Friday, September 8, 2006

Turkey's high-stakes march into Lebanon

Asia Times

"It is therefore not in the least bit surprising that the decision by the Turkish government to depute troops to Lebanon - duly endorsed by the Turkish parliament in a majority vote on Tuesday - has virtually split the country's polity into two distinct worlds.

The 340-192 vote in parliament authorizing the government to deploy a naval force for one year to patrol the waters off Lebanon, and possibly Turkish ground troops of an unspecified number, might appear deceptively simple. Actually, the topic proved to be highly divisive, with significant sections of public opinion, the country's president and all political parties other than the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) vehemently opposing the move. Dissident opinion is apparently sizable even within the AKP.

The Islamist and nationalist camps argue that the Turkish contingent in Lebanon might come to be viewed as an occupation force, which would work against "Islamic solidarity" and hurt Turkey's long-term interests. The nationalists abhor the very idea of Turkey getting entangled in any manner in the Israeli-Arab conflict. They argue that Turkey ought to concentrate attention on the pressing challenge to national security posed by Kurdish separatism.

"Leave aside Palestine; the primary interest is in Mount Kandil and Kirkuk," said top nationalist leader and former deputy prime minister Devlet Bahceli, in reference to Kurdish militant strongholds in Turkey and Iraq, respectively.

There is widespread concern that the United Nations stabilization force will be called on incrementally to serve US-Israeli interests and will prove incapable of protecting the Lebanese people from future Israeli aggression. Overarching all this is the pervasive skepticism about Turkey identifying with the United States' controversial "New Middle East" project."

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