolutions and in what ways this has an impact on Turkish foreign policy. In many ways, as Tom said, if we divide the story into winners of the Arab Spring and losers of the Arab Spring, in many ways one can argue that Turkey is a big winner.
Just look at the Western media, the coverage of Turkey has changed drastically in the last year. Look at the way The New York Times, Washington Post, or European media covers Turkey from the big question of “who lost Turkey?” — Turkey becoming an Islamist country allied with Syria, Hamas, Iran a year ago, especially after Turkey and Brazil brokered the nuclear deal and Turkey voted in the United Nations Security Council against sanctions to Iran — from that moment of “who lost turkey?”, today we’re at a point where everyone is talking about Turkey as the role model for the region. And this is the same Turkey; this is the same government, yet the West has discovered that when it comes to looking at models for the region, when the comparison is between Turkey as a model and Iran as a model, the obvious winner is Turkey.
Turkey has what came to be called a moderately Islamic government in power for the last 10 years. It has a booming economy, growing at 9, 10 percent. Average growth for the last 10 years has been around 7 percent. Income per capita has tripled. GDP has doubled. So it’s not only a political success story, but it’s also an economic success story based on capitalism, entrepreneurship, and political stability at home.
And in many ways, Turkey before the Arab Spring was also a winner of the situation because there was a vacuum in the Middle East, a vacuum, as Rob described, based on America’s failure in Iraq, the absence of Arab leadership on the Palestinian issue. And Turkey successfully was able to fill that vacuum with its strategic depth, as Foreign Minister Davutoglu — Ahmet Davutoglu called, and the slogan of zero problems with neighbors.
Now, Tom mentioned that Turkey has abandoned his policy of zero problems with neighbors. This is partly true, yet if you ask Davutoglu today, he would say that the region has changed, and Turkey had to adapt to the change in the region. As events change, you change your policies. Turkey would have preferred to have zero problems with Syria, had Syria listened to Turkey and engaged in democratization, change a year ago.
So the region today is no longer the region that it was two, three years ago. And of course then, it becomes much harder for Turkey to maintain its zero problems policy. In fact, the joke right now is that from zero problems with neighbors, we shifted to zero neighbors without problems. (Laughter.) All problems — all neighbors have problems now. Look at Syria, look at Iraq.
It took only 48 hours for Iraq, after the departure of U.S. troops, to go back to its very poisonous habit of sectarianism. And Turkey’s main concern that — is that Iraq will once again return to the dark days of 2004, 2005 with a massive civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. And this is basically a scenario that Turkey blames partly on Iran, but mostly on the United States. There’s still a lot of anger over the invasion of Iraq and America’s support for — the perceived support for Maliki, because Maliki’s perceived as an agent of Iran by Ankara.
And vis-à-vis Iran, the honeymoon that existed when the Tehran agreement was signed, brokered with Brazil, is no longer there. In fact, one very important reason why Turkey is under much positive light today in the United States is not only because it’s referred to as a model by the Islamists in the region, by the countries in the region, but more importantly because it has decided to contain Iran, to become a strong agent of containment against Iran. And the clear evidence of this is Turkey’s decision to host radars for the missile defense operation of NATO. So NATO missile defense, which was a polarizing issue in Turkey, came to a conclusion with Turkey’s decision to host the radars. And this, despite the fact that Turkish government argues this is not targeting Iran, it’s obviously taken by Iran as a hostile sign. And it was a courageous decision by the part of the leadership in Ankara to do this. And it put Turkey under much positive light in Washington, and under much negative light in Tehran.
If a year ago someone had told me that Turkey’s relations with the United States, with Washington would be going through one its best times — in fact, Abdullah Gül, the president, refers to a golden age today in Turkish-American relations at a time when Turkey’s relations with Israel are going — its worst time — I would have said this is not possible. You cannot have extremely bad relations with Israel while enjoying a golden age with Washington. Yet this is exactly what we’re — what we’re in, partly because the Obama administration values Turkey, values Turkey’s example as a model, values Turkey’s partnership in NATO, and most importantly values Turkey’s partnership on Syria, which brings me to Syria as the most important question and the most important challenge facing Turkish foreign policy.
Now, to understand Turkish policy vis-à-vis Syria, we have to understand what are the drivers of Turkish foreign policy in general. And I would say that instead of looking at Islamic versus secularism or Western versus anti-Western ideological categories, we have to be more pragmatic and understand that the main driver of AKP’s foreign policy has traditionally been a search for independence. I often say that if Prime Minister Erdoğan had its way, Turkey would be a nonaligned country, a totally independent country from blocs, would not be identified totally with the West.
So nationalism, independence, sovereignty is a main driver of Turkish foreign policy. So Turkey wants to have basically a Turkish foreign policy and does not want to give the perception that it is following a Western foreign policy. That puts Turkey into a certain dilemma vis-à-vis Syria because it doesn’t want to be carrying America’s water or carrying NATO’s water in Syria. It wants to have its own influence. One of the slogans of this government has been regional solutions to regional problems. So in a way, Turkey wants to find a leadership role for itself in Syria, and it has played that role rather well by supporting the opposition, by taking a principal stand in supporting basically the change in Syria.
However, it is also interesting that Turkey finds itself in a position where it doesn’t want to be the country that the United States outsources the problem. There is a sense in Turkey that the U.S. has no clear strategy vis-à-vis Syria and expects Turkey, the Arab League to develop their own strategy. So there is a certain complaint in Turkey that there is no American vision for a post-Assad Syria and there’s no American leadership. This slogan of leading from behind does not really resonate in Ankara. So when I talk to Turkish officials, I get the sense that they want a clearer international leadership, American leadership. They want something similar to the United Nations Security Council resolution in Libya, which authorized action. And only then, when there is a multilateral façade, there will be more willingness in Turkey to take action.
And taking action is also a big question mark. Turkey’s confused about what does taking action mean. It doesn’t really want to have a military option. Any kind of idea of establishing a buffer zone or a humanitarian corridor or a safe haven within Syria involves military intervention, and Turkey does not want to engage in military intervention and does not want to engage unilaterally. So if there is some Russian support or just a sense that Russia and China would not object, things would be much easier for Ankara.
There was at a certain point some talks about a Turkish-French cooperation for a humanitarian corridor, and Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, came to Ankara to talk about this. But just a couple of weeks ago, when the Armenian genocide resolution — something similar to the Armenian genocide resolution but more difficult, more different than this, which basically penalizes to argue that there was no Armenian genocide, was passed in the French lower chamber and may become law, Turkey decided to freeze its diplomatic and military relations with France. So we no longer have this Turkish-French coalition because of the Armenian issue. And that also takes away something from the military option away.
I would argue, in lieu of conclusion, that overall despite the fact that Turkey appears to be a winner in the Arab Spring, when you look at developments in the Arab world today, I would say that the vacuum that existed before the Arab Spring is still there. But the potential for Turkish leadership, especially on the Palestinian question, is no longer, I think, where it was two years ago. It’s true that Tayyip Erdoğan is perceived as a very strong leader, and it’s true that this is in great part because of its stance against Israel. Yet when you look at Turkish influence on the Palestinian question, you see that the changing Egypt has already in this last year, despite all its problems, despite all the problems in Cairo, this changing Egypt has more leverage now with the Palestinians, with Hamas than Turkey. Look at the way the unitarian government was established between Fatah and Hamas. This is something that Turkey tried very hard and failed. Yet Cairo — Egypt — managed to take leadership and delivered on this issue much faster and better than Turkey did. Look at the negotiations about the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Here, Turkey, too, tried very hard in the past. Yet it’s Egypt that at the end of the day got the credit.
In many ways, we are at a point where Turkey’s discovering the limits of its influence in the region. Yes, Turkey’s soft power is on the rise. Turkey’s perceived as a model. But on the most important issue where there was a vacuum, I would argue Egypt is back. And Egypt will be back as the leader of the Arab world, and this will diminish, I think, Turkey’s power, soft power in the region in time. And Turkey will have to look at this situation from a different angle and ask itself what its comparative advantage compared to Egypt in terms of a regional power. If Egypt takes the leadership on the Palestinian issue, has more leverage, where can Turkey have comparative advantage? And this is not a rivalry. I’m not talking about a rivalry between Egypt and Turkey, but I’m talking about where Turkey is different and can provide basically more influence in the region, and that area is actually Turkey’s secular identity.
The fact that — despite the fact that we refer to Turkey now as a Islamist democracy, this is totally wrong. This is — Turkey is not an Islamist democracy; Turkey is a very secular democracy. It happens to be run today by a government that comes from an Islamic background, which by the way denounces its Islamic identity. They don’t call themselves Islamist. Turkey’s a secular country. And Erdoğan, when he went to Egypt a few months ago, made it clear that it is very important to be a secular country, which came as a shock to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
So Turkey’s secular identity, I think, is an important issue, and that will need to be emphasized in the future. The fact that Turkey’s a member of NATO, that it’s the only Muslim country able to represent the Islamic world in Western clubs — in the OECD, the European Council, hopefully one day in the European Union, but most importantly at NATO — is also a big comparative advantage that no other Muslim country has. So I think Turkey’s Western credentials will have to be boldened (sic) after the Arab Spring, in order to underline why Turkey is, in fact, a valuable model.
And it is also important to understand that the Turkish model means different things to different people. If you asked the Egyptian military what they look at Turkey in terms of a model, it’s really the rise of moderate Islam, but the power of the Turkish military in the past and the role that the Turkish military played in terms of taming — as they call it — taming political Islam. Islam is very moderate — political Islam is very moderate in Turkey for a reason, according to many people who look at Turkish model as the influence of the military. Islam is moderate because there was a strong military that did not allow Islamist parties to carry — to have a Islamist agenda.
In fact, the AKP today, Justice and Development, is the third reincarnation of political Islam in Turkey, because predecessors have been banned either by the constitutional court or by the military. And each time political Islam reemerged in Turkey, it reemerged a more moderate way and adapted itself to the red lines of Turkish secularism. So here’s a different Turkish model for you, which is not about moderate Islam, but about the role of the military in taming Islam. And that’s exactly how I think elements within the Egyptian military and elements within the Pakistani military look at Turkey. Their understanding of Turkish model is very different.
So to conclude, let me say one more thing about the Sunni-Shiite divide. I think Turkey tries hard to avoid the sectarian divide. As I said, the division of — the issue in Iraq, the fact that there is now the emergence once again of a Sunni-Shiite violence is very troublesome for Turkey. And Turkeys’ concerned about Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s sectarian approach to problems. Yet on the one hand, it is unavoidable that Turkey has some sympathy for the Sunni majorities, and has concerns about the rise of the Shiite and especially rise of Iran. There is this Cold War rivalry with Iran, and Iran is perceived as a country that has this sectarian agenda. And in that sense, on the one hand, Turkey tries to avoid the sectarian division in the region and tries to transcend it by appearing secular and above the fray of this kind of rivalries.
On the other hand, public opinion in Turkey has, I think, deep sympathies for the Sunni majorities, especially the Sunni majority in Syria. I think the way the Turkish media, civil societies is covering the Syrian conflict has strong elements of emphasizing that there is an Alawite regime oppressing the Sunni majority. And that creates sympathy in Turkish public opinion for the public — for the majority in Syria. So Turkey is in a difficult position in terms of avoiding this Sunni-Shiite divide. It definitely wants to avoid it in Iraq, but when it comes to Syria, there’s a sense that Syria has a Sunni majority and that the Shiite minority is oppressive.
And the final point that I’d like to make is about the Kurdish problem in Turkey. If there’s one issue that takes away from this kind of shining model of Turkey as a democratic model, it’s the Kurdish problem. Turkey traditionally has been a status quo country that did not want border changes, political instability in the region for a major reason, because it doesn’t want to have instability at home with the Kurds. If you have self-determination, if you have political change, regime change, democratization, sooner or later this has an impact on the Kurdish problem in Turkey.
And today, the Kurdish problem remains the Achilles heel of Turkish domestic and foreign policy. Just last week, an air raid by the Turkish Air Force mistakenly killed 35 Kurdish civilians. The Kurdish problem is getting worse in Turkey. The PKK is on the rise. And whenever you have this problem of violence, terrorism, it has a huge impact on democratization. So we have this kind of paradox in Turkey where the West refers to Turkey as a democratic model for the region. But on the other hand, at home, you have this growing violence and a major problem regarding human rights and freedom of expression when it comes to the Kurdish problem where, unfortunately, people who support the Kurdish cause are perceived also as radicals and may risk going to jail.
And so there is a cost to Turkish democracy when it comes to the Kurdish problem. And I believe Turkey’s ability to provide a model for the region will be highly limited as long as it remains unable to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem.
I’ll stop here and answer questions later.
DR. MATTAIR: (Off mic.) OK, I’m going to begin by asking one question to each panelist and then we’ll move to audience Q&A.
Well, Rob, you spoke about Israel wanting to be cautious given the unpredictability in the region, and you spoke about the Palestinian issue weighing very heavily on Arab consciousness. Can you assess the possibility that Palestinians will — that this — that this uprising will sweep all the way to Palestinians, that there will be another intifada? Why hasn’t there been one? Why haven’t they been part of this? And will there be one? And how would Israel react given the fact that new Arab leaders are going to be more responsive to their public opinion, which is pro-Palestinian?
DR. MALLEY: That’s a very good question. I referred to it from the outset as the dog that didn’t bark. If you would have thought of a place where, you know, in principle, you could think, well, the Palestinians, they don’t even have the — you know, there’s no sympathy for the occupation, as opposed — you know, in Egypt, I’m sure there were some people who were familiar with and sympathetic to Mubarak, same in other countries. In Israel you would have thought Palestinians who were in the occupied territories could have really united over this. And it would have presented, of course, a huge dilemma for Israel. How do you react to nonviolent popular protests at a time when the West and the world, the international community, is celebrating it elsewhere?
And if Israel had reacted as one could predict, it would have more harshly than it should have, how would the U.S. have reacted at a time when the U.S. was celebrating a nonviolent uprising? So I think it would have been sort of a game-changer. I think there many reasons why it hasn’t happened, despite efforts — I mean, there have been efforts. There’s been — there’s a more dynamic youthful movement to try to get things done. But you know — I could go through the list.
First of all, it’s not as if Palestinians have not tried to rise up before. They may not have done it in the best of ways, but they’ve suffered the consequences, particularly of the second intifada. And they’re still licking their wounds. I mean, the economy was devastated. The Palestinian Authority was on its knees. And people are just resuming a normal life, and to sort of jeopardize it or to risk it by rising up at a time when things look to be slightly better is not — is not self-evident. You also have the divisions between Fatah and Hamas, which weigh heavily, and neither Fatah nor Hamas is in the mood to encourage people to rise up in a way that might escape their control. And when there was an effort a few months ago, both sides — both of the PA and Hamas in Gaza did their best to keep this under wraps — the PA because it doesn’t want this to get out of its control and to — and to have to suffer harsh Israeli retaliation, Hamas because it wants — it wants to lock things down in Gaza.
So I think there’s a number of reasons why — and plus, you know, it’s not self-evident how you’d have that uprising because of the Israeli presence in the West Bank and the fact that, you know, the settlements are protected from the rest — from Palestinians or they’re isolated from them and — because of the checkpoints and the obstructions to movement. So it’s not as if Palestinians tomorrow were to have a large demonstration in a central square in Ramallah that it would make any difference to the occupation.
So I think there are arguments still. I think it’s one of those questions that I know keeps Israeli decision makers awake at night. What will they do if tomorrow you have tens of thousands of Palestinians marching towards Jerusalem and marching towards a settlement or taking some other action that it would — that would capture the imagination of Palestinians, of Arabs and of world public opinion? And they would face a choice of how do you respond in a way that is forceful enough to nip it in the bud but not so forceful as to trigger negative reactions on the part of our government or other governments.
But I would not hold my breath. I don’t think it’s — I think it’s something that’s going to take a while, because of the constraints that I mentioned — the political constraints, the logistical constraints and simply the fact that Palestinians today in the West Bank in particular don’t seem to be mobilized in a way that would allow them to do something that would — could cost them quite dearly.
DR. MATTAIR: OK, thank you. We’ll come to the audience in just a few minutes.
Well, Karim, you talk about Khamenei thinking that there are advantages for Iran in — you know, in the spread of democracy and popular will in the Arab world. I suppose early in the Arab uprisings, you know, 10 months ago, he certainly thought that. But what does he think now? And you know, how actually would they continue to exercise the soft power they’ve been trying to exercise when Arab public opinion can see how they’ve treated their own, you know, popular demonstrations for participation, and they can see how they’ve been supporting the outside regime?
MR. SADJADPOUR: I remember when the Israeli war against Hezbollah, the bombings of Lebanon in 2006, in the aftermath it was often said that Hezbollah won by not losing. And I think that Khamenei’s philosophy for the Arab uprisings is somewhat similar and that he thinks that Iran wins if America loses. So America has lost an important ally in Hosni Mubarak; the West has lost Tunisian leadership that was — you know, was very sympathetic to them. And again, I think he — as you mentioned, he anticipated that what was taking place was the fall of these regimes which were aligned with the West. But as you rightly pointed out, I think when the uprisings spread to Syria, they had to recalculate.
Now, my sense still is that, you know, they —
on one hand, the Iranian regime has long said that their — the Islamic Revolution of 1979 has been a profound source of inspiration for Arabs across the Middle East. And so when the uprisings took place in the Arab world, they obviously had to claim that they were the model for it. But I guess maybe a tangential answer to your question is that Iran is kind of a peculiar question because it is geographically located in the Middle East, but in some ways it’s not of the Middle East, meaning, in my opinion — and maybe I would be curious to hear what Rob and Omar say — I actually don’t think that the uprisings over the last year, throughout the Arab world, were greatly inspired by the 2009 uprisings in Iran.
You know, once in a while I’ll hear an Egyptian protester, others say, you know, we were motivated by Iran’s pro-democracy protests in summer of 2009, but for the most part I think it was very indigenously driven within the Arab world. And likewise, there’s been a lot of hope that the uprisings in the Arab world are going to reinvigorate and resuscitate Iran’s opposition movement. And I really haven’t seen that happening. And on the contrary, I think there’s this cynicism among Iranians about the very idea of revolution and the concept of revolution. And that’s one thing that’s been kind of interesting to me when I follow the discussions among the Arab youth and the Egyptian youth who use this word “revolution” in a very positive, a very romantic light. And in Iran, the word “invalab” (ph), the word “revolution,” is a word which is owned by the regime. And it’s a word which for the young people represents the past, not the future. It doesn’t represent promise; it represents repression and intolerance.
And so despite the fact that you have seen, you know, the massive uprising in Iran, summer of 2009, that the sheer scale of it in sheer numbers was larger than what we saw in the Arab world, I haven’t heard anyone use the word “revolution” within Iran. They’re still talking about kind of — maybe that’s ultimately what they want, but they don’t use that word. And I would say that’s one of — been one of the key distinctions in the dynamics between the Iranian opposition and the Arab opposition movements, meaning that the Arab opposition movements, whether we’re talking about Libya or Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain — none of them have leadership — none of them had leadership, but they all had or have a common goal, which is to bring down the respective regimes.
And in Iran, the opposition has precisely the opposite dynamic, meaning there is a symbolic leadership of the opposition to opposition candidates, Karroubiand Mousavi who are currently under house arrest. But the Iranian opposition hasn’t come to a consensus about what it is that it’s trying to achieve. The older generation, people like Mousavi and Karroubiwho were participants in the revolution and regime insiders for much of their adult lives certainly don’t want to undo the Islamic Republic: They want to reform the Islamic Republic. And the younger generation would like to see much more profound change.
So, you know, and again, and in a nutshell, going back to your original question, Tom, my sense is that, you know, I would argue that Iran’s — Iran reached its peak in terms of its regional influence, in terms of its soft power, in the summer of 2006, when three things were happening: Israel was bombing Lebanon, Iraq was in a state of utter carnage, and partially as a result of these two factors, oil prices had soared to $140 a barrel. And so Iran’s stock in the Middle East, Iran’s stock in the Arab world, thrives when people feel most angered and alienated and outraged, vis-à-vis U.S. and Israeli policies.
And we now have a movement, these uprisings in the region which are indigenous. They’re not being fueled by the outside. And America has reduced its footprint in the Middle East. And as you said, people in the Arab world have seen how Iran treats its own citizens. That’s been one of the — when I look at opinion polls, Iran’s stock has dropped like Enron over the last four or five years. I mean, they’ve really hit bottom; whereas, you know, Turkey has been Apple, to use that Dow Jones comparison.
DR. MATTAIR: OK, well, Enron is zero, so — thank you.
Omer, you actually by stressing that Turkey is a secular democracy and that its — that its model is — will be challenged and that there are other challenges for influence, like Egypt — rising Egypt, you’ve — I said — I said I had some semi-well-formulated answers to my questions, but you’ve actually corrected them. (Chuckles.)
So the question I would ask you would be basically talk a little bit more about Turkey’s potential relations with GCC states. Can it be a security partner for them? Can it collaborate with them and with Egypt actually in promoting an Arab-Israeli peace?
DR. TAŞPINAR: For Turkey promoting Arab-Israeli peace, first it has to find its own peace with Israel. So the fact that Turkey’s relations with Israel are now at its low point in a way takes away from the leverage that Turkey once had on this question of Middle East peace.
On the other hand, the question of Turkey-GCC cooperation, Turkey-Egypt cooperation, I think we’re likely to see it increase in the future. There is a lot of short-term capital flows coming to Turkey from the GCC, and Turkey basically has been one of the beneficiaries of high oil prices in terms of this — of short-term capital flows which actually finance Turkey’s extremely high current account deficit. So it is important for Turkey to have good economic relations with the Gulf.
As Turkey’s relations with Iran will be polarized, as the relations will be jeopardized in the future, I think it’s only normal that Turkey will have stronger cooperation in the containment of Iran, and this is definitely what the Saudis want Turkey to do. Each time, I think, a Turkish leader visits Saudi Arabia, there needs to be reassurances that Turkey supports, basically, Saudi Arabia, and the Sunni bloc in the region, because the Saudis want to be sure that Turkey is in the Sunni bloc and is not really this country that doesn’t think about sectarianism. They want to understand that there is a Shiite ascendency in the region. And Turkey, I think, plays alone and basically has this policy of paying lip service to this in terms of basically pragmatic realpolitik. And definitely there is also a concern that Iran may be playing the Kurdish card against Turkey. Iran has its own Kurdish problem, of course, but let’s not forget that half of the Kurds in the Middle East are in Turkey. If we’re talking about 20 (million) to 25 million Kurds in the region as the largest nation without a state, half of them are in Turkey. And it’s a much bigger problem for Turkey than it is for Iran. And if Iran perceives Turkey playing a negative role in Syria, as it is, I think — and Karim can talk more about this — I think Tehran would not have second thoughts about supporting the PKK and —or, anyway, creating mischief in Turkey regarding this Kurdish question. And this is also another reason why Turkey may try to follow a stronger deterrence and containment strategy against Iran, in addition to — in addition to other reasons, by supporting the GCC and by supporting Saudi Arabia.
On the question of Egypt, I think there is definitely better relations now between Egypt and Turkey compared to the Mubarak era. Turkey was one of the first countries to call for an end of the Mubarak regime. And the kind of leadership Turkey showed vis-à-vis Egypt was very strong because of the crowd in the Tahrir Square. When Erdogan saw that the regime was about to go down, he showed no hesitation to support, basically, the new forces for change in Egypt. And Mubarak definitely saw Erdogan as an Islamist, and Mubarak had big problems with the Muslim Brotherhood, let’s just say; and in that sense, Turkey’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood was a big problem for the old regime in Egypt. Now Turkey wants to have good relations with both the political wing, political parties and the military in Egypt. I think Turkey’s trying to figure out which direction is — Egypt is going, as the rest of the world. But definitely the future of Egyptian-Turkish relations will be much better than the past.
DR. MATTAIR: Thank you.
We have — we have one question from someone watching the live streaming, and then we’ll go to the floor. And it’s an interesting question. It pertains to the leading role that Qatar has been playing in galvanizing opposition to Gadhafi and to what the Assad regime is doing, and then asks: How do Israel, Iran and Turkey view Qatar’s ascendance? Can you —
DR. MALLEY: There are a few things about Qatar. In fact, you know, if you look at regional actors, two have done — have been able to reinvent their diplomacies in ways that I think others really have not — and those two are Turkey — we’ve been talking about it quite a bit — and Qatar. And they’ve not been hobbled by some of the constraints other have. If you look at the other actors, some have hunkered down. I spoke about Israel, Saudi Arabia of course, other have sort of hunkered down, fearful of what these changes meant. Others have championed uprisings but done it very selectively. We’ll back you in Syria, but we won’t back you in Bahrain, or we’ll back you — we won’t back you in Syria but we’ll back you in Egypt.
And so whether it’s Iran or the U.S., the West or Al-Jazeera, frankly, Middle East actors — some of them have been constrained by this sort of hypocrisy or double standard about where they would champion uprisings and where they wouldn’t.
Others have been, you know, quite welcoming of the change, but at the same time quite leery about what democratic processes could yield. I mean, the West is now opening up to the Muslim Brotherhood, but they’re kind of fearful about what will happen to the Salafis gaining too much. And finally, of course, for the West is the burden of the posture on — and particularly for the U.S. — the posture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which exposes them to at least a sense — and again, in the Arab world — that there’s a double standard, that they may support popular aspirations everywhere except when it comes to the question of Palestine.
The two countries, as I say, that have — seem to have been able to be much more agile and skillful in navigating a very profoundly changed landscape are Turkey and Qatar, for different reasons — although some similar ones. Both of them had built their reputation on, sort of, being able to speak to everyone, talk to everyone, so they had relations with different parties — which of course came in handy when the uprisings came. They had relations with the West but also with Islamists, with Hamas but also with Israel. So I think they were able to sort of — they were in a better position to play the skillful role.
Now where the — where I think the challenge is going to come — and again, I think Ömer touched upon in the case of Turkey — is they have — in adapting to the new situation, they have broken quite dramatically with what had been a pillar of both countries’ diplomacy, which was to play this mediating role, to be in good terms — not perfect terms, but in relatively good terms with everyone. I mean, Qatar has a U.S. base, it has Al-Jazeera, it has relations with Hamas, and it had contacts with Israel. I mean, that’s quite a feat. And Turkey, we just went through the list earlier about how it manages really to walk a very — you know, to balance between very competing — and sometimes, apparently, contradictory — priorities.
Now, now that they’re taking a much more forceful stance — in the case of Turkey, when it comes to Syria — in the case of Qatar, when it comes to Syria but also when it came to Libya, where Qatar was at the forefront, including through military involvement — quite a dramatic change for a regime that beforehand was all about soft power, bringing Hezbollah and the March 14 together in Lebanon — by taking sides, they expose themselves. And Ömer just spoke about the question of the Kurds — which I think is not just something that Iran is going to exploit, but Syria has already reopened its channels, from what I understand, with the PKK and with the PKK-affiliated or partner in Syria — I think that’s going to be a big, big headache for Turkey.
I can’t imagine that somebody at some point is not going to try to have Qatar pay the price for its meddling in other people’s affairs — a small country, a country that has been able also to do it because it’s a — basically a state without a population. So unlike Saudi Arabia, that has to worry — if we’re supporting democracy movements abroad, what does it mean for an uprising potentially in our own country — Qatar doesn’t really at this point have to worry about an uprising by the very few Qataris who exist. So they have that luxury. But I suspect that at some point, someone, somewhere, who feels that Qatar has sort of boxed way above its weight, is going to try to teach it a lesson. So I think that both of them, Turkey and Qatar, have managed quite well, but they’ve accumulated resentments that didn’t exist in the past.
DR. MATTAIR: Care to comment? Who might want to teach Qatar a lesson?
MR. SADJADPOUR: Well, I was going to also use the boxing analogy, that Qatar is this country which is punching way above its weight. If I used a basketball analogy, I’d say Qatar is like a midget playing in the NBA. And I think, you know, what Dubai is to regional economics, Qatar is trying to be to regional politics — to kind of be the power broker and the main hub.
And with regards to the relationship with Iran, I was looking — I have to go to the region in a couple days, and I was just looking on Google Maps to figure out kind of the best way to get to where I need to go, and it was amazing to me what — looking on Google Maps, just the size of Qatar vis-à-vis Iran. It’s like, you know, Puerto Rico to the United States — probably even smaller in terms of dimensions.
But what’s happened is that, given Iran’s increasing isolation, Qatar is increasingly becoming a very important political and economic hub for Iran. And, because of Iran Air’s — the international sanctions against Iran’s domestic airline, it’s very difficult for Iran Air to acquire spare plane parts. Qatar Airways is going to begin flying domestic routes within Iran. And this is, you know, as — if I’d to give an analogy, I would say it’s like — it’s like if you told, you know, an American that in 30 years, Dominican Airlines is going to be a major carrier within the United States. I mean, this country that, for Iranians 30 years ago, was this forgotten desert backwater is now the preferred airline for many, many Iranians.
But I would agree with you, Ron (ph) , that — I would agree with Rob that I think many countries are now looking — are anticipating and would welcome Qatar’s comeuppance. You know, who are the countries that would welcome that? My sense is that, you know, other Gulf countries are not particularly enthused with what they’re doing with Al-Jazeera. If Hosni Mubarak somehow has his ways, I think he would love to see Qatar have its comeuppance; Saudi Arabia as well. And — but — and I think that, you know, at some point, they would have to come down to earth, because, as I said, they’re punching way above what they should be at the moment.
DR. MATTAIR: One little comment, and, you know, it’s — Qatar did support the Saudi-UAE intervention in Bahrain. And I think the Saudis have been supporting Qatar’s role in Libya and Syria, quietly supporting it. So that’s my small contribution there.
DR. TAŞPINAR: I think what you just mentioned was key, because the most likely country that would have been bothered by Qatar would have been Saudi Arabia. And the fact that Saudi Arabia saw that Qatar was on board in Bahrain made things easier for them to digest. It’s very hard to punish a country that, as Rob formulated, has no population and has enormous natural gas resources.
So I don’t see how you can destabilize Qatar. Qatar will continue to play this role. Al-Jazeera has just opened a new bureau in Istanbul. They will now broadcast in Turkish. I see that their influence — their self-power, so to speak — will only grow in this region, where media information is becoming increasingly important in the Middle East, where there will be more room for political debate.
So I’m not that pessimistic about the future of Qatar. I agree that it has been punching really above its weight. And Turkey used to punch below its weight; Turkey’s punching now accordingly to its weight. And a lot of people are envious of Qatar’s role, and some of them are angry, but I don’t see how they can punish it, given the structural situation on the ground.
DR. MATTAIR: Punching above their weight in a pretty positive way, actually, I think in Libya and Syria.
OK, it’s time to take questions from the floor. We actually have a microphone here for anybody who is willing. And, Mustafa, I think you had a question. It really would better — be better to go to the mic.
Q: Thank you. My name is Mustafa Malik; I’m here a journalist and blogger. I have one question for Dr. Malley, and that is: Where do you see Palestinians and Israelis going, ultimately, from here? What I see: a two-stage solution, I think, that is almost dead. Do you see one state, bi-national state, and ultimately — and what would it look like?
And my question to Mr. Sadjadpour is this: I see there is a lack of recognition of Khomeini or Islamic revolution. The United States destabilized their democratic country in — government in 1953 by, I don’t know. And the secular people like you, they’re trying to change their government, sipping whiskey in Sheraton hotel and conspiring with CIA agents. It didn’t work. Finally take the Islamists, who faced the bullet, brought down the government. My question is: Is it really the blame of Ahmadinejad or supreme leader, or it is the populist thing?
And the last thing: Do you think, if Mr. Mousavi and secular would come to power, would it give up the nuclear program? Is it a nationalist issue, or is it a regime issue? Thank you.
DR. MALLEY: Thank you for the question. You know, Israelis and Palestinians have been living with the one-state reality from the beginning, and from very early on. And so, to say that — will there be one state or two states, the most likely, you know — if reality follows its course, it won’t be a one-state solution. It might be a one-state outcome for some time to come, perhaps with greater degrees of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, more sort of self-government by the Palestinians, but that won’t be a solution.
On the other hand, I don’t — I don’t — I’m not one who believes that you could have a bi-national, one-state solution, because I don’t think that the Israeli Jews are going to accept it. And for there to be a solution that people accept, both sides are going to have to accept it. So that leaves me at the stage where I think what we’re entering is — we’re at the stage of the end of one paradigm, which was sort of the — (inaudible) — paradigm, to the reasons that I gave earlier — not just because of what’s happening on the ground — which, as you point out, obviously makes the kind of Palestinian — the emergence of the kind of Palestinian state that people would want to see harder — and changes in Israel as well, so — and because of the regional environment. But I don’t see sort of a one-state solution appearing.
I think what this — what this means for all of us is, we have to rethink very — in a very different way, and a more challenging way — what the future could look like. I think you have different actors now that people have to take into account — you know, the Islamists on the Palestinian side, the diaspora which seems to be trying to revive itself, Palestinian citizens of Israel who also are expressing themselves much more vocally and trying to make connections with Palestinians elsewhere, the religious right, the settler community in Israel. I think we’re going to have to find ways — first of all, of bringing them to the table, and then of thinking of solutions that meet their aspirations as well.
I still think that ultimately it will take the shape of a Palestinian state emerging. But as I say, I think we’re going to have to think of it very differently, think of different solutions and forget about the mantra that I myself had been propagating — (chuckles) — for many years, which is: We know what the solution looks like. You know, if after 20 years and — of knowing what the solution look like, the solution isn’t there, you got to start wondering whether there’s a problem with the solution that you think that everyone likes.
And maybe it means bringing different characters — different actors to the table, understanding that they have concerns that have not been addressed by the Clinton parameters of (ITABO ?) by the Geneva Accords — trying to bring those and then — and bring them to the table. And again, I’m just at the point where I think — I don’t have an answer. I just know that the answers of the past didn’t work; the Arab world is changing on top of everything else; and I think the time has come for everyone to take a step back, rather than rushing yet again into whatever is happening today or yesterday, the other day in Amman — and saying, well, let’s revive these talks, which nobody believes in, simply for the sake of doing something — taking a step back, taking a hard look and trying to ask the questions about why it hasn’t succeeded, and what needs to change in terms of who’s at the table and what the discussions are about.
MR. SADJADPOUR: I would disagree with your assessment that Mousavi is a secularist. He is by no means a secularist; he was a very loyal lieutenant of Ayatollah Khomeini and showed himself very committed to the Islamic Revolution. And I would correct you that I was drinking whiskey in 1979; I was two years old, so I wasn’t drinking — (laughter) — whiskey back then, yeah.
But I would say a couple points. One is that there has never been an open and honest and free debate in Iran about the merits of the nuclear program. That debate has never existed. And it’s unclear to me if that debate happened — which was kind of the premise of your question — in a — in a more representative Iran, would people like to continue the current nuclear path?
I would say a couple points. One is that, on an economic level, this nuclear program makes no sense. It makes no economic sense. We were talking earlier about Qatar. The gas field which has propelled Qatar into this tremendous global prominence is a gas field which is shared with Iran, which Iran hasn’t managed to develop one bit because of economic sanctions. And instead they’ve poured tens of billions of dollars, and they’ve lost tens of billions of dollars as a result of outside pressure and sanctions in this nuclear program.
And let me give you some numbers about the nuclear program. For Iran to import LEU, low-enriched uranium, from abroad would be about a tenth of the cost of Iran enriching it at home indigenously. So to give you an analogy, it would be kind of the equivalent of Iran saying, OK, we want our population to drive Honda Civics, but instead of importing each Honda Civic from Japan for $10,000, we insist on making the Honda Civics at home for $100,000. If you pose this to your population, they will say, well, that doesn’t really make any economic sense. If this is merely an energy program, and it’s for economic reasons, there’s no economic argument for it. That’s point A.
Point B is that, you know — do people want to have a nuclear bomb? As we saw, you know, there seems to be — there’s a conventional wisdom that nuclear weaponry — there’s a correlation between, you know, popular support and nuclear weaponry in places like India and Pakistan and elsewhere. I would just argue that Iran is a society which experienced one of the bloodiest wars of the second half of the 20th century, with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. So I know a lot of kind of Islamists and Third World anti-imperialists throughout the world are cheerleading Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but those who are living within Iran and saw there was 500,000 casualties as a result of the war with Saddam, I think very few people romanticize about the prospect of further militarization and conflicts.
So my experience always was that people really weren’t paying attention to the nuclear program. They didn’t have this tremendous — you know, they didn’t wake up in the morning thinking about enriched uranium. They had other day-to-day concerns that were far greater. And, again, people don’t romanticize about conflict and militarization.
And last point I would make is that I think there is a broad recognition — even among the reformists, people like Mousavi and Karroubi — that Iran as a nation will never be able to achieve its enormous potential as long as it retains this death-to-America culture of 1979. You know, that may have been appropriate at the time, but there is a widespread recognition now that that isn’t paying the bills in 2012 — that in order for Iran to achieve this enormous potential it has, you know, both in terms of its human capital and its natural resources, it needs to move on and make amends with the United States.
And I think there is a recognition that, in order to do that, it would need to either change some of its regional policies — meaning its hostility toward Israel and its support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah — or modify somewhat its nuclear program. But, you know, David Frum, who was President Bush’s former speechwriter, once said something which I thought was very accurate. He was talking about the context of domestic American politics, and he said that a country can enrich uranium, and it can call for Israel’s demise, but it can’t do both at the same time. And I think that Iran will eventually have to — if it wants to kind of re-emerge from isolation — will have to choose to modify one, if not both, of those policies.
DR. MATTAIR: Any other question from the audience? Hard to believe there wouldn’t be. Would you go to the mic?
Q: Thank you. I’m Benjamin Tuer (sp). This is primarily for Rob Malley, but the others are welcome to also address it. And this concerns what we might have called a mini Israeli Spring some months ago. And I’m wondering what the — how you see the Arab Spring impacting Israeli public opinion, especially among the Mizrahi or Eastern — the Arab Jewish population and its Iranian population.
And a second question, which relates to Iran, is — recently the head of the Mossad made a very interesting statement concerning Iran, which seemed to suggest an acceptance of the fact that Israel could not stop Iran’s nuclear program, and an acceptance of a containment policy. Could you and the other speakers comment on any shifts that may be taking place in Israel’s view of the Iranian challenge?
DR. MALLEY: I mean, the Israeli spring was sort of the first mass movement in Israel that was unrelated to either to the Palestinians or to the Arab world. So in that case it was something new. And in terms of the sort of thinking about how to do it, I’ve heard some Israelis say that they were inspired by what they’d seen in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. But beyond that, I really don’t see much of a connection. And as we know, as soon as Israel faced a foreign challenge — in this case it was the terrorist attacks in Eilat, but it could be something else — the attention very quickly shifted in Israel to those issues.
So I’m not sure how much to — I mean, I’m not — I don’t want to comment too much about particularly domestic Israeli affairs because I’m not sure exactly where things stand today, but I wouldn’t draw too much of a connection, and certainly hasn’t given rise to solidarity between Israelis and Arabs on that front.
When it comes to Iran, I’m not familiar — I thought it was the former Mossad — the former head of the Mossad. I don’t think the current one has said anything about —
Q: I thought it was striking that — is it Pardo who’s the head —
DR. MALLEY: He is. I have not seen his statement and I’m surprised. I’d like to see the statement itself because the — a lot of former officials, head of the Mossad and others and the head chief of staff — have been very leery about military intervention against Iran. I think the current ones have been relative mute. The defense minister is one who is sort of being quite aggressive in his — in his statements that something needs to be done to take out the nuclear program.
Listen, I don’t know how likely it is. All I’d say is I think it’s far more likely today than it was six months ago that Israel would decide to strike Iran. Again, I wouldn’t say that — it’s not more likely than not, but it’s more likely than it ever was in my mind for the combination of reasons, some of which I listed earlier, having to do with the major — two of the major constraints that were weighing on Israeli decision-makers was the fear of American opposition and the logistical difficulty of having to circumvent the — Iraqi airspace to get into — to attack Iran.
Both of those have been, if not completely neutralized, they’ve been very much attenuated. I can’t imagine a U.S. president trying — wanting to be in the position of stopping Israel from taking action at a time when Israel is saying that it’s an existential threat, when he’s facing re-election. So I think the dynamics here are very different.
As I said earlier, the withdrawal from Iraq means that Iraqi air space is no longer controlled by the U.S. I think there are other reasons as well, as I mentioned. I think the third fear — one of the fears was — is what it will do to the price of oil. That is a real fear, but we’re seeing already that Western countries are trying to take steps to mitigate the effect of a(n) embargo on Iranian oil on the cost of oil. So many some of those measures could also help in the event of a strike. Again, I’m speculating a bit, but I think these are some of the pieces to the puzzle.
And the last big constraint is the fear of Iranian retaliation, whether through Hezbollah or Hamas or others. Again, a threat that is by no means neutralized, but given what’s happening in the Arab world, giving Hamas’ desire now to sort of become closer to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, trying to sort of be more legitimate, if you will, and more accepted, Hezbollah which has to be preoccupied because of what’s happening in Syria, the Arab world as a whole, as I said, absorbed by what’s happening internally and the Gulf countries more concerned about their domestic affairs and about Iran’s possible role in their domestic affairs — all of that presents, I think, an environment that is more favorable to an Israeli strike than it’s ever been before.
And when you add to — of course, the convention that many Israeli decision-makers have, not all of them but many have, that Iran is close to the point of no return in terms of having an invulnerable nuclear program, by which I mean one that they won’t be able to strike at because it’s more deeply in the mountains, because it’s more spread out, because it’s spread out also — and because they’re developing perhaps more protective means.
So I think that the tipping point for Israel is when they believe that Iranian — Iran’s nuclear program is one that they will no longer be able to affect, not one that has reached the point where they are — they’ve acquired a nuclear weapon. I think all that combined at least makes me worry more today than I have in the past about the possibility of a strike, which I think — I still think could have disastrous consequences, but I believe that some Israeli decision-makers are closer to believing that it’s the only feasible option and one that is less costly than they felt in the past.
DR. MATTAIR: Yes.
MR. SADJADPOUR: I would — I think I would — I would parse the statement of the head of the Mossad. He didn’t say that Israel now advocates a containment approach, What he said, that Iran doesn’t pose an existential threat — a nuclear-armed Iran doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel, which is a somewhat different statement. And I don’t think you will ever hear Israeli or American officials utter the word “containment.”
And the reason why they don’t do it, even though I’m sure that there are people working in dark rooms in the Pentagon preparing for a containment approach, is that if they mention the word containment they fear that they will send the green light to Iranian officials that, OK, the U.S. and Israel are now going to acquiesce, they’ve basically given up the idea the Iran can’t be prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
And my assessment of the likelihood of a U.S. or Israeli strike on Israel (sic) — it kind of goes up and down with the stock market in some ways — it fluctuates. And the reason why I say that is that I also thought that — you know, if you would have talked to me two weeks ago I would have said the likelihood is much higher than it was, say, three months ago because Iran was doing a lot of things which seemed quite provocative. And it’s not that Iran has ceased doing those things, but my sense is that the likelihood is somewhat decreased at the moment.
And the reason why that is is that the central bank — the sanctions against Iran’s central bank, which have helped cause this currency crisis within Iran, I think, are beginning to have an effect which the Israelis or the U.S. government perhaps didn’t fully anticipate, meaning the Iranian government is arguable more isolated, under more pressure than they’ve been since Khomeini famously decided to swallow the poisoned chalice in 1988.
So at least over the next three, four months I think the approach of the U.S. government and Israeli government is going to see how these central bank sanctions play out. They haven’t even really been implemented, but the European Union announced yesterday an embargo on Iranian oil. That’s about 20 percent of Iran’s export market. I think Japan and South Korea, two other big importers of Iranian oil, are likely to follow suit.
I think it’s unlikely that China will make up the difference. And so that, combined with this downward spiraling currency, I think has given people here the sense that there’s still time for diplomacy, if only coercive diplomacy.
Q: Thank you very much. If I could add a little something, and that is that I agree that the — Pardo did not use the word containment, and we’re not likely to see that word in official Israeli circles, but he came rather closer, as you also seem to suggest, to talking about something that sounded a little bit — could — like containment. Can I follow up on part of the question on —
DR. MATTAIR: All right.
Q: -- domestic Israeli thinking, and that is that —
DR. MATTAIR: But let me say one — let me say one thing. We do want to adjourn a little earlier today, so if there’s anyone with another question who’s holding back thinking they can ask it at 10 minutes to 12, you might want to come up soon. (Laughter.) OK.
Q: And that is, given the Arab Spring and everything, certainly that is having an effect on Israel’s internal dynamic and its various communities. And that would tend to somewhat empower the Arab-Israeli community, which — by Arab-Israeli I mean Arab-Jewish-Israeli community — because they have these connections, not only with the Arab world but with Iran and so on. And I wonder if you’ve seen any slight change in that. I mean, that — those are communities that generally have felt disadvantaged for reasonable reasons.
DR. MALLEY: Actually, can I first say a word about Iran because I — first, I don’t — I can’t imagine that an Israeli — that there’s an Israeli prime minister today or to come who will want to accept, on his watch, Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. So I really think containment — whereas in the U.S., I agree with Karim, that maybe people are thinking about it. I think in Israel, whether it’s Netanyahu’s successor, the Israeli prime minister who will, on his watch, see Iran acquire a nuclear weapon is not yet born. And he will do whatever he can or she will do whatever she can to stop it. So I don’t think we’re close to a containment vision in Israel.
The other point — I hate to disagree with Karim, particularly when it comes to Iran, but what I’m going to do is agree with another Karim — the earlier Karim — what you were saying earlier. I don’t — I don’t see that the central bank sanctions or any of this are making a warlike scenario less likely. If anything, I’d argue they make them more likely. I mean, you made the point earlier that — and I’ve learned this from you over the years — that Khamenei’s basic principle is you don’t give in to pressure. Perhaps, as you say, there’s cases where you have to swallow the poison, but in general you don’t give into pressure.
And in fact, if you give into pressure then — and as you said in the case of Libya — the lesson they learned is the only way we’re going to be able to prevent the West from trying to interfere in our domestic affairs is by acquiring a weapon. I think the more they feel strangled, the more they feel under pressure, the more we’re going after their economic lifeline, the more likely they are to take some action which will be viewed as provocative and the more likely it is that they’re going to accelerate their nuclear program, if they can. So we can talk about it more, but I’m just — I don’t see this as forestalling or convincing the Iranian leadership: Now is the time to compromise and to give up on our nuclear program.
As to your question, you know, I don’t think that the links between Israeli — as you call them, Israeli-Jewish-Arabs and their communities back home are particularly strong. I think the one — the one reaction we are seeing from Israelis at this point, of all stripes — or not of all stripes, but of many stripes, is as part of this hunker-down mentality, a rash of legislation which is quite troubling when it comes to the rights of Palestinians or to even free speech and democracy.
And I think that’s part of what we’re seeing is not so much people reaching out to Arabs — oh, they’re rising up and we’re part of them, but they are the enemy. And if — again, if you hear, I think, this — an Israeli official the other day said: Our Arab-Israeli population — the non-Jewish Arab-Israelis — they are much closer to Hamas and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood than they are to us, and are they a fifth column?
It’s more — I think that’s more where — and I think it’s almost a natural reaction, if it’s a — if it’s a troubling — albeit a troubling one, that many Israeli Jews are now looking at the world around them and seeing threats and their reaction is not only to hunker down but to pass legislation which is illiberal, in essence, and we’ve had our own secretary of state, on a rare occasion, criticizing Israel for the — for the legislation that it’s been passing.
Q: Thank you.
DR. MATTAIR: Doug (sp), do you have a question?
Q: Yeah. (Off mic.) Very quickly, just a couple of quick points and I’d like to hear your reactions. First of all, it’s my impression that the Israelis are infinitely more alarmed by developments in Turkey than any of you have indicated thus far. Secondly, Turkey has a much more capable military establishment. It’s larger, better equipped, better trained, better led than anything in Iran. And Iranians know that. And then finally, the Turks are not at all enthusiastic about the arrival of a nuclear weapon in Iran. And if Iran ends up with a nuclear weapon, the Turks will demand a nuclear capability themselves as a deterrent to Iran.
So what does this mean for the future? Are the Israelis, in their myopic obsession with Iran, focusing on the — on the wrong entity? Are we going to see the Israelis and Iranians take a different approach in the future? By the way, the Israelis have been very active in Kurdistan, much to the chagrin of the Turks. And one could expect to see the PPK receive all sorts of interesting support and aid under different circumstances.
So take those things and tell me what you think.
DR. MALLEY: Ömer?
DR. TAŞPINAR: Well, the three points that you made had all Turkey in common, so I’ll take a shot at it. If Israel is very worried about developments in Turkey what does that mean? I mean, should they obsess less about Iran and obsess more about Turkey? Why should they? Turkey is a NATO member, recently decided to host the radars which actually calmed worries in Washington about the so-called Islamic turn in Turkey. Turkey’s reaction to the Arab Spring, it’s — Arab Spring — the willingness of Turkey to cooperate with the U.S. in Libya, in Syria, actually calmed down, to a large degree I think, the American government.
And I think there is a change in narrative about Turkey in Israel. My reading of Israeli domestic politics is that, yes, there is worry about Turkey but there is also large worry that Israel is isolated in the region, has lost Egypt, has lost Turkey. And if there’s one country that actually can be easily — be brought back to relations with Israel it’s Turkey. Turkey is demanding, basically, an apology and compensation. And I think the next Israeli government will seriously consider that, or the next Turkish government will — may consider ways to basically put things back on track — on track with Israel.
I’m not that alarmist about the situation in Turkey, and I’m not that alarmist about Turkey’s own willingness to pursue a nuclear weapon. If by your question you think that a nuclear Turkey would be a big worry for Israel, I don’t see Israel worrying that much about a nuclear Turkey.
By the way, in Turkey the discussion about Iran and its nuclear weapon does not center, really, on a threat perception. There’s no threat perception in Turkey vis-à-vis Iran. Turkey does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but if Iran one day becomes a nuclear country, containment and deterrence will work, according to Turkish officials. There’s no reason to really panic at this point. And in many ways Turkey also feels that Article 5 of NATO protects Turkey. There is a nuclear umbrella provided by NATO. And Turkey in many ways, before going for its — for its own nuclear weapon, would consider the alternatives of stronger cooperation with NATO, stronger cooperation with the United States. So I’m not as alarmed as you are on the question of Turkish-Israeli relations.
DR. MATTAIR: I just want — you know, we have — we do want to adjourn at 11:30 because a couple panelists have somewhere else to go, so let me just ask one last question, to try to formulate it as I speak.
I was interested earlier in the question of how much Israel wants to invest in maintaining its relations with Egypt and Jordan and repairing relations with other countries and whether it would put a new paradigm on the table for solving the Palestinian problem. Specifically with respect to Jordan, are they concerned enough about the survivability of King Abdullah II to think about dealing on the Palestinian issue or would they not find his fall to be that disadvantageous to them?
You know, I — that question stands on its own, but there’s something you said that adds a little more to it, namely that they actually find some of the disarray in the Arab world to be advantageous in terms of the — their ability to take action against Iran. So how do they calculate about what King Abdullah II’s survival means to them in terms of turmoil in their own neighborhood or the freedom on maneuverability they may have toward Iran?
DR. MALLEY: You know, there’s always — there always are some in Israel who hang on to the notion of Jordan is Palestine, and maybe if — you know, if the Hashemite Kingdom were to fall and the Palestinians had their state there — I think it’s a very minority view. I think it’s not a view that you find in Israeli officialdom. And by the way, even someone — some of the — someone like the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was quick to tamp down and denounce any speculation that this was the view among his party, which is what some people had suspected.
So I think the Jordanians are nervous about it. I don’t really feel that. I think what Israelis believe is that Jordan has to play a bigger role in whatever outcome emerges. They see some — maybe some federation between Jordan and the future Palestinian state, which in their view would allow them to maybe give up less territory and have a better deal, which I think is illusory thinking. But nonetheless, I think it’s more that than thinking, well, if the regime falls we have this great opportunity.
I think they’re worried about what will happen to King Abdullah. I don’t think that they see that as a plus. I think — again, I think — for the most part. You’ll always find some who will have some different view but I think for the most part the mainstream officials and political analysts in Israel view it as a dangerous outcome, if the regime were to fall, but I don’t think that they believe — and nor do I, frankly — that the real problem that King Abdullah faces today is the — is the Israeli-Palestinian one, and that’s what might lead to his downfall and that therefore if they were to address the Palestinian problem somehow they could — they could forestall whatever instability may fall on the kingdom.
You know, so I — and I — but actually I’m not sure that the Jordanian regime itself doesn’t — understand that. I think when they try to host Israelis and Palestinians somehow they think that this is going to help them in their own domestic problems. I don’t see the relationship at all.
DR. MATTAIR: OK.
DR. MALLEY: I think this is a case where there are problems in Jordan, they’re deep problems having to do with corruption, having to do with the whole — the makeup of the country. I’m not — I’m not predicting that there’ll be instability tomorrow, but there are structural problems. And resolving the Palestine issue would be a great thing to do. I don’t think that that’s what’s going to make or break the Hashemite Kingdom. I think they’re going to have to deal with their own problems. Hopefully they’ll do it relatively quickly, because otherwise I think that trouble is brewing.
I don’t think that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is what’s going to make a difference. And by the way, as I said earlier, I don’t think we’re anywhere near resolving the conflict because so much will have to happen before we come to that day.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, thank you very much, everyone, for coming. And the final thing I’ll say is that we have a website that is very rich in terms of the way we’ve archived previous journals, previous conferences and all of the curricular material that’s available for K through 12 educators. So I invite you to visit www.mepc.org. Thank you very much. And thank you to the panelists. Thank you, panelists. (Applause.) Thank you all.