Turkey Crisis Provokes Israeli Army Anger at Lieberman

The crisis between Turkey and Israel deepened on Monday, allegedly provoking severe tensions between the Israeli officer corps and the far right-wing Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman. There was also disarray among the officers over an allegation by one general that the Middle East might be moving toward comprehensive war, an assessment that was firmly rejected by the Israeli chief of staff and the minister of defense.

The Turkish government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan froze military trade and sent more naval vessels in the the eastern Mediterranean on Monday. Erdogan will go to Egypt next week to improve ties with its new revolutionary government. There is some talk of Erdogan visiting Gaza while in Egypt, but the trip may not materialize, especially if Egypt’s transitional government is [not] open to the idea.

Erdogan’s ruling AK Party includes among its constituencies Turks who are interested in Muslim politics. But AK is not a fundamentalist party and has not sought Islamization of Turkish law.

Israeli politicians and officers are usually adept in presenting a united front to the outside world, even though Israeli society is, like any other, divided socially and politically. But the Turkey crisis and the upheavals in the Arab have provoked open divisions that offer a window on the fissures in the Israeli elite.

PM Erdogan is angry that Israel refuses to apologize for killing 9 Turks on the Gaza aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in May, 2010. The Israeli government maintains that commandos landing on the ship were within their rights to enforce the naval blockade against the Gaza Strip, which they construe as an enemy state. But the rest of the world almost uniformly views Israel as the Occupying Power for the Gaza Strip, insofar as it controls the Strip’s land borders, sea and air space.

Since Israel refuses to allow the Palestinians to have a state, it is hard to see how they can call Gaza an enemy state. Occupying powers operate in international law under the Geneva Convention of 1949, which forbids punitive measures against the civilian population of the sort that Israel routinely takes against Palestinians in Gaza (they are not allowed to export anything they produce or make, which has thrown most of them into horrible poverty and food insecurity).

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the top Israeli officers are saying that the government should offer an apology, “even if it is undeserved,” but have been rebuffed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman. The Turkish and Israeli militaries have had close ties in recent years. Al-Hayat says that Avigdor Lieberman of the extremist Yisrael Beitenu (“Israel is our Home”) Party thinks the Turks can be dealt with through international pressure.

Lieberman is known for his hard line stances and tendency to far rightwing extremism. He is said to have once joked about Israel bombing the Aswan Dam and washing the Egyptians into the Red Sea should Egypt take a negative stance toward Israel. He has also campaigned to deprive the 20% of the Israeli population that is Arab of their Israeli citizenship. Lieberman has been accused of harboring racist sentiments toward the Muslim peoples that surround Israel in the Middle East.

Not only is the officer corps apparently blaming Lieberman rather than the Turks for the severity of the crisis, but so too is opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party. She points out that Kadima had tense moments with Turkey, but always managed to find a way to smoothe over disputes, and she rejects the Likud-led coalition’s assertion that the rift with Ankara is “inevitable.” Kadima is a splinter of the Likud Party that rejected Greater Israel expansionism to some extent and favored relinquishing much Palestinian territory.

Meanwhile, the recent comment by Major Gen. Eyal Eisenberg that the Middle East might be moving toward comprehensive war was rebutted by his bosses, Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Beni Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak’s subordinate Amos Gil’ad, head of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Security Department, underlined that there is no coalition of Arab armies, and there is no current significant threat of terrorism inside Israel. Barak added that Israel can live even with a nuclear-armed neighbor (apparently uncharacteristically, Barak wants to downplay the putative threat of Iran’s civilian nuclear research program.

Barak has in the past admitted that an atmosphere of high tension between Israel and Middle Eastern regional powers could cause substantial Israeli out-migration.

“Israeli Military Sources Deny Regional War Likelihood; Gil’ad: Situation Best Ever
Israel — OSC Summary
Tuesday, September 6, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Summary…

Gil’ad: Eisenberg’s Statement Simplistic, Incorrect

State-funded but independent Jerusalem Voice of Israel Network B in Hebrew reports at 0400 GMT: “IDF and defense establishment sources are saying that there is no situation assessment anticipating a comprehensive war. Their comments came in the wake of the remarks of Major General Eyal Eisenberg, the Home Front Command chief, to the effect that the likelihood of a comprehensive war is rising. Speaking to our army and defense affairs correspondent Karmela Menashe, a defense source wondered whether it was necessary to warm up the arena. He added that it is untenable that an IDF general would make comments that would force the army to rephrase his remarks.

“Chief of Staff Beni Gantz said yesterday in closed discussions that he is not certain the Arab Spring is bringing a true spring, and that it may bring a winter or a fall. A military source noted that Gen Eisenberg may have been referring to the chief of staff’s statement. He stressed that Lt Gen Gantz did not speak of a growing likelihood of a comprehensive war.
“Amos Gil’ad, head of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Security Department, said in an interview with the Voice of Israel this morning that the comprehensive war statement was simplistic and incorrect. According to him, our security situation has never been better: There is no domestic terrorism, there is deterrence both in the north and the south, there is no coalition of Arab armies, and the region’s regimes are stable. Nevertheless, processes are taking place that deserve our attention.

“Gil’ad further told our correspondent Arye Golan that Turkey has not dissociated itself from Israel. He stressed that, contrary to reports, the Israeli military attache in Turkey remains in his position. He noted that Turkey stands to lose a lot if it pursues an extreme course of action, and this aspect is the space in which Israel should maneuver.”

Baraq: Comprehensive War Not Expected in Near Future, Nonconventional Weapons Unlikely

Commercial Jerusalem Channel 2 Television Online in Hebrew reports at 0656 GMT: “Defense Minister Ehud Baraq said in the course of a tour this morning that ‘there is no fear of a comprehensive war in the near future’ and that ‘the national situation assessment has not changed.’ Baraq made these remarks just hours after an opposite statement was made last night by Home Front Command Eyal Eisenberg.”

“Baraq added: ‘We are prepared for any eventuality, but it seems unlikely that any of our enemies will use nonconventional weapons, if they possess any, in a war against Israel.'”
“Political and defense sources were angry with Eisenberg’s remarks. ‘He revealed classified material that had been presented in a situation assessment only yesterday,’ they told the IDF Radio this morning.” Eisenberg Qualifies Statement

Amir Buhbut’s 0730 GMT report in leading news site Tel Aviv Walla! in Hebrew adds that “Gen Eisenberg this morning asked for a meeting with Chief of Staff Beni Gantz ‘to explain his gloomy forecasts’ concerning the growing likelihood of a comprehensive war.” “Eisenberg stressed that a comprehensive war may break out only if the most extreme scenarios materialize.”

22 Responses

  1. The EU should follow Turkey and break ties with Israel
    Turkey is a major European state, an important member of NATO and a future member of the EU. Israel is a Middle Eastern state which is, for the present, allowed a trading concession with the European Union by virtue of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. But Israel is and has been in breach of the human rights provision of that agreement for some time and there is the possibility that it will be abrogated.
    That Turkey is breaking all military ties with Israel, who is a non-member of NATO, makes good sense, and better security for Europe. The EU should follow suit

    • Seconded.

      I’m an American. There have been any number of wars in which in which Turkish troops have fought side by side with our own.

      What has the US ever gotten out of its relationship with Israel?

      • Robe3rt Gates agrees with you. He says Israel is an ungrateful ally who is now pushing for the US to attack Iran.

    • Most citizens of the EU wouldn’t agree that Turkey is any sort of European state, period. Even many senior EU politicians, such as Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy etc.

      I also suspect many Turks don’t want to join the EU, perhaps the only ones that ever did were the Istanbul elite & the military officer class. Turkey’s economy is growing faster than any of the EU members, if it gets burdened with EU rules & regulations that will inevitably slow down. And Turkey has far more influence in the region as a sovereign nation than it ever would as an EU member, where it would be under the collective thumbs of Barroso, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Merkel, Sarkozy, Cameron and their like.

      Both the USA and the ME (including Israel) would be best served by Turkey remaining a predominantly Muslim sovereign democratic nation state. I just don’t understand why the USA is so keen to shoehorn Turkey into the EU, I can only conclude its elitist groupthink.

    • Newsflash: Turkey is nowhere close to becoming a member of the EU, and both Germany and France have essentially said that they will object to its accession. Its problems with Cyprus and the Kurds are an ongoing mess, which makes EU membership an even more remote possibility.

  2. “Kadima is a splinter of the Likud Party that rejected Greater Israel expansionism to some extent and favored relinquishing much Palestinian territory.”

    Kadima is also the party that launched two wars on Lebanon and Gaza, hardly peaceniks.

    • Which goes to show you just how far to the right the Likud has moved.

  3. Israel: “According to him, our security situation has never been better”. And yet the siege of Gaza continues, presumably being necessary to (and helping to provide) Israel’s security. And the small tiff with Turkey is not to be worried about. Oh, happy Israel.

  4. Funny that you mention Lieberman. For an American, it is hard to imagine a Secretary of State who calls for the expulsion of hispanics from the United States to “preserve the white nature of America”.

    But this is exactly what the US is supporting in Israel and what Congress bows to subserviently when Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks.

    It is a sad sad state of affairs indeed. And I don’t see a way out.

    • No, but there are a lot of white Americans who would vote for a President who could find a way to do such a thing without them having to face any consequences.

  5. The Turkish-Israeli spat has many levels, but for me the elephant in the room is the embarrassing inability of the U.S. to solve problems in the Mideast. With Israel firmly committed to a hardline stance and Washington wavering (regardless of the party in office) between violence and incompetence, any other regional leader worth his salt will be looking for opportunities to fill the Mideast leadership vacuum.

    Bin Laden tried to offer a radical, Sunni fundamentalist Islamic solution; Ahmadinejad is offering an Iranian nationalist plus radical Shi’i fundamentalist solution; Erdogan is offering a moderate reformist Islamic solution. Given the history of the past decade, this may be the best offer from the Mideast that Americans will get for a long time.

    • The standing of the Obama administration in Turkey has not suffered, so far, from the current problems between Turkey and Israel. President Obama is still quite popular here.

      But there is some dissatisfaction due to the seeming lack of interest in and investigation of Furkan Dogan’s death.

  6. JC –

    How much of this crisis is driven by the Turkish desire to achieve regional supremacy or perhaps enhanced prestige in the Arab World? The Turkish government certainly is no friend of Kurdish Muslim minorities in Turkey and so there expressed concern for Palestinian Muslims seems self-serving. With a buffoonish Israeli leadership, it seems like low-hanging fruit to pick on Bibi and Lieberman.

    • Actually, a lot of Kurds voted for the AK Party. Either it was just that much better than the old nationalist-at-bayonet-point parties, or they thought that re-emphasizing Islam over Turkish ethnicism would be a net gain. Or it’s just that a rising tide lifts all boats, as we used to say in America when we actually still had a rising tide.

  7. “PM Erdogan is angry that Israel refuses to apologize for killing 9 Turks on the Gaza aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in May, 2010.”

    This sentence seems to imply that all of the nine who were killed on the Mavi Marmara were Turkish citzens and that PM Erdogan is only pursuing the rights of Turkish citizens.

    Eight were Turkish citizens and one, Furkan Dogan, was a U.S. citizen.

    Furkan never took Turkish citizenship and lived in Turkey as a resident alien.

  8. @Joe from Lowell wrote “There have been any number of wars in which in which Turkish troops have fought side by side with our own.”

    Turkey did fight in the Korean War. But, in WW1 it was on the other side, in WW2 it was neutral, it was a no show in Vietnam, it did the least possible in 1991 Gulf war, it did even less in Kosovo, it was obstructionist in 2003 Gulf war, it did make a belated naval support effort in Libya. It does have troops in Afghanistan but they are there on a strictly no combat basis. So your “any number of wars” is by my count, precisely one.

    No doubt the actions of Turkey’s government do enhance its prestige in the Arab world. But just as importantly they’re calibrated to enhance its prestige amongst the Turkish electorate. The only thing protecting Erdogan from the Istanbul elites & the Turkish military is the Turkish people.

  9. “With a buffoonish Israeli leadership, it seems like low-hanging fruit to pick on Bibi & Lieberman”. Interesting description! It would appear that the phrase refers to the two individuals, the Israeli Parliament, or both. Either way, they are in the position to cause deep trouble in the M.E., especially with the backing of the U.S., which I would say that the stated phrase describes what is taking place today, in Washington D.C., as well.

  10. IDF officers siding with Turkey over Israel? All I can imagine is that those officers’ involvement with Turkey included weapons sales, which in turn would lead to lucrative post-military careers with the Israeli arms industry. No Turkey means canceled contracts.

    I can’t imagine that those officers are actually capable of overcoming Israel’s increasing tunnel vision and recognizing the danger that Turkey could turn its strategic position into real leverage in realigning the Mediterranean and possibility popping the cork and letting in the Russian Navy. Remember the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, aka The Neocon Express? Ceyhan is in Turkey. The grand US strategy was going to send a flood of Central Asian oil to Turkey, so a friendly Turkey meant oil to Israel forever. Now all these plans are going awry.

  11. The U.S. has not had a policy in its interest since President Eisenhower. Because Congress has acted as an extension of the Israeli Knesset no President has been able to articulate a foreign policy that would benefit both the U.S. and Israel. The Israelis just don’t seem to know that time is not on their side.

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