The return of geography: Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia

I realize I probably haven’t put anything on the blog yet that tells my ever-waiting readership (!) that last week I was in Syria. Well, I was. I went as part of a quiet, non-governmental effort to find ways to improve our country’s currently troubled relations with Syria. More info later, as appropriate.
Anyway, I’ve just finished writing a piece for another publication about Syria’s current diplomatic situation. Y’all will get the link when it is published.
Last night, as I was figuring how to frame the piece, I thought really the most significant thing that has happened for Syria’s situation in recent years was last year’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. Along with the excellent rapprochement that Damascus has made with Turkey over the earlier 5-6 years, those two new relationships with significant Middle Eastern powers strengthen Syria’s position considerably, compared with where it was in the dark days of 2003-04 when so many American neocons were confidently predicting that “after Baghdad, Syria will be the next to fall to U.S. power.”
These new relationships also give Syrians a valuable counterweight to the power and influence of Iran. It’s not that anyone in the present Syrian government wants to abandon the ties with Tehran that have been so important to their regime’s survival over the past 30 years. But at least now they can balance those ties with these other new relationships with Turkey and Saudi Arabia…
So this morning, I Googled “Syria Saudi Arabia Turkey” and guess what came up? This fascinating news item from today’s Hurriyet, reporting that,

    Türk Telekomünikasyon, Turkey’s biggest landline phone company, said it signed a 15-year agreement with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to carry fiber-optic traffic between the Middle East and central Europe.
    The 2,530-kilometer link will carry data and voice services, Türk Telekom said in a press release in Istanbul on Wednesday…

A few moments’ more Googling on Türk Telekom revealed that 30% of the company is owned by the Turkish state (constituting a special “golden share”) and 55% by Oger Telecom. Oger Telecom is part of the broader Saudi Oger empire which is, of course, the Hariri family’s private fiefdom.
Interesting.
The Hurriyet piece explains that TT’s latest plan for network expansion in and through Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia,

    follows Türk Telekom’s purchase last month of the wholesale business of Hungary’s Invitel Holding for about $275 million. That acquisition gives the company control of 27,000 kilometers (16,800 miles) of fiber-optic networks in 16 central and southeastern European countries.

Another account notes that the fiber-optic connection is expected eventually to go from Saudi Arabia to the Indian subcontinent… So Europe, these Middle Eastern countries, and India will all be connected on the same network, vital parts of which will go through Turkey and Syria.
Fascinating. And the building of secure, high-speed fiber-optic networks will be so and much more important for the future wellbeing of the peoples of all the countries concerned than acquisitions of armies, tanks, missiles, fighter jets, etc.
And we can see a few things about geography here, too:

    1. Syria’s land connection with Turkey is very important for Syria.
    2. Of course, we also learned last week about the new free trade and ‘no-visa’ zone that will allow citizens of Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to travel freely in and around each other’s countries. Hurrah! That new arrangement will bring tremendous benefits to the residents of the three Arab countries involved, amongst themselves, even without Turkey. And the fact that it was Turkey that was able to broker it among all the parties is really intriguing.
    3. It is also true, though, that Turkey’s land connection with Syria is important for Turkey– giving it good access to markets etc in the Arab world. If Turkey could not connect with Saudi Arabia through Syria and Jordan, it would have to do so through Iraq. Sadly, those lines of communication have been badly broken due to years of U.S. misgovernance there. If Iraq had indeed become “the model country” that George W. Bush claimed he wanted it to be, then Syria would still be on the sidelines. But six-plus years of wilfull U.S. misgovernance of Iraq have rendered it a virtual basket-case.

So this latest Türk Telekom deal is really significant. As important for the M.E. region as was China’s August 2008 announcement that it was investing $3.5 billion in developing Afghanistan’s Aynak copper field, for Afghanistan. (Funny that in all the recent reporting in the U.S. about the Pentagon’s recent “discovery” of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, that never got mentioned?)
I think if any government in Israel in the past 20 years had actually, really wanted to make peace with the whole Arab world, then Israeli companies might now have been in a position to broker huge, border-spanning infrastructure deals like this one from Türk Telekom. But all those successive Israeli governments chose not to close the peace deal with the Palestinians and Syrians, but to continue pursuing the colonial-expansion policies in the occupied territories, instead.

16 thoughts on “The return of geography: Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia

  1. alexno

    I have my doubts that Saudi is so much in the pocket of Israel, as the “clumsy US disinfo” piece suggests. Though I don’t know. Your new piece here suggests that SA has important new local connections.
    The Saudi regime may be fossilised, but it still has to react to local currents, being so few. I should think there’s a good deal of sympathy among the Wahhabis for what is going on in Turkey.

  2. David

    Helena,
    Two comments. The first and I do not want anyone to construe this as support in any way shape and/or form of the US invasion of Iraq but your comment “six-plus years of wilfull U.S. misgovernance of Iraq have rendered it a virtual basket-case” is a little misleading. Iraq was a failed state before the invasion – it is really only true to say the US didn’t make it any better.
    The second comment: of course you think it’s Israel’s fault for not making peace with the Palestinians. Assad in Syria could not have been more ready and willing to make peace especially after his slaughter of the Muslim brotherhood in the late 80’s. Same with Arafat at Camp David. He was literally begging Barak to give him a deal he could accept.
    I certainly wouldn’t make a claim that Israel did everything possible but don’t you think at least some little part of the blame falls on the Arab leaders?

  3. bevin

    David, the points that you make re Assad and Camp David, if valid, simply underline Helena’s argument: Israel has turned down numerous offers to make peace.
    There is a tide in the affairs of nations: the time to make peace is probably running out; the days of enormous disparity between the resources of the Arab states and those of the colonists from Europe have come to an end.
    This is probably a good thing, since any peace made, in the past forty years or so, would probably have been so unfair to the Palestinians that it could not have lasted.
    By the same token the current talks about talking to Abbas and Fateh regarding peace are a complete non-starter (sad to see George Mitchell wasting so much time)because they have no credibility at all.

  4. Salah

    If Iraq had indeed become “the model country” that George W. Bush claimed he wanted it to be,

  5. brian

    how to improve relations with Syria?
    get rid of the current zionist cabal in Washington, make AIPAC illegal, kick out politicians who take money and swear eternal allegience to zionism, vote Cynthia McKinney for president…then watch the desert bloom.

  6. Salah

    I should think there’s a good deal of sympathy among the Wahhabis for what is going on in Turkey.
    alexnom
    I guess you can extend a good deal of sympathy among most Arab/Islamic world .
    Helena,
    Back in history with railway lines from Europe to Makka that was very famous historical railway root The Hejaz Railway

    Turkish Hicaz Demiryolu,
    railroad between Damascus, Syria, and Medina (now in Saudi Arabia), one of the principal railroads of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

    Its main line was constructed in 1900–08, ostensibly to facilitate pilgrimages to the Muslims’ holy places in Arabia but in fact also to strengthen Ottoman control over the most distant provinces of the empire. The main line, under the supervision of a German engineer, traversed 820 miles (1,320 km) of difficult country and was completed in only eight years. It ran from Damascus southward to Darʿā….

    Then this:

    “The plan envisages restoration and modernisation of the railway line by the Turkish government within its territory, while it calls on Syria and Jordan to rebuild the tracks on their sides,” Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said during a business meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday.

    The plan, the first since the Six-Day War interrupted a similar project in 1967, would extend the reach of the railway to its original but never completed southernmost destination — the holy city of Makkah World War I put an end to the rail line shortly after its completion in 1913.

    I hope no a new war in ME to interrupted again as usual when things trying to move forward in right directions in Arab/Islamic land.
    Just to remind you that the Germany have win a deal with Sultan with long distance railway in Arab land and that give them the right to control and digs that land which British knowingly well it’s holding massive amount of petrol will be under the German’s hands
    The Baghdad Railway During this time Baghdad Railway under German control became a source of international tension and played a role in the origins of the First World War.[6] The empire’s problems were, in fact, the result of an inability to deal with the new problems created by the conflict between external imperialism and rising internal nationalism. .[53]

  7. David

    Bevin,
    Sorry you missed the sarcasm in my references to Assad and Arafat.
    The biggest missed opportunity for peace was that Jordan and Syria didn’t join with Egypt when Sadat signed the peace agreement with Israel.

  8. bevin

    David, leaving aside the Assad reference, which did puzzle me a bit, Arafat was begging for anything that would serve as an agreement at Camp David.
    The propaganda to the effect that Israel made a magnificent offer and Arafat turned it down, is very misleading. The offer was a variation of Bantustan, it was not close to being acceptable to the Palestinians as a whole.
    BUt the desire for peace was there: had 1967 borders plus a settlement of the right of return matter be on offer then there might have been a chance.
    It is an indication of the gulf between our views that you do not see how much Israel has managed to gain since 1948, and you do not seem to understand that what is stolen will never be secure; not even if the victim can be frightened into signing away his rights. There really can be no peace without justice.

  9. David

    Bevin,
    I didn’t think the offer at Camp David was a “magnificent offer” but nor do I think it was “a variation of Bantustan”. I realize that I get this information from sources such as Dennis Ross’ “Missing Peace” that you probably do not believe. In the past other commenters at this site have made some very disparaging claims of the offer that I was not able to verify. Requests for links when unanswered. Until I can see some credible information to the contray the broad outline from “Missing Peace” is an accurate description of the offer. And we can argue whether it was a good offer or not but it definitely was not “Bantustan.”
    And you are correct that it “is an indication of the gulf between our views” that you believe that “Arafat was begging for anything that would serve as an agreement at Camp David.”
    I don’t think Arafat was prepared to accept anything less that complete right of return.
    Which isn’t anything Israel will or can accept.

  10. delia ruhe

    I, too, have been watching all of this and have dared to think that FINALLY the Muslim Middle East is getting its act together. My greatest fear is the damage Israel can do to well-laid plans. All this crap about the new “axis of evil” makes me very nervous. Turkey has been sticking its neck out, taking some risks, spending some political capital — I keep my fingers crossed that Erdogan knows what he’s doing. As for SaudiA, I’m not sure what to think at this point. I know where Egypt is — nowhere — but I am hoping that ElBaradei can increase his influence there.
    I look forward to your report on your visit to Syria.

  11. JohnH

    Helena–I think the story here is the formation of the “New Middle East.” Integration is replacing the fragmentation of the Cold War and Zionist isolation of Syria and others. It is not the “New Middle East” that Washington or Tel Aviv dreamed of, but one that goes about its business despite Washington and Tel Aviv.
    And, as you point out, Syria and Jordan are keystone states, connecting Turkey to Saudi Arabia and to Lebanon by land lines for communications and transportation. Turkey provides manufacturing and agricultural output, Saudi Arabia provides energy and consumer demand, and Lebanon and Dubai are the banking hubs.
    Sounds like a pretty good framework for successful regional development to me.

  12. Salah

    If Iraq had indeed become “the model country” that George W. Bush claimed he wanted it to be,
    Yah amodel of war crimes
    Iraq ill-equipped to cope with an epidemic of mental illness

  13. Salah

    Sadly, those lines of communication have been badly broken due to years of U.S. misgovernance there. If Iraq had indeed become “the model country” that George W. Bush claimed he wanted it to be,
    Looking and hearing the recent what it called “The Gulf of Mexico oil spill” as an oil well continues to pump “thousands” of “barrels” of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day (till today we don’t not have any idea about the total amount of oil!! some saying “thousands of gallons not barrels listen to Obama speech)
    Most US and western news dominated by its matter MSN full of stores like “ oil spill in Gulf ‘making dolphins act drunk’
    Obama and US government asking for 20billions, let to say oil it’s not a chemicals material or manufacturing material its natural matter so this not environmental threat as such but US asking for billions.
    That said, make my point here what US and UK and all those who gathered as collation of welling who destroy Iraq as a stat and as a country bombed by very nasty long term real environmental disasters materials like Deployed Uranium and other material God know with other waste that used and drooped inside Iraq which made Iraq as a big slump country for 20 million pupil how much should these criminal should pay for Iraq and Iraqis.

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