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.
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.