1. Might Greek-Israeli ties, as some think, be a marriage of convenience until Israel-Turkey relations improve?
Greek Israeli ties could evolve in view of several developments, including the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations. The Eastern Mediterranean has seen strategic developments which may give Israel and Greece reasons to enhance their strategic relationship, as a way to reposition the various equations of balance of power in the region. Under the AKP Government in Ankara, Turkey has practically severed its military alliance with Israel, and at the same time signed a strategic cooperation treaty with Syria even though it criticized Assad since the uprising started few months ago. The AKP Government is reaching out to Hamas, even though indirectly, and is enhancing its outreach to the Iranian regime.
On the other hand, the Iranians are increasing their maritime presence in the area, particularly after their Navy units crossed the Suez Canal. All this may compel the Israelis to counterbalance with an outreach to Greece. However, it is up to the latter to evaluate such a new relationship. How does Athens perceive the AKP future moves in the region, including in the Agean, Cyprus and the Balkans, would determine if Greece would effectively need a Mediterranean strategic partner like Israel, or not. It is to be seen.
2. It seems that after Syria, the Kurds in Southeastern Turkey might be next in line to revolt, threaten the sovereignty of the Turkish state. What do you think of that scenario? Do you think an independent “Kurdish Country” is possible or just a dream at the moment?
Nationalist dreams are in the hands of their own people. The international community cannot start them, encourage them, or discourage them. They are the result of decades or centuries of cultural, political and economic self perception and struggles. In Turkey, it is up to the Kurds to decide where their interests are, how would they achieve their goals and at what price. This is their own realm to decide about. But since they live in a sovereign state, they have a partner to consult, and that would determine the future of their ethnic claims. Ethnic struggles have generated many confrontations unfortunately, throughout history. In the West, most of these autonomist movements, maybe with few exceptions such as Northern Ireland, are now processed via political means, as is the case in Quebec-Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, or Corsica. In the Balkans, these struggles generated mass violence and wars. In the Middle East, most minorities have been suppressed militarily as in the case of Iraq’s Kurds, the Kabyles in Algeria and Southern Sudan. The Kurds in Turkey know all too well, that at this stage a full fledge separation will be met by a firm suppressive reaction by the Turkish Government. But they also know that since the “Arab Spring” peoples have been more assertive of their rights. Hence, the feelings of autonomy are there and are growing. Would they be channeled towards cultural and local political autonomy through a decentralization of the Turkish state? That is a more realistic path at this stage in history. The Kurds of Turkey should ask the AKP Government to allow a referendum to the Kurdish communities regarding local autonomy and elect a local assembly. This would avoid a separatist conflict. Then negotiations between Ankara and the local Kurdish Government can determine the constitutional future of the area. Since the AKP is going to obtain a constitutional change, the Kurds of Turkey must demand their share democratically. For since the AKP Government supports Kosovo independence, and maintain a support to a Northern Cypriot Turkish entity, it should apply the same principles to its own citizens, the Kurds. But it seems what can be ethnic rights outside the borders may not be accepted inside the borders.
3. How do you see Cypriot-Israeli and Cypriot-Arab relations today?
Cyprus has always developed good commercial and economic relations with the Arab countries in the past decades. Partly in view of the bad relations between Turkey and many of these countries. The Arab countries in return, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, never recognized the Northern Republic of Cyprus. Cypriot Israeli relations were normal but didn’t have the economic warmth of the Cypriot Arab relations. However with time, things changed. As the AKP reached deep in the region to enhance its relations with the Arab world, consequences could be felt in the future on Cyprus. If the Islamists would obtain further influence as a result of the “Arab Spring” as with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Islamists in Tunisia, Libya and maybe even Syria, there would be a drive for Arab Islamists to join Turkey’s Islamists on the issue of Northern Cyprus. Nicosia may feel this change with time and thus rethink its strategies in the Eastern Mediterranean. But if the Arab Spring would bring secular forces to the front, Cyprus would benefit from it. In short, if the Islamists control Arab foreign policy in the region, they would side with Turkey’s AKP against Nicosia’s call for the reunification thus causing the small island to seek help elsewhere. But these are only projections based on current trends.
4. There has been a long talk around the interrelation between Islamic originated terrorism and illegal immigration from the Muslim countries to Europe. According to your estimation, is there a direct or indirect link between those two phenomena?
Immigration to Europe is essentially socio-economic. People, and youth in particular, wants to get better lives and more advanced conditions by seeking emigration to the north of the Mediterranean. Since a majority of the population migrating across the Mediterranean are from Muslim majority countries, the perception is that it is a “Muslim immigration” per se. But these are the demographic realities of the region. You have also another immigration coming from the East of Europe, mostly from Slavic Christian countries. However the Islamist movements use the immigration factor to penetrate the immigrant communities and establish a power hold on them. The Islamists, Salafists, Wahabis and others, attempt to seize Mosques, schools, social and economic institutions and political representation to pressure European Governments to make concessions to the movements, not really to the communities. The Islamists put European Governments in front of a de facto reality: either you go by our views on Foreign Policy and domestic national security, or else we unleash urban unrest against you. The immigrant communities should in fact liberate themselves from the radical groups and create their own political democratic forces. Add to it that the Jihadists, those who are ideologically issued from the Islamist movements and chose violence as a mean to achieve their goals, they obviously thrive in the radical political and ideological environment the Islamists create within these circles. So the interrelation is in fact between the Jihadists and the Islamists and the latter maintains a space for recruitment and support to the Jihadists in Europe and the West. But the Islamists do not represent the majority of all Muslims living in Europe.
5. How does Turkey’s neo-Ottoman policy affect the relations between USA-Turkey?
The AKP neo-Ottoman outlook will be affecting gradually the relationship between Turkey and the United States, and maybe with the West as a whole, over time. Since 2002, Ankara’s strategic direction has shifted, gradually. The AKP crumbled the once solid relations between Turkey and Israel; it received Hamas and endorsed the Flotilla aiming at Gaza. Moreover, the AKP Government sided with Ahmedinijad against the Green Revolution in Iran. Mr Erdogan sided with Sudan dictator Omar Bashir against the indictment of Genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal. Ankara signed a strategic cooperation treaty with Syria, although the latter is on the US Terrorist list. All these moves are inscribed in a general change of direction from what was a secular, pro-Western, Turkish policy to an Islamist neo-Ottoman AKP foreign policy. The US Congress has noted these significant changes and it will press the Administration to work on changing the attitudes of Ankara towards siding with the democracy forces in the region rather than with the dictatorships. Lately Mr Erdogan criticized Dictator Bashar Assad and Libyan tyrant Moammar Gaddafi, but only perhaps because significant parts of the Syrian and Libyan oppositions are controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence, if not under this US Administration, but certainly under a future Administration, the AKP neo-Ottoman policy will eventually come to a face off on the grounds of its strategic choices favoring the Islamists over the democrats in the region. The way to avoid a future deterioration of Turkish-US and Turkish-Western relationships is for the AKP to reform and become a Muslim conservative but non-Islamist Party, or for a truly liberal democratic coalition to form a future Government in Turkey and move the country away from past authoritarianism and current quasi-fundamentalism. Then Turkey will become a cornerstone of stability for the region and its neighbors.
6. Recently, Davutoglu said in an interview that warnings about a second international Gaza flotilla should be directed at Israel, which needed to recognise the changing realities in the Middle East. What do you say about it?
The results of the first flotilla were not that positive. It ended in incidents on international waters. A NATO Government seeking membership in the EU, like Turkey, should not be in the business of organizing, inspiring or even backing flotillas like these which risk to create incidents in a sensitive region. If AKP chooses to back Hamas in the international arena, they can do so at will diplomatically and at their political expense. But state sponsored flotillas are not a one way street. What if other Governments starts backing flotillas into other countries, including into Turkey itself. What if Kurdish or Armenian militants start their own flotillas as well? This is a Pandora box. Flotillas or demonstrations must be peaceful and non violent, particularly if they operate in zones of confrontation. The changing realities in the Middle East are basically that civil societies are rising against the return of the Empires, including the Ottoman one, and that is a matter that modern day Islamists must come to grip with. The region’s youth is for more freedoms not less, with more pluralism, not less.
DR WALID PHARES: SHORT BIO (250 words)
Professor Walid Phares serves as an Advisor to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the US House of Representatives and is a Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism, a Euro-American Caucus, since 2009.
Dr Phares briefs and testify to the US Congress, the European Parliament and the United Nations Security Council on matters related to international security and Middle East conflict. He He consults with and lectures to several national security and defense agencies as well as to Counter Terrorism advisory boards in North America and Europe.
He has served on the Advisory Board of the Task Force on Future Terrorism of the Department of Homeland Security in 2006-2007 as well as on the Advisory Task force on Nuclear Terrorism in 2007.
Dr Phares teaches Global Strategies at the National Defense University since 2006. Previously he was a Professor of Middle East Studies and Comparative Politics at Florida Atlantic University 1993-2004.
He has published several books in English, Arabic and French including the latest three post 9/11 volumes: Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West; The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy and The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.
His most recent timely book (December 2010) is The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East which has projected the uprisings in the region before they occur.
Dr Phares is Fox News Channel Middle East and Terrorism Expert. He has served as NBC Terrorism Analyst until 2006. He appears on international and Arab media and is published widely.
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