If the United States, supported by the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, has been able — practically after a boycott lasting more than three decades — to normalise relations with Iran after signing a treaty over the nuclear issue, why can’t Saudi Arabia do a similar agreement with Iran over the regions’ many problematic issues? These sentiments were hinted to me the other day by a high diplomatic source close to the ongoing multiparty discussion between US, Saudi, Russian, Turkish and Iranian officials.
But it seems that any sign of optimism now is somehow premature since the issues in question are directly and indirectly related to the bloody events currently taking place in both Syria and Iraq, in which all big regional powers are heavily involved.
The issues in question in the region are much more complicated than any disarmament problem such as the nuclear file. They directly touch matters of a demographic and geographic nature that threaten the future of current entities and existing borders. To put it bluntly, Syria and Iraq will never be as they were before 2011. The current bloody wars in both countries, as with other wars throughout history, will eventually lead to new entities in the countries in question, which in turn will very likely affect the neighbourhood as well.
The bloody attack of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in that part of the region over a year ago and the creation of its own form of exclusive authority over a large piece of land stretching from Mosul in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria, as well as the gradual rising power of some sort of a future independent Kurdish state in north of Iraq and north-east of Syria, are only two major factors in the expected new map.
And what makes these factors more imminent is Turkey’s persistent attempts along its southern border areas to continuously encroach into large parts of northern Syria. Ankara’s latest call on the United States to give Turkey the green light to establish a ‘No-Fly Zone’ in that area is only the first ‘legal’ step towards such eventuality.
One can also add to these factors the strategically important vicious fighting along western borders of Syria, in the Damascus outskirts of Qalamoun and Zabadani, mostly between Lebanon’s pro-Iran outfit Hezbollah and Al Nusra forces, with their vital implications on the future of not only Syrian territories but also on the Lebanese border areas.
Any success on the part of Hezbollah will put the entire western part of Syria that borders Lebanon in Hezbollah’s hands, thus enhancing the authority and security of the Damascus regime, led by Bashar Al Assad.
This, however, will undoubtedly strengthen Iran’s regional position in any future negotiations over Syria’s future. But more importantly, such development could also carry with it some sinister possibility which might affect the currently weak constitutional structure of Lebanon further in favour of Hezbollah.
War dynamics are mercilessly harsh and always leave behind countless human casualties as well as deep scars on the face of nations. Palestine, Cyprus and Syria are only few examples of recent historic map changes in the last century. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 nations abstaining in favour of a partition plan that drastically changed the heart of Middle East politics by creating the State of Israel under the so-called British Mandate.
Once the latter reached its end in 1948, the first Arab-Israeli War broke out, eventually resulting in a totally new map: Israel was formally established as an independent state and the rest of the British Mandate for Palestine was split between Egypt (Gaza) and the area then known as Transjordan (the West Bank).
A year later, in 1949, the newly-born state signed four separate and legally accepted ceasefire agreements with Egypt (February 24), Lebanon (March 23), Transjordan (April 3) and Syria (July 20). Immediately after that, Israel was allowed to freely draw its own borders, occupying 70 per cent of Mandatory Palestine — 50 per cent more than the UN partition plan had originally allocated to it.
Cyprus is another case in question. It changed hands at least twice in the last 120 years before it was finally partitioned — though internationally unrecognised, in 1974.
In 1878, British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, acquired the Island of Cyprus from the then Turkish Sultan, who leased the Island to Britain by a ‘secret convention’. The lease generously gave Britain at the time literally a ‘place in the sun’ for tourism but more importantly a ‘place of arms’ — a military base from where it would help the British to defend Turkey’s Asian Wilayat (provinces) from any Russian encroachment. Disraeli was concerned about preventing any Russian advance that could have threatened the overland route to the British Empire in India.
Having gained its independence early in 1960s under the leadership of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Makarios, after a long and hard-fought guerilla war against British forces on the island, Cyprus sought to unite with mainland Greece but this was strongly resisted by the island’s powerful Turkish minority.
This led to a coup d’etat in July 1974, led by Greek Cypriot nationalists supported by the Greek military junta, in an attempt to unite the island with Greece. This action precipitated the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and led to the island’s partition, with the north going to the 50,000 Turkish Cypriots living on 39 per cent of the island and the south going to the 150,000 Greeks who live on land equating to roughly 59 per cent of the island. Britain maintains sovereignty over two military bases in Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
Greek Cyprus remains the internationally recognised state while the Turkish part, which declared itself in 1983 as the Turkish Cypriot State is recognised by only Turkey.
As history brutally told us before, modern Syria had also seen a huge part of its territories eaten up by Turkey when the French colonial power lavishly granted its leader, Mustafa Kemal, in 1936, the northern-western Liwa’ (Province) Iskandaroun, better known as Hetay Province, to buy off his loyalty on the eve of the Second World War.
But it seems this time round that history is repeating itself with more blood and death.
This article by Mustapha Karkouti, a former president of the Foreign Press Association in London, was originally published by Gulf News