Israeli President Shimon Peres’ speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, in which he called for an intervention in Syria to stop the massacres, was very much in line with similar calls that Turkey has been making.
According to the Israeli president the free world “cannot stand by when a massacre is carried out by the Syrian president against his own people and his own children.” These are exactly the sentiments that Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
have been expressing. However, there is a subtle difference in what Peres is sa ying.
Turkey, as well as other countries in the Middle East that want an international intervention in Syria, have generally been looking to the West, and particularly to the U.S., when calling for this. Their criticisms and barbs in the absence of any intervention in Syria have also been directed to the West.
This can be clearly seen in the way Erdoğan blasts the West for supporting France’s intervention in Mali, while it does nothing for Syria. Peres, however, has broached an important subject in this regard.
Why don’t the Islamic countries in the region, including Turkey - even though it is not an Arab country - get organized under the umbrella of the Arab League to lead such an intervention in order to stabilize the situation in Syria?
The question is even more valid when we hear all the remarks, not just from Turkey but also from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, about the sad plight of the Syrian people who are facing the attacks of a brutal dictator while the world watches on.
The non-Islamic world may have its cynical reasons for just looking on, and there is also a valid point Peres made during his speech to the European Parliament. Any intervention by Western forces would be perceived yet again as foreign intervention in the region.
Peres did not say it, but those opposed to such an intervention would also doubtless find an “Israeli hand” in it. So why has the Arab League, as an Arab and Islamic organization, not been more active in Syria?
Of course, officials from the organization would dispute this and point to the many meetings they have had, and decisions they have arrived at on the topic. But it has hardly been in the picture in an effective way in any crisis that concerns the Arab world, generally preferring to hide behind the coat tails of the U.N. or some other international organization, rather than taking a leading role itself.
This is plain to see from the time Saddam first invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and through the two Gulf wars. I have many Arab friends who see all this and look at the Arab League as joke. It is all very well to rail on about the divisions in the U.N. Security Council and bemoan the way this is obstructing meaningful action on Syria, but have Arab countries been any more unified than the members of the Security Council when it comes to international disputes that concern them closely? The answer is, obviously, no.
However, if an organization comprising 22 countries, which is empowered by its members, and has wealth and collective military might, had been more unified and active, it may even have been able to prevent the first and second Gulf wars.
But would Arab countries in the region, most of which are dictatorships themselves, want such an empowered Arab League, which could intervene against them in the future too? The answer, again, is obviously no.
But if Arab countries cannot achieve such unity and use their collective strength in meaningful ways to bring order and stability to their own back yards, it is clear that they will always be led by the nose by others when it comes to regional crises.
All that will be left for them, then, is to complain about “the perfidious intentions of the West,” while they too sit and watch the massacre of innocent people from a distance, blaming others for not doing anything to stop this.
Many in Turkey and the Arab world will be angry with Peres for bringing up this matter, telling him to concern himself more with the plight visited on the Palestinians by Israel. But he has a point.