Barack: You're just not up to the task. Its time to step aside and let the adults take over.
The bloodshed resulting from a clash between Israeli Defense Forces and pro-Palestine activists in international waters is nothing short of a diplomatic miracle for Iran.
The violence, which left at least 9 activists dead, immediately precipitated unprecedented tension between former allies Israel and Turkey, as the majority of activists killed or arrested in the altercation are Turkish citizens. Turkish-Israeli tension is also further straining relationships between the two nations and the United States, which has had numerous diplomatic disagreements with both Turkey and Israel in recent weeks regarding the Peace Process, nuclear proliferation, and Iran.
Iran, the sole beneficiary of the fiasco, has much to gain and little to lose by using the incident as diplomatic leverage for gaining even closer ties to Turkey, allowing to fallout to serve as a delay to forestall U.N. sanctions and discussions of the nuclear program, and propaganda capital to spend on winning hearts and minds in the Middle East and abroad..
The most immediate result of the Gaza blockade fiasco is the ever-widening rift between Turkey and its Western allies, as well as the increasing appeal of reorienting its interest in partners eastward, to Iran and other states nearby. The reaction of the United States to the Israeli raid greatly disappointed Turkey, with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan responding, “Dry statements of condemnation are not enough [...] There should be results.” Erdogan continued in an even stronger vein, saying Israel would not behave so rashly if it didn’t have the protection of a powerful nation–a thinly veiled reference to the United States.
Turkey’s NATO membership also puts the United States in a very difficult position. Paul Wachter of Politics Daily asks, “ Does the United States Have an Obligation to Declare War on Israel?” Under Article V of the NATO charter, any NATO member that is attacked in Europe or North America may call on all other NATO members to declare war on the attacking nation. At present, Wachter points out, Turkey is threatening to provide naval escorts to any ships attempting to break through the Gaza blockade, an act that would likely lead to military confrontation between Turkey and Israel and potentially escalate the crisis into outright war.
This would leave the United States in the unenviable position of either deciding to declare war on its longtime ally Israel, or essentially invalidating the practical purpose of NATO by refusing to heed the call of one of its members. NATO has already issued a statement calling on Israel to release all of the activists, and citing the need for an impartial investigation.
Either option will be a victory for Iran. If the United States tacitly supports Israel by refusing to condemn its actions, Turkey will be alienated and NATO’s reputation will suffer. If the United States, unlikely though it is, were to condemn Israel, the recent tension between Israel and the U.S. would become wider than ever. If Turkey is alienated from its Western allies, Iran will certainly step in to fill the void, as the two nations have already been strengthening relations to levels unprecedented since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
An Israeli/American fallout would also serve Iran, as it would be an opportunity for Iran to tout its long anti-Israeli stance and actions, as well as providing momentum for greater pressure on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and distracting from Iran’s nuclear program. Pressuring Iran while shoring up the Middle East’s sole nuclear-armed state will prove extremely unpopular in the region, as has already been shown by the wrangling over the Brazilian and Turkish-brokered nuclear fuel exchange agreed to by Iran.
Meir Javedanfar , an Iranian-Israeli political analyst, points out that the flotilla incident will likely galvanize greater pressure from Arab states for focusing on Israel’s nuclear weapons rather than singling out Iran. TodaysZaman, a Turkish daily with close ties to the AKP, agrees with this assessment fully: “Obama must make one thing clear: if the US is to confront Iran with sanctions or a military threat, both which will require international cooperation, there must be significant progress, if not a full agreement, on the Arab-Israeli track.”
Iran welcomes the flotilla crisis for another reason: it distracts from the Iranian nuclear issue. As InsideIRAN’s Arash Aramesh points out, a report from the IAEA describing numerous instances of Iranian opacity in expanding nuclear operations slipped under the media radar yesterday amidst the coverage of the ongoing Gaza blockade crisis. Iran featured the IAEA report in only one article in its state-affiliated press services, whereas literally dozens of articles on the Gaza aid flotilla raid were published. The lone article showed little concern with the IAEA report, saying only that it was invalid because it failed to discuss the Tehran Fuel Swap Declaration.
Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post agrees that the crisis will delay any action against Iran’s nuclear program. The Security Council, he points out, will likely be more than busy dealing with the massive diplomatic fallout from the flotilla raid. Iran’s nuclear program, scheduled to have been the primary concern of the Council’s meetings in coming weeks, will take second stage.
Less quantifiable, however, is how Israel’s actions will lead to greater popularity for Iranian leaders in their near-abroad, the Arab world and Turkey. Iran’s anti-Israeli stance, the most unwavering and publicized anti-Israeli government in the Middle East, has won it many supporters in neighboring states with populations angry at their leaders’ perceived complacency in the face of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The latest incident will provide Iran with ample propaganda ammunition to trumpet “Told you so!” at every opportunity. Just two weeks ago, Iran proposed to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a large body of predominantly Islamic nations, an independent body for investigating Israeli war crimes. The OIC has already passed a resolution condemning Israel’s raid on the flotilla–another propaganda victory for Iran amongst Islamic nations.
Iran’s political capital in the region for taking the hardest stance against Israel, and for the longest time, is soaring. And whether the United States reprimands Israel, or ignores Turkey’s rage over the flotilla bloodshed, Iran will be celebrating.