Ankara eyes stability in Lebanon through economy

October 30, 2010, Saturday/ 16:59:00/ AYŞE KARABAT
Turkey, whose foreign policy emphasizes the idea of increasing economic cooperation to ensure stability, is planning to establish a “dynamic economic zone” between Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Ankara is hoping that cooperation might also serve to ease the current stalemate in Lebanon and be helpful in preventing future ones, which emerging as a result of the country's political structure. This economic zone will be based on extensive cooperation in the fields of trade, energy, transportation and tourism. In order to take advantage of all possible areas of cooperation in these sectors and to come up with concrete projects as soon as possible, the ministers of these industries will meet twice a year. The first such meeting is set to take place in November. Then the foreign ministers of those countries will meet in Damascus in December in order to discuss the political aspects of cooperation. The prime ministers of Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are also expected to have a summit in İstanbul in January and then continue with regular meetings at least biannually.

Cooperation among these four countries is intended to develop a long-term strategic partnership and to create a zone of the free movement of goods and persons among these countries. This cooperation aims to establish the Middle East's version of the European Union. The economic cooperation will be based on free trade agreements, which have already been signed, though the one between Turkey and Lebanon has yet to be finalized.

However, visa requirements have been abolished and have already gone into effect. Abolishing visa requirements is also a reflection of Turkey’s newly adopted policy towards Lebanon; namely, that it is not “a far away island with many problems, but a close neighbor whose stability is of utmost importance.” Turkey is hoping economic cooperation and prosperity will serve to increase stability in the region, especially with Lebanon being on the brink of renewed civil strife.

The government came to brink of collapse in Lebanon due to fierce discussions on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), a UN-backed court established to investigate and issue a verdict on the assassination of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who was killed in 2005. The STL indictment is expected to point to rogue elements within Hezbullah. But the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbullah claims the STL is already politicized and is asking the Lebanese government, of which Hezbullah is a part, to withdraw its support from the STL. Syria and Saudi Arabia, both of whom back the current prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, the son of Rafiq Hariri, are trying to find a solution to the stalemate. The US and France are also backing Hariri and frequently express their support for the STL.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoğlu is also in close contact with his counterparts, both in the West and in the Middle East, in order to find a solution to the stalemate. But sources in Ankara told Today’s Zaman that “a magic formula has not been discovered yet.”

Lebanon both distant and immediate neighbor of Turkey

Turkey’s policy on Lebanon is based on keeping an equal distance from all political groups, which often change allies. Ankara gives utmost importance to the sentiments of the Lebanese people.

Ankara is very pleased with the positive image Turkey has in the eyes of the Lebanese, and not only aims to improve it further but also hopes to counteract the effects of any negative perceptions the people may have of Turkey. In the past, Turkish and Lebanese relations were not very strong, and Turkey’s hesitation to engage with its Middle Eastern neighbors was a factor in this. Another source of this negative image was the presence of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) bases in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

Turkey is contributing to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was enlarged after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. Before sending its troops to Lebanon as an indication of its newly adopted Lebanese policy, Turkey obtained the consent of all political groups in the country, including Hezbullah, and ensured that its units’ mission would never be assigned any combative tasks. Turkey supported the establishment of the STL from the beginning with the intention of not only bringing the assassins of the late Prime Minister Hariri to justice but to help bring an end to the culture of political assassinations in the country.

However, Ankara now thinks imposing “either stability or justice” on Lebanon is an unwise act, and says it is noticing that outside forces insisting on “justice” have applied double standards when it comes to international justice. For example, these actors do not show the same persistence when it comes to Turkey’s efforts to seek international justice for the freedom flotilla in which nine Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli commandos in May in international waters as the flotilla was on its way to the besieged Gaza Strip carrying humanitarian aid.

Ankara thinks any formula that will prevent a possible outbreak of violence in Lebanon is preferable and that a framework which emphasizes dialogue and diplomacy in order to gain some time for the postponement of the STL’s indictment is a viable option, but because it is one that is not accepted by all parties, Ankara did not move to push for the postponement of the indictment.

Turkey is also trying to send a different massage to its Western allies regarding Iranian-Lebanese relations and telling them that seeing Iran as a destabilizing factor in Lebanon is not always correct.

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