- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

There’s no end in sight to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed that the conflict will continue until an international force enters southern Lebanon.

France, which would lead such an effort, says any talk about it is premature without a political framework, and the United Nations has cancelled for a second time a gathering of the nations that would contribute troops. Meanwhile, Mr. Olmert believes it is important that Muslim armies be part of the force, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly said he’s willing to send in Turkish troops. But he may have spoken too soon.

First, the force’s mandate remains unclear. France, like Turkey, would prefer to find a political way to get Hezbollah to disarm voluntarily. The United States, however, “is more the robust end of the scale, believing that Hezbollah will only disarm in the face of force,” says U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown. Mr. Olmert has asked for 15,000 troops with combat units to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, requiring Hezbollah to disarm. But neither side has budged yet.

Second, Mr. Erdogan seems to have forgotten Turkey’s experience in Cyprus with U.N. peacekeepers, which have been there since 1964. Turkish Cypriots thought the troops were there to rescue them; Greek Cypriots believed they would help to suppress the rebellion. In the end, the Greeks got their way. If the peacekeepers had been effective, Turkey wouldn’t have had to send troops to rescue the Turkish Cypriots in 1974. Turkey should know from experience that unless an international force can engage in combat, it can only be effective on a small scale. And even today, the peace on the island is preserved less by the U.N. peacekeepers, but more by the Turkish military.

Third, Mr. Erdogan told CNN’s Larry King that “[I] don’t think… we’re in a position to look at who’s to blame, because if we are looking for someone to blame… we would endanger the process further. [W]e would become more emotional.” Mr. Erdogan is, indeed, emotional when talking to his constituents in Turkey. He has told the Turkish people in several speeches that they should not forget that Israel is the real culprit in the conflict. What’s more important, Mr. Erdogan’s administration succeeded in shifting the identity of the country. According to Pew survey, a slight (51 percent) majority defines themselves first as Muslim. Only 19 percent of the population defines itself first as Turks.

Fourth, the first trip that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal made after their victory in the Palestinian elections was to Ankara. Mr. Erdogan wanted to convey that he wants not only to involve Turkey in Middle East politics, but also for Turkey to lend credibility to Hamas even before the group recognizes Israel and disarms. He should be thinking no differently about Lebanon, where Hezbollah members have been democratically elected to parliament.

When the United States and Turkey agreed on a strategic vision for their relationship last month, one of their main common strategic goals was “supporting international efforts towards a permanent settlement of the Arab Israeli conflict.” That agreement was designed to show friend and foe alike that the United States and Turkey are working together, but it provided no details about how they would do it. Today, they hardly seem to be on the same page.

Fifth, every conflict raises opportunities. Mr. Erdogan may have seized the moment and expected that in talking about an international peacekeeping force he could repair the ties between Turkey and the United States. He may expect the United States to take action against the PKK terrorism that threatens Turkey via northern Iraq. Such thinking contradicts his stance that it’s permissible for Turkey to cross the border into northern Iraq in the name of self-defense. So, Turkey expects the United States and Iraq to deal with the PKK, and, even if Mr. Erdogan doesn’t outwardly favor such action, his position is filled with inconsistencies. There’s no difference between Hezbollah, Hamas and the PKK; they all use terror as a tool to fight and lay claim to land. If Mr. Erdogan favors a plan to disarm Hezbollah without force, he is being hypocritical in his plea for the United States to use force against the PKK.

Sixth, parliament must approve any international deployment of Turkish troops that doesn’t fall under the NATO banner. Although Mr. Erdogan talks about committing troops to an international effort, getting that decision through parliament isn’t so easy. After all, Turks could ask their government first to disarm the PKK and stop the bloodshed in their country. And no one publicly knows what the Turkish military is thinking about either sending troops to Lebanon or using it as a bargaining chip to push the United States to take action against the PKK.

Finally, Mr. Erdogan’s willingness to be part of an international peacekeeping force may be nothing more than playing to domestic politics. The presidential and national elections are approaching, and Mr. Erdogan is determined to stay in power. One can only imagine how it would affect the relationship between Ankara and Washington if parliament does not commit troops to an international effort in southern Lebanon. It will be wiser not to test such an experience again.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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