Saturday, December 05, 2009

Beware the winds of December

While America has been absorbed by the Afghan election imbroglio, a less-noticed event slid into place in the Middle East. It is less dramatic than President Hamid Karzai's near removal; but this event tilts the strategic balance: Turkey finally shrugged off its United States straight-jacket; stared past any beckoning European Union membership; and has fixed its eyes toward its former Ottoman Asian and Middle Eastern neighbors.
By Alastair Crooke
Turkey did not make this shift merely to snub the West; but it does reflect Turkey's discomfort and frustration with US and EU policy - as well as resonate more closely with the Islamic renaissance that has been taking place within Turkey. This "release" of Turkish policy towards a new direction - if successful - can be as significant as the destruction of Iraq and the implosion of Soviet power was, 20 years ago, in "releasing" Iran to emerge as one of the pre-eminent powers in the region.
In the past months, a spate of new agreements have been signed by Turkey with Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia, which suggest not just a nascent commonality of political vision with Iraq, Iran and Syria, but more importantly, it reflects a joint economic interest - the northern tier of Middle East states are in line to become the principal suppliers of natural gas to Europe - thus displacing Russia as the dominant purveyor of gas to central Europe. In short, the prospective Nabucco gas pipeline to central Europe may gradually eclipse the energy primacy of Saudi oil. What is mainly symbolic in the prospective passing of the baton of energy "kingpin" - at least for Europe - from Saudi Arabia to the "northern tier", however, is given substance, rather than symbolic form, in the simultaneous weakening of the "southern tier" - Saudi Arabia and Egypt - both of which have become partially incapacitated by their respective succession crises and domestic preoccupations.
The weakening of the "southern tier" comes at a sensitive time. The region sees the drift of power from erstwhile US allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia towards the northern tier, and, as is the way in the Middle East, is starting to readjust to the new power reality...


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