Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Turkey and the Nuclear Issue

As part of a series looking at how different countries might contribute to the elimination of nuclear weapons, Washington's Henry L. Stimson Center has just published a report that includes a chapter on Turkey's complicated calculus with regards to its own possible development of a nuclear weapons program (there are also chapters about Brazil and Japan). Written by Turkey expert Henri Barkey, the chapter makes for very interesting reading.

Barkey argues that if Iran does develop its own nuclear weapons, sparking off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, then Turkey will not be able to resist the domestic and foreign pressures pushing it towards obtaining nuclear weapons of its own. The report can be downloaded here (pdf).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Patriot Games, Pt. II

A bit more to follow up my previous post about Turkey's plans to purchase it's first missile defense system (possibly American-made Patriots), a story which I think is going to develop in interesting ways, particularly in light of Iran's recent missile tests and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's upcoming visit to Tehran.

First, from a new Eurasianet analysis piece of mine:
Speculation is building in Turkey over whether Ankara will play a part in a revamped US missile-defense network, one designed mainly to contain Iran. Conjecture is being fueled by two recent developments: the Obama administration’s decision to scrap the construction of an anti-missile shield in Central Europe, and Turkey’s own announcement that it intends to purchase its first missile-defense system.

Although it’s not clear if Ankara’s plan to buy a missile defense system is being coordinated with the United States, experts say the purchase is an indication that -- despite its warming relations between Turkey and Iran, and Turkish officials’ promotion of a diplomatic solution to the question of Iran’s nuclear program -- Turkey is not taking any chances regarding its neighbor’s intentions.

"There is an unstated rivalry [between Turkey and Iran]. They are two powerful states in the region and each one has its own strategy and Turkey now has one of playing an active role in the region," says Sami Kohen, a columnist with the daily Milliyet and a veteran observer of Turkish foreign policy.

"Turkey thinks that there are a lot of common interests with Iran. There are improving trade, economic, and energy ties. There has been a period of normalization, which has now been followed by a period of closer ties," Kohen continued. "Nevertheless, people in responsible positions who want to see Turkey grow as a key regional player believe there is a rivalry with Iran."

If it wants to play the part of regional power-broker, added Kohen, "Turkey can’t lag [militarily] behind other countries in the neighborhood - Iran on the one hand and Greece on the other…."

….Although Turkish officials to date have kept their distance from American plans to introduce a more fluid European-based missile defense plan, experts say Ankara could benefit by being involved.

Even though the Obama administration has abandoned plans to place an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, US officials have made it clear that they intend to deploy such a system elsewhere, in a location better able to cope with the rapidly escalating Iranian threat.

"The whole plan is going on, but in a different version, and it gets more interesting now with countries like Turkey possibly [getting] involved. It seems like the scope of the system is being increased," said Lt Col Marcel de Haas, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

"The question is if [placing Patriot missiles in Turkey is] going to be part of a theater missile defense?" he adds.

"If that is the case for Turkey -- in this whole expanded scheme of missile defense -- it is quite interesting. I say it strengthens the Turkish position in NATO, and you can also consider it part of European defense, which could possibly bring Turkey closer to the European Union."

Other observers have suggested that placing Patriots in Turkey could also bolster Turkish-US relations, which have gone through several strained periods in recent years.

"Poland’s loss may be Turkey’s and America’s gain: Turkey is the only NATO country that borders Iran, and US-Turkish cooperation on Tehran is key to Washington’s success in tackling Iran’s nuclearization," Washington-based analyst Soner Cagaptay recently wrote in an online forum hosted by the New York Times.
The German Marshall Fund, meanwhile, has just published a piece on the subject, by Ian Lesser, one of the sharpest Turkey analysts out there. From Lesser's analysis:
The Turkish public remains relatively relaxed about Iran’s nuclear program. But Turkey’s defense planners cannot be so sanguine about the implications of proliferation around the region. Turkey has much to lose from the prospect of a nuclear or near-nuclear Iran, not to mention the potential for multiple new nuclear arsenals. Turkey is vulnerable to the cascading effects of nuclear and missile proliferation over the wider neighborhood, from the Aegean to South Asia, including effects on conventional military balances and doctrine. More dramatically, Turkey, with its Western security ties, is exposed to the retaliatory consequences of American, European, or Israeli action against Iran or other proliferators on Turkey’s borders. The physical vulnerability of Turkish cities, as well as Incirlik airbase and oil terminals on the Mediterranean, coupled with growing Turkish unease about the credibility of NATO guarantees, give Ankara a strong interest in strategic reassurance alongside enhanced defenses….

…. In theory, the new U.S. approach to missile defense in Europe offers Turkey the prospect of improved relations with Russia, greater consensus on containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a more effective response to immediate threats to Turkish territory, and renewed reassurance from NATO allies. But capturing these theoretical gains and avoiding perceived threats to Turkish sovereignty will require much closer coordination between Ankara and its allies.
Lesser's entire piece (pdf) is worth reading.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dances With the AKP

Just what is it about Turkey and Kevin Costner? He may be remembered in the United States for “Dances With Wolves” and several other hit films (as well as for “Waterworld” and “The Postman,” two of the most spectacular cinematic duds ever), but he’s certainly no longer the star he once was.

Not so in Turkey, where the Costner magic still seems to be at work. It all started two years ago when Costner and his “rock” band, Modern West (don’t tell me you’ve never heard of them!), came to play a benefit concert in Istanbul for a children’s aid group. During the visit, it was even suggested that perhaps Costner could play the role of Ataturk in a proposed biopic about the secularizing founder of the modern Turkish state. High praise, indeed!

Earlier this year, meanwhile, Turkish Airlines deemed Costner’s star bright enough to recruit him for a massive (and strangely ineffective) ad campaign promoting the airline’s new and improved first class service. Soon his face was plastered on billboards all over Turkey, telling Turks that now they, too, can “feel like a star.” (You can watch the English-language television commercial, where Costner works his charm on a lithe flight attendant, here.)

But now things are getting even more serious. According to reports in the local press, Costner is now getting involved in Turkish politics. In a Friday report in the English language Today’s Zaman, we are told “American actor and director Kevin Costner [has] joined the ranks of celebrities supporting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's democratic initiative aimed at addressing various problems, including the Kurdish issue.” According to the article, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had actually invited Costner to attend the party’s upcoming congress, but wasn’t able to make it. Still, according to a statement released by party deputy chairwoman Edibe Sozen (a former professor of “communications,” it should be noted), Costner “conveyed his support for the democratic initiative because it shows the value Turkey attaches to human rights.” (A brief about this in the semi-official Anatolian Agency news service makes it sound like the invite was only issued after Costner himself contacted the AKP to give his unprompted support for the government’s new initiative.)

The Turkish government has been busy laying the groundwork for the unveiling of its highly-anticipated “democratic initiative,” which is mostly aimed at dealing with the long-standing Kurdish problem. A big part of laying that groundwork has involved meeting with civil society groups and other political parties. But now it looks like the government is pulling out the big guns by unveiling “celebrity” endorsements for the initiative. Of course, the ultimate endorsement of the initiative would be the one given by the Turkish people (Kurds, in particular), but having Kevin Costner on board certainly doesn’t hurt.

(UPDATE -- Speaking of celebrity endorsements, the Turkish papers have been running front page headlines about U2's decision to add an Istanbul leg to their current world tour. According to Hurriyet, Egemen Bagis, the government minister who is handling Turkey's European Union membership process, even promised the band that if they come to the country, he will arrange for them to play a gig on one of the bridges crossing the Bosphorus, which would allow them to play at the spot where Europe and Asia "meet." The last ones to try this bi-continental stunt were a pair of top-ranked Chinese and Austrian ping pong players, who played a 30-minute match earlier this summer in the middle of one of the Bosphorus bridges. Motorists in the city of 18 million were not amused.)

(UPDATE II -- The Costner story keeps heating up. Now Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) is crying foul over Costner's purported support for the government's democratization initiative. According to news reports, CHP leader Deniz Baykal, speaking at a "grape festival" in Antalya, had this to say: “Who on earth are you? What is it that you know and speak? If they put a map in front of you, you wouldn't be able to locate Şırnak [a city in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast]. You mind your own business."

Baykal even suggested that the government is using Costner's "endorsement" in a deceptive manner. “The prime minister is hiding the truths from the public regarding the opening. He has a project on his mind and plans to make it accepted slowly in the face of possible reactions from the nation. Is it the prime minister’s job to deceive people?” he said.)

(photo -- Kevin Costner and Turkish president Abdullah Gul during a 2007 meeting in Ankara.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Birthday

This blog was launched on this day one year ago (with this post). Thank you to all the other Turkey bloggers who were very supportive at the start and to all you regular readers out there for your comments and interest.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Patriot Games

There's a certain feeling of Cold War déjà vu in Turkey these days. Back then, NATO ally Turkey was seen as a front line state in the standoff against a dangerous nuclear power and was even home to American missiles (the intermediate range Jupiters, quietly removed as part of the deal made to end the Cuban missile crisis). Cut to 2009, when western ally Turkey is again being viewed by some as a front-line defense against a (potential) nuclear power -- this time around Iran -- and might soon be home to an American-made long-range missile defense system.

The story has been developing in a very interesting way. It started with a report a few weeks ago in a Polish publication that claimed that the U.S. is scrapping its controversial European-based missile defense plan (true), to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic, and was going to place the system in Turkey instead (still not clear). Turkish officials quickly denied the Polish report, but soon after it emerged that the Pentagon had recently informed Congress that it plans to sell to Turkey the Patriot missile defense system. To clear things up, the Turkish military than announced that it is considering spending up to $1 billion for its first long-range missile defense system, but that it is also looking at Russian and Chinese weapons.

The question being asked in Turkey, of course, is in which direction will those defensive missiles be aimed? Iran might be the most obvious answer, but Turkish diplomats have gone out of their way to say this isn't so. "It is wrong to draw links between the Patriot and Iran," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told CNN Turk last week. "We neither have a perception of threat from any of the neighboring countries, nor have any military or security related preparation against them."

So is Turkey planning to spend $1 billion to defend itself against a non-existent threat? I doubt that's the case. What seems to be happening here is another expression of the difficult line Ankara has to take when it comes to its relations with Iran. On the one hand, Turkey has significantly improved its relationship with Iran in recent years, something that is reflected in the two countries' growing trade relations and in the fact that Turkish leaders were among the first (and only) to congratulate Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on his recent controversial reelection. On the other hand, despite the smiling faces and the warm language being used in both capitals, Ankara and Tehran are regional rivals and Iran's nuclear program is as worrying for Turkey as it is for other countries in the region.

"There is an understanding between the United States and Israel and Turkey on the perception that Iran may become a threat if it develops nuclear weapons. There is also a common understanding with the rest of the world that [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmedinejad is becoming a dangerous leader with his very provocative and aggressive statements," said political analyst Sami Kohen.

"As far as that is concerned, there is common ground," Kohen added. "But the question is how do you deal with the problems, and that’s where the differences are...."

....Turkey and Iran share a 310-mile (499 kilometer) border, and both Turkish and Iranian diplomats like to point out that the two Muslim neighbors have been a peace for centuries. But Turkish analysts say that peace is based on a delicate balance of military power -- one that would be upset if Iran obtained nuclear weapons.

"The bottom line is that Turkey can’t accept an Iran with nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapons-capable Iran, or a nuclear-armed Iran is not in the interest of Turkey," says Mustafa Kibaroglu, an expert on nuclear non-proliferation issues at Bilkent University in Ankara.

The increasing international pressure on Iran comes at a time when the Turkish government has been working hard to improve relations with its neighbors, especially Iran. The last few years have seen Turkish-Iranian trade grow dramatically, reaching $4 billion in 2005. In 2000, bilateral trade turnover stood at roughly $1 billion.

The government’s emphasis on trade, says Kibaroglu, has helped create a division among Turkish policymakers on how to tackle the Iran question. "I don’t think officials agree among themselves what to do," he says. "The perception of the government, as far as I can see, doesn’t fit the perception of the military. The military is more skeptical of Iran’s intentions when compared to the politicians who run the country."
(Hurriyet Daily News's Barcin Yinanc covers this dilemma in a recent column, which you can read here.)

Turkey is clearly trying to strike a very delicate pose here, working to defend itself against an "unspecified" regional threat while maintaining that it doesn't feel threatened by any of its neighbors. An interesting political stew is being cooked up -- what's not clear is just who is stirring the pot.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Death By Taxes

Is the Turkish government trying to break the back of the media group that has served as its most vocal opposition by slapping it with a whopping $2.5 billion tax penalty? I’m not an accountant, but there certainly seems to be something suspicious about the record-breaking fine levied on the Dogan Media Group, which publishes several powerful newspapers (Hurriyet, Milliyet and Radikal among them) and owns CNN-Turk, the Turkish-language version of CNN, among other channels. The penalty (which equals the entire value of the company) comes on the heels of a $500 million tax fine issued against Dogan a few months ago. According to Turkish tax officials, Dogan has engaged in deceptive practices and has failed to pay tax on income earned through the sale of a company and through the transfer of shares between companies within the group itself. According to the Dogan Group, everything has been above board and the government, through its taxmen, is out to get it by twisting the country’s financial rules to suit its purposes.

First, the background: Over the last few years, the Dogan group’s media outlets have emerged as perhaps the most vocal critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). At one point, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even called for his supporters to boycott the group’s publications. Interestingly, relations between the AKP and the media group turned especially sour after some of the Dogan publications aggressively reported on the gross financial misdeeds committed by the German branch of a Turkish Islamic charity with close ties to the AKP leadership.

So, is the Turkish government involved in a Putin-esque attempt to silence one of its critics, as part of a larger plan to create compliant media? That’s certainly the view of the people working for the Dogan Group. In a column in Milliyet, Fikret Bila, the newspapers’s Ankara representative and one of Turkey’s leading veteran journalists, says this:
This never, ever seen arbitrary tax penalty is beyond imagination. Without any legal ground, such a practice could not be welcomed anywhere in the world. It was not even seen during the Ottoman Sultanate. Even sultans did not exploit state authority so much.
These two consecutive tax levies are nothing but “tax terror” against the company owner, Aydın Doğan. Motives are not only picking up back-taxes. This is obvious. They are not only additional income for the Treasury. That’s for sure. But it is rather confiscation of Doğan companies. These two fines clearly show that the purpose is Mr. Doğan’s bankruptcy.

What is saddening here is that tax officials committed misconduct. Unfortunately tax officials vulnerable to such temptations are casting shadows over this well-respected duty.

The Doğan Group will soon be asked to return all its assets to the state due to such astronomically high tax fines levied by the said tax officials. This is obviously a confiscation process, not just tax penalties.
The government, in its defense, says the massive fine is simply the result of tax inspectors doing their job.

There really are no clear-cut heroes or villains in this affair. Aydin Dogan, chairman of the Dogan organization, is not a scrappy newspaperman fighting for his life, but rather a media baron and business magnate who is a kind of Turkish Rupert Murdoch, controlling a very large slice of the Turkish media scene. As Andrew Finkel points out in an excellent recent column in Today’s Zaman:
As Turkey's press baron extraordinaire, [Dogan] openly promoted his allies and intimidated his foes to carve out a world favorable to himself. He confessed as much in an interview I once did for TIME magazine in which he defended his papers' support for a press law which actually restricted freedoms of expression but which allowed his media holding to be more aggressive in expanding his share of the television market. Why, he asked me, should he cut off his nose to spite his face?
Mr. Doğan was used to cultivating governments, and in the days of weak coalitions, his support mattered. Many regard the 1995 general election in Turkey as a proxy fight between the Doğan Group and Sabah rather than the parties on the ballot paper. Before entering a (failed) coalition with Tansu Çiller, Mesut Yılmaz went to consult with Doğan and the two remained allies. This in itself was not a crime (Tony Blair paid similar sorts of homage to Rupert Murdoch). However, the Doğan Group was persistently criticized for rendering paper thin the firewall between editorial independence and financial self-interest. Ertuğrul Özkök, the editor of the flagship Hürriyet newspaper, proudly wore two hats -- that of a journalist and that of a member of the board who could happily negotiate incentives from the government for factories his parent company was trying to build.
That said, the recent developments are troubling. I would be more comfortable with the possibility of the government taking the Dogan Group down if there existed a truly independent press in Turkey that could step in and fill the vacuum that would be created. That, unfortunately, is not the case. As I have written before, Turkey’s deeply domestic political polarization has worked its way into the country’s media. Whatever the sins of the Dogan Group’s outlets, the pro-government press (Zaman and it’s English-language affiliate Today’s Zaman, in particular) have not distinguished themselves in recent years, showing a disturbing willingness to be used as tools for spreading disinformation. (You can check out previous media-related posts here.)

Tax officials and Dogan are apparently entering negotiations that might lead to a settlement of some kind, although it’s hard to imagine the government backing down too far on this. Whatever happens, it certainly could cost Turkey, both domestically and abroad, raising questions of press freedoms in the country. The European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, has already expressed its concern, with a spokesman in Brussels saying the other day: "When the sanction is of such magnitude that it threatens the very existence of an entire press group, like in this case, then freedom of the press is at stake.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

For Turkey and Armenia, a Roadmap's Final Destination Still Unclear

Last week's announcement by Turkey and Armenia that they have agreed on a set of protocols that will lead towards the normalization of their relations and the opening of their borders was certainly welcome news. A previous breakthrough in Turkish-Armenian reconciliation -- last April's vague declaration that the two countries had agreed on a "roadmap" for restoring relations -- quickly fizzled out when Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that there would be no progress on the Armenian front until the "full liberation" of the Azeri territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, occupied by Armenian forces since 1993.

What's different this time around is the release of the detailed protocols, which offer a clear path towards the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border and renewal of diplomatic ties between Ankara and Yerevan. But has Turkey really changed its position on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue? Will the Turkish parliament, which must ratify the protocols for them to take effect (as does Armenia's), support the move without any concrete action on the Nagorno-Karabakh front? From an analysis piece I have up on the Eurasianet website:
The Nagorno-Karabakh peace process is a complicating factor for the ratification of the protocols. Turkey is Azerbaijan’s strongest ally, and Ankara imposed its economic blockade on Armenia in 1993 to support Baku’s efforts to retain control over Karabakh. Currently, Armenian forces control Karabakh, along with large areas of Azerbaijan proper that surround the enclave.

The timing of the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani lands is one of the primary sticking points in the Karabakh peace process.

The announcement last April of the existence of a "roadmap" to renew ties between Turkey and Armenia led to a strong backlash from Baku, and to what seemed like a stepping back from the deal on Ankara’s part.

During a May 14 address to the Azerbaijani parliament, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared "that the border between Turkey and Armenia will be open only after the full liberation of Azerbaijani occupied territories."

Although the recently released protocols make no mention of a linkage between the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties and the Karabakh peace process, "there’s no doubt that the Karabakh issue looms over this reconciliation process," says Kiniklioglu.

"If there is no movement on Nagorno-Karabakh, it will be up to the Turkish parliament to assess the situation and judge accordingly."

Observers believe the Turkish government is now counting on international pressure to increase on Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach some kind of agreement regarding the disputed territory. Although the AKP has a majority in parliament, many observers believe that it will be difficult to ratify the protocols without any movement on the Nagorno-Karabakh front.

"Erdogan obviously feels that Turkey wants to see something on Nagorno-Karabakh before they can take it to parliament. The problem is [that the protocols are] in Turkey’s interest, even if nothing happens on Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey’s overwhelming national interest is in putting this Armenian problem behind it," says Hugh Pope, a Turkey analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
Over at Today's Zaman, the Brookings Institute's Omer Taspinar also takes a look at last week's announcement, saying it might be a bit to early to break out a bottle of "nice Caucasian champagne to celebrate." The protocols being ratified by both the Turkish and Armenian parliaments is a big "if," Taspinar says. Reminding readers that this breakthrough in Turkish-Armenian relations started with Turkish president Abdullah Gul going to Armenia for a World Cup qualifying game between the two countries' national teams, Taspinar writes:
The good news is that the so-called “soccer-diplomacy” is alive and well. The not so good news is that we are still at halftime, and the fanatic supporters of the two national teams can cancel the game or disqualify their teams by throwing sharp knifes on the field....

....So, last week's announcement comes just in time to maintain the façade of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. If no sharp knives are thrown onto the field, soccer diplomacy will inch forward. It may still be too early to speak of a genuine rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan. Yet, no one accuses the two parties of not trying. Negotiations between stubborn neighbors are never easy. But as Winston Churchill wisely said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
So where is this Turkish-Armenian "roadmap" actually going to lead to? The next few weeks will give a clearer indication of that. One thing is clear: the protocols agreed upon by Ankara and Yerevan might not refer to Nagorno-Karabakh, but the "roadmap" for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation leads straight through the heart of that disputed territory.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Middle East's Troubled Waters

Something worth keeping an eye is the growing dispute between Iraq, Syria and Turkey over water issues. All three countries, which share many of the same river borne water resources, are going through a period of decreased rainfall. The difference, of course, is that Turkey is upstream from Syria and Iraq, which means that it controls much of the water that eventually trickles down to the other two countries. Iraq, in particular, is accusing Turkey of taking too much of the water that flows through the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow through all three countries, because of its extensive dam network on the two rivers. (For more on Turkey's dam building project in the southeast of the country, take a look at this Eurasianet piece of mine.)

From a Reuters report on the brewing water crisis:
Turkey has failed to meet a pledge to release more water down the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to Iraq, an Iraqi minister said on Thursday, and called for a coordinated water policy in the region.

In June, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Ankara will guarantee a minimum 400 cubic metres of water per second from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to help its neighbour weather a drought.

But Iraq's Water Resources Minister Abdul Latif Rasheed told Reuters that Iraq was still not getting enough water from Turkey, and said his country's agriculture and drinking water supplies were at stake.

"It isn't happening and we want Turkey to implement that agreement. The amount of water we are getting is fluctuating," Rasheed said on the sidelines of a meeting between Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian ministers to discuss water sharing from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

"The minimum requirement Iraq needs is 600 cubic metres. Sometimes it fluctuates to less than 200 cubic metres. We need two or three times that amount," he said.

Iraq accuses Turkey, and to a lesser extent Syria, of choking the Euphrates with hydroelectric dams that have restricted the flow, damaging the farm sector already suffering from decades of war, sanctions and neglect.

The dispute is a delicate diplomatic issue for Iraq as it seeks to improve ties with its neighbours. Turkey is one of Iraq's most important trading partners.

Turkish officials say flows to Iraq have been decreased by Syria, which also shares the Tigris and Euphrates basin.

But Rasheed said Iraq was getting less water since Turkey began building dams in the southeast of the country under the GAP development project....

....Turkey says it has occasionally limited the flow on the Tigris and Euphrates to less than 400 cubic metres per second to meet its own needs during extremely dry weather.

Syria's Irrigation Minister Nader al-Bunni said his country was "concerned" about the amount of water that flows out of Turkey and said neighbours sharing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers needed to find a solution that is "sustainable from a social and humanitarian point of view".

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their land in Syria, a major farm commodities producer in the region, due to the effects of the country's worst drought in decades.
(You can read the full article here.)

[UPDATE I -- Turkey has apparently now reversed course on the issue, saying it would release more water than the minimum required, although it did not specify how much.)

Water issues and climate change are clearly going to pose major political and diplomatic challenges for the Middle East in the years ahead. For some interesting perspectives on this, take a look at the most recent edition of Bitterlemons, an online roundtable on Middle East issues. One of the articles, titled "Conflict Ahead," by Aharon Zohar, a specialist in regional and environmental planning, offers this warning:
These issues will affect stability mainly in countries and societies that are already destabilized due to ethno-religious conflict, weak economies and environmental decline. One expression of this could be violence between countries rich in water and energy resources and those without, particularly where they share drainage basins of international rivers: Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the Nile; Turkey, Syria and Iraq over the Euphrates; and Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel over the Jordan and its tributaries. Another instance could involve internal destabilization of moderate states like Egypt and Jordan due to water shortages....

....Readiness to counter the consequences of global warming in the Middle East demands coordination and problem-solving on a broad regional level. Yet in view of the hostility and tension that characterize regional inter-state relations, this option appears less likely than specific ad-hoc cooperation between specific countries.
[UPDATE II -- The Washington Post has an interesting piece about some environmentally suspect joint projects Israel and Jordan are undertaking in an effort to deal with their looming water shortage problems. Worth reading.)

(photo -- a dam near Sanliurfa, in southeast Turkey, part of the country's GAP dam and irrigation project. By Yigal schleifer)