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     OCTOBER 1998      


The "Silk Road" Strategy

Herbert Zweibon

Congress is now weighing a plan that would encourage the emergence of pro-American regimes in the new republics of the southwestern former Soviet Union. Those nations could play a crucial role, alongside Turkey and Israel, in the future strategic defense of the Free World.

The plan before Congress is known as the Silk Road Strategy Act, or S.1344. It was authored by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who has been a strong and consistent supporter of Israel. The bill's name derives from the fact that in centuries gone by, southwestern Asia was the route by which silk was brought from Asia to the West. The silk route was vital to the economies of the countries involved. The Silk Road Strategy of 1998 is no less vital to the well-being not merely of the new Asian republics, but to other countries in the region that are interested in working together to fend off the advance of extremist Islamic regimes.

The Silk Road Strategy proposes a comprehensive plan of substantive U.S. assistance to eight new countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. They are fragile countries, which could easily fall under the domination of other regional powers--Russia, Iran, even Syria--if the West fails to act quickly. Under the Silk Road plan, the U.S. would assist them in developing free-market, Western-style economies; strengthen their commitment to democracy, freedom, and human rights; and train their military forces to ensure they can defend their countries against possible aggressors.

Who could oppose such an eminently sensible plan? Two special-interest lobbies in Washington, that's who: the Armenians and the Greeks. As traditional enemies of Turkey, these two groups are incensed because they perceive--correctly--that the Silk Road Strategy will significantly bolster the emerging regional strategic alliance that has Turkey as its cornerstone. Both lobbies are determined to do whatever they can to keep Turkey from enhancing its role as a key American ally. The Greeks are still simmering from their unending
dispute with Turkey over Cyprus. The Armenians regard the Turks as their permanent enemies because of the Turkish massacres of Armenians during World War I; the Armenians also harbor understandable grievances over the treatment of Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. As a result, both lobbies are working overtime to kill, or at least drastically weaken, the Silk Road Strategy Act.

The time has come for friends of Israel to flex their own lobbying muscles and get to work to make sure the Silk Road Strategy Act passes, in its original form. Israel's future safety depends on its ability to forge alliances with non-Arab regimes in the area, Turkey foremost among them. To cite just one crucial benefit of Israel's relations with Turkey: when Israel surrendered the Sinai peninsula to Egypt, it sacrificed the vast desert area where its air force did much of its training. Other parts of Israel are so narrow that a fighter-jet can cross them in mere minutes. Today, Israeli pilots train in the air space over Turkey.

The burgeoning relationship between Turkey and Israel will be crucial to Western strategic interests in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The Jerusalem-Ankara alliance will be the new bulwark against radical Islamic expansion in the region. The new southwest Asian republics can, with U.S. help, significantly strengthen this alliance. Without taking sides in the Greek-Turkish dispute over Cyprus, and without in any way minimizing the Armenians' pain over what they suffered at Turkish hands 80 years ago, friends of Israel must recognize that the Silk Road Strategy for defense of Israel and the Free World must today take priority.

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.


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October 1998               - 1 -               Outpost


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