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Foreign minister Abdullah Gül
Foreign minister Abdullah Gül

Sending Turkish troops to Lebanon

Foreign minister Abdullah Gül
Foreign minister Abdullah Gül

The possibility of a Turkish contribution to the UN’s peacekeeping force

Interesting article in today’s Sabah:

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül met the families of the Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah and Hamas during his visit to Israel on Sunday, it has emerged.

During the meeting, the families asked the foreign minister for his help, saying that they simply did not know whether their sons were even alive. Mr Gül promised to do all he could to help.

This is interesting for both domestic and international reasons. On the home front, it should go a little way towards dispelling some of those absurd conspiracy theories about undercover AKP plans to establish an Islamic republic in Turkey. Surely it wouldn’t go down too well back home at the hotbed of imminent revolution if the de facto number two of the governing party meets a number of Israeli families out of his own free will?

Conspiracy theories aside (but just for now, these do need to be addressed before long), there is a more substantial, international reason why Mr Gül’s meeting is so important. Israel’s government is delighted that the closest thing they have to a Muslim ally has taken things to a personal level. They strongly support a Turkish contribution to the upcoming UN peacekeeping force and, according to Sabah, say it wouldn’t be too bad if they did a spot of hostage-rescuing too.

If you look just a few inches up on that same newspaper page, you see a wider splash about Syria’s support for a prospective Turkish force in southern Lebanon.

Now, if two countries on opposite ends of the spectrum – Israel and Syria – support Turkish presence, surely this is a very strong reason why troops should be sent? Turkey is a unique position: Syria rejects Israeli or American troops in southern Lebanon, Israel rejects troops from any country that does not recognise it, whereas Turkey is one of the few countries that enjoys support from both sides – enthusiastic support, at that.

The AKP government should overcome domestic opposition and pass a bill in parliament that sends a Turkish peacekeeping force to Lebanon. It won’t be like the Iraq vote of 2003, when MPs denied US troops entry to Iraq from the north. The benefits this time around are clearly there.

Israeli hopes of a rescue operation may be a bit far-fetched, but the other benefits are not. Sending troops will be good for Turkey and good for the Middle East.

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