As an American, I’m deeply relieved that Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is highly unlikely to be president of the United States. As a blogger who occasionally enjoys a bit of satire, I have to say it is a real shame. Sometimes I spend an hour or so scouring for what news I want to blog about. All you’d have to do is just follow this guy around and report whatever came out of his mouth and it would be endlessly entertaining (at least until he provoked someone to rain down nuclear missiles on us just to shut him up).
For the blogger-satirist, the good news is that the rest of the Republican carnival talks nearly as crazily about foreign policy, with the exception of Ron Paul, as Perry. They all want to go to war on Iran, put US troops back into Iraq, and abdicate on Palestine to right wing Israeli policies. Incidentally, Perry’s hatchet job on Mitt Romney resembles that of the Neoconservatives on Paul (see also this article.
Here was the gem of last night’s debate at Myrtle Beach, sponsored by Fox Cable News and Wall Street Journal (i.e. by Rupert Murdoch, who doesn’t deserve more respect than Donald Trump but has nevertheless managed to get it despite his unhealthy interest in the messages on your home phone).
BAIR: Governor Perry, since the Islamist-oriented party took over in Turkey, the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent there. Press freedom has declined to the level of Russia. The prime minister of Turkey has embraced Hamas and Turkey has threatened military force against both Israel and Cypress. Given Turkey’s turn, do you believe Turkey still belongs in NATO?
[Dear Fox News: A cypress is a kind of tree. The Mediterranean island you are looking for is Cyprus.]
Bair’s charges against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey are mostly pure propaganda. Things like the murder rate of women don’t change in accordance with which party is in power! Turkey has not threatened military force against Israel– rather the Israeli military attacked a civilian Turkish aid ship in international waters in an act of piracy and killed 9 people including an American citizen, to which Turkey replied with a demand for an apology. Erdogan has urged a secular constitution on Egypt and has not “embraced” Hamas in the sense of agreeing with its fundamentalist ideology. He has simply declared that Israel’s policy of placing the whole civilian population of the Gaza Strip under severe embargo is illegal and immoral, and he has encouraged aid volunteers to get civilian supplies to Gaza’s children. (Fox Cable News and some of the Republican candidates feel about Palestinians pretty much the way Nazis felt about Jews before the Holocaust– i.e. that it was better that they be stripped of citizenship and kept stateless and downtrodden).
The only thing Bair got right is the point on press freedom. Turkey has jailed over two dozen journalists in the past year, which is very worrisome. I’m not sure, however, that the situation of journalists in Turkey is worse than in Putin’s Russia. Indeed, my impression is that there is substantially more press and political freedom in Turkey than in the Russian Federation at the moment. ( @JosephFCrater pointed out on Twitter that two dozen journalists have been arrested this fall by American mayors like New York’s Michael Bloomberg for covering Occupy Wall Street).
So then the would-be tippler-in-chief delivered himself of his informed response:
PERRY: Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by, what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes. Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is not even fundamentalist, much less terrorist. Its members want a multicultural Turkey that makes it possible for observant Muslims to be full members of the nation and play public roles. Compared to Rick Perry’s Dominionist wing of Christian fundamentalism which resembles Khomeinism in wanting a religious theocracy, Erdogan’s AKP is positively Voltairean!
It hasn’t committed terrorism against Turkish citizens, as Perry weirdly implies. It has acted as a parliamentary party.
Turkey has peace-keeping troops serving alongside US ones in Afghanistan, and in danger of being killed by Taliban, and it is a profound insult to reward their friendship with the US by this kind of trash talk. Turkey responded to President Obama’s troop escalation in Afghanistan by more than doubling the size of its contingent, and it has an important troop training effort for the Afghanistan National Army.
Turkey has been targeted by al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Ironically, the United States, by invading Iraq and dissolving the Iraqi army, turned the north of that country into a safe harbor for Kurdish guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), designated by the US as a terrorist organization. Some 5000 PKK fighters were based in US-occupied Iraq, and on the American watch, they sneaked across the border to kill dozens of Turkish troops (which is to say, NATO troops) and to commit acts of terrorism in Turkish cities. By the rules of the George W. Bush administration, US-occupied Iraq was harboring terrorists and could have been held accountable by Turkey. (Turkey would be better off if it gave more rights to its Kurdish citizens and moved toward ethnic as well as religious multiculturalism, and the Turkish military has a lot to answer for from the dirty war against the Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s. But the PKK has often behaved despicably and surely is the terrorist in the story at this moment.)
Undeterred by his complete ignorance, Perry continued flapping his lips:
PERRY: And you go to zero with foreign aid for all of those countries. And it doesn’t make any difference who they are. You go to zero with that foreign aid and then you have the conversation about, do they have America’s best interest in mind? And when you have countries like Turkey that are moving far away from the country that I lived in back in the 1970′s as a pilot in the United States Air Force that was our ally, that worked with us, but today we don’t see that. Our — our — our president, has a foreign policy that makes our allies very nervous and emboldens our enemies. And we have to have a president of the United States that clearly sends the message, whether it’s to Israel, our friend and there should be no space between the United States and Israel, period.
PERRY: And we need to send a powerful message to countries like Iran, and Syria and Turkey that the United States is serious and that we’re going to have to be dealt with.
As for Israel, it is an informal US ally and has often been helpful, but it isn’t bound by treaty to fight to protect the US from forces that attack it. In contrast, Turkey as part of NATO is under Article Five of the NATO treaty, which says that an attack on one is an attack on all. Turkey fought with the US in Korea, and is helping out with peacekeeping and training in Afghanistan. Which war was it that Israel fought alongside US troops?
Ironically, Perry is doing what he accuses Obama of– making an ally nervous and uncertain. Whereas Obama hasn’t done that, at all.
Among the flashpoints in the area has been the confrontation between Iran and the United States at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iran conducted a 10-day military exercise there, warning of its ability to close off the waterway to world trade, thus depriving it of one-sixth of petroleum supplies.
But an unstated element in this Iran-US confrontation is the US backing for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both Sunni powers, against Iran. Bahrain’s citizen population is 58% Shiite, after tens of thousands of Saudis, Pakistanis and other Sunnis were granted citizenship by the Sunni monarch of the islands. The Bahrain monarchy has cracked down hard on the protest movement seeking a constitutional monarchy. Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 troops to help the Bahrain king, Sheikh Hamad b. Isa Al Khalifah. The United States has a naval base in Manama that serves as the HQ of the Fifth Fleet, which is charged with keeping the oil flowing from the Persian Gulf.
Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu got where he is by advocating a policy in Turkey of “good relations with neighbors.” It was this policy that doubled Turkish trade with the Middle East after 2002, and which led to the reemergence of Turkey as an influential country in the region, after long decades in which it had turned almost exclusively toward Europe.
Turkey is a Sunni-majority country and the current Justice and Development Party government has strong Sunni Muslim constituencies, including the Naqshbandi Sufi order, which is important in Iraq and Syria. But the government has striven, despite significant tensions, for correct relations with Iran. Turkey imports natural gas from Iran and the two countries did more than $15 billion in trade with one another in 2011, up 55% over the previous year. Turkey, like South Korea, is seeking an exemption from upcoming US sanctions on sales of petroleum and gas via Iran’s central bank. Its Halkbank handles India’s purchase of Iranian petroleum.
Sunni-Shiite tensions have flared in Iraq. On Wednesday, a series of bombs went off in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, killing 23 persons; the bombers clearly want to reignite Iraq’s sectarian civil war. At the same time, a political crisis continues to unfold. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashimi of involvement in terrorist attacks, one of them aiming to assassinate al-Maliki itself. Al-Hashimi fled to Kurdistan and sought to have any legal proceedings against him take place there. An Iraqi court has instead ordered him to Baghdad. He is likely to flee the country rather than face al-Maliki- appointed judges. Al-Maliki’s charges against Hashimi have caused the largely Sunni Iraqiya Party to suspend its participation in his government of national unity. Al-Maliki blames Saudi influence for Sunni Arab violence against Shiites in Iraq.
There is also a latent Sunni-Shiite dimension to the ongoing crisis in Syria. On Wednesday, some 26 persons died across the country as security forces continued to snipe at demonstrators. Some 19 of those deaths occurred in Homs, where there were big anti-government rallies. The ruling Baath Party is dominated at its upper echelons by members of the heterodox Shiite sect of the Allawites, whereas most of the urban centers that have come out against the regime are Sunni in character, and the Muslim Brotherhood plays a significant role in organizing them.
Turkey has taken a strong stand against government repression of the demonstrators, and has come out strongly against the Allawite president Bashar al-Asad. The Justice and Development Party’s Sunni constituencies in Anatolia may be among the drivers of this stance in favor of the Syrian National Council. It represents and about-face; the party came to power in 2002 determined to repair relations with Damascus, in which objective it largely had succeeded before last spring’s uprising. Turkey had done some $2 bn. a year in trade with Syria and was working on a free trade zone with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Davutoglu is likely attempting to mediate between the US and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Iran on the other. Unlike the former, Turkey is not spoiling for a fight. Davutoglu’s brilliant strategy of expanding trade with the Middle East has been deeply inconvenienced by the troubles in Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s truck trade with the Arab world went through Syria. Al-Arabiya reports in Arabic that Turkey is planning to ship the trucks to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, from which they can take their goods anywhere in the Arab world. But the shipping costs will obviously reduce profits.
Turkish trade policy, which depends on harmonious relations among neighbors, impels it to attempt to tamp down sectarian conflict. Iran and Saudi Arabia, as oil states, do not absolutely require regional trade for their prosperity, and so they have the independence to conduct a struggle with one another if they (unwisely) so choose.
Whatever Davutoglu’s specific mission, which has not been revealed, his general emphasis on tamping down tensions couldn’t be more essential.
My list of challenges last year this time more or less nailed it, especially my concerns about the Mubarak era ending in Egypt. Many of the dangers to which I pointed still exist, of course, but a whole host of new difficulties has emerged.
5. The compromise reached in Yemen is unacceptable to many reformers. Although Ali Abdullah Saieh says he is stepping down in favor of his vice president, he seems likely to remain the power behind the throne. He essentially has amnesty for his crimes through 2011. Yemen even in the best of times faces severe problems of water and resources and extreme rural poverty. Muslim radical movements are significant in the rural areas. Instability in Yemen can affect security in the Red Sea, southern Saudi Arabia, and even the US itself, as with the bombing plots originating there. The US should pressure Saleh to make the transition to another leader quicker and less chaotic.
4. Pakistan’s politics is crisis-prone, but this year governance reached new lows of efficiency. The possibility that president Asaf Ali Zardari attempted to reach out to the US military for help with curbing his own officer corps, dubbed “Memogate” in Islamabad, has made relations between the civilian government and the military “frosty.” The US Congress is withholding military aid to Pakistan this year, which has already begun driving Pakistan closer to China. Flashpoints include hot pursuit at the AfPak border, US drone strikes on militants in the Federally Administered Tribal areas, NATO transport of goods through Pakistan to Afghanistan, and covert Pakistani support for the Haqqani Network, which the uS calls a terrorist organization. Bad relations between the US and Pakistan could negatively affect the course of the Afghan War and presents problems for US policy in South Asia as a whole.
3. The crisis in Syria remains grave. It can only end in one of three ways: The regime succeeds in repressing the reform movement, 2) the reform movement comes to power, or 3) the regime makes enough changes to allow a slow transition away from one-party authoritarianism. In the meantime, destabilizing hostilities could break out, with resultant instability in Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
2. The elections in Egypt are producing a parliament strongly dominated by representatives of political Islam, whether the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. The Muslim Brotherhood is making it clear that they want to submit the 1979 Camp David Peace treaty to a national referendum. A Muslim Brotherhood prime minister or president is most unlikely to be willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or to continue to help impose a blockade on the Palestinian civilians of Gaza. The Egyptian military is still ultimately in control, and it does not want hostilities with Israel, so that this change is unlikely to go beyond producing tensions. But if the Israelis believed that the Egyptians were lax in their inspections at the Rafah checkpoint at Gaza, they might well bomb it, risking killing Egyptian troops. How such actions could spiral out of control is something no one can predict. In any case, rising Egyptian-Israeli tensions for the first time since the early 1970s present a severe challenge to US policy, which attempts to maintain good relations with both.
1. Iran presents the greatest challenges to Washington policy, mainly because Washington insists on building up Iran as a threat. The Iraq of PM Nouri al-Maliki has been moving closer to Iran, both because al-Maliki owes his position as prime minister to Iran, and in part because Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain has alarmed Shiite-ruled Baghdad. The low-key war between the US and Iran could be ratcheted up by legislation just passed by Congress that targets the Central Bank, based in Tehran. The US is increasingly blockading Iran, an act of war in international law, and the possibility of escalating tensions leading in unexpected and tragic directions cannot be discounted.
The Kurds in Northern Iraq, a virtually independent state in the 1990s and until present, gained eve more autonomy with the collapse of the Iraqi state in 2003. Ultimately some 5000 Kurdish guerrillas from the Turkish side of the border, who were in trouble with the Turkish security forces because of their activism, took refuge in villages like Qandil in Iraq. Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani and his Peshmerga paramiitary winked at their terrorist past and continued activities over the border in eastern Turkey.
From 1980 through the late 1990s, the Turkish military had pursued a brutal dirty war against the then-Marxist Kurdistan Workers Party (Turkish acronym PKK). The latter pushed a separatist agenda on behalf of the Kurds of eastern Anatolia, who comprise about 10 percent of the Turkish population (and the poorest segment of it). Kurds speak an Indo-European language akin to the Persian in Iran and are spread among 5 countries in the Middle East. Kurdish nationalism, if it realized its goal of establishing a Kurdish state, would dismember Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and to a lesser extent Azerbaijan. The Turkish that is the official language in Turkey is an Altaic language related to Mongolian in east Asia. The PKK envisions a Kurdish withdrawal from Turkey, though few Turkish Kurds in opinion polling say they favor that option– though Turkish Kurds often do feel discriminated against and want more rights.
On Thursday morning, some 500 Turkish troops moved 5 miles into Iraq. At the same time, Turkish warplanes bombed suspected PKK outposts in villages in Dohuk and Sulaimaniya provinces, causing fires to break out and destroying property, and impelling villagers to flee.
The incursion is not so far as large as that launched in similar circumstances in 2008. Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani had condemned the PKK attacks as a plot against Turkish-Kurdish brotherly relations, but objected to the Turkish invasion of Iraq. Barzani actually has fairly good relations with Ankara, and Turkey is a major source of investment in Iraqi Kurdistan. But the PKK safe havens are a continued irritant in relations that could at any moment lead to the outbreak of a wider war.
The Bush administration, which ended up being weak in Iraq, never made any arrangements for what might happen to Kurdish-Iraqi and Kurdish-Turkey relations after the US withdrawal. The US depended too heavily on Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq to be in a position effectively to pressure Irbil. This weakness got worse as Obama withdraw tens of thousands of US troops from Iraq, losing virtually all leverage. Washington is therefore bequeathing to an unstable region even more instability.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta , on a visit to Israel and Palestine before heading to Egypt, publicly upbraided the Likud government of Israel for having become isolated diplomatically in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, and warned direly that brute military force would not be enough to provide for Israel’s security.
“It’s pretty clear, at this dramatic time in the Middle East when there have been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that is what has happened…”
“The important thing there is to again reaffirm our strong security relationship with Israel, to make clear that we will protect their qualitative military edge… As they take risks for peace, we will be able to provide the security that they will need in order to ensure that they can have the room hopefully to negotiate.”
Panetta said he was aware of that Israel had more and better weapons than its neighbors… “but the question you have to ask is – is it enough to maintain an military edge if you are isolating yourself diplomatically?”
“Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength…” he said.
Panetta is clearly concerned at the bad relations between Israel and Turkey, and the increasingly rocky relationship between Israel and revolutionary Egypt, where angry demonstrators invaded the Israeli embassy and chased the ambassador out of the country. The Israeli ambassador to Jordan also had to leave briefly, because of the threat potentially posed by anti-Israel demonstrations in Amman.
The Obama administration, for which Panetta is speaking, is deeply frustrated with blustery Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his far right cabinet, including thuggish foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman (a former Moldovian club bouncer).
But it is most likely that the Obama administration has other reasons for pressuring Netanyahu at this juncture. Pro-American Arab allies throughout the region are facing widespread protests and even revolutionary movements– in Bahrain and Yemen most prominently, and to a lesser extent in Jordan and Morocco. The closeness of those governments to Washington (and by implication to Tel Aviv) is among the strikes against them in Arab public opinion, because of the execrable treatment by Israel of the stateless, often homeless Palestinians. While pro-American oil states like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have tried to bribe their populations into quiescence, so far with some success, the Obama team must be frantic that Netanyahu’s provocations will help produce even more turmoil in the Arab world.
If Saudi Arabia blew up over the royal family’s close ties to Washington, the price of petroleum would rise astronomically. Saudi Arabia produces 9.7 million barrels a day of the 88 million barrels a day of petroleum pumped globally. Take that off the market (the revolution in Libya took its entire oil production offline) and there would be a global crisis of Depression-era proportions. Although oil futures prices and supplies have softened in the past quarter (down 17%) on expectation of Libya’s production coming back online and continued weak economic growth in Western Europe and North America, supplies are still tight by historic standards. You take 11% of world production off the table, and the price rise wouldn’t be serial, it would be exponential. (I.e., the price wouldn’t go up 11%, it would go up to like $500 a barrel, compared with $79 now for West Texas Crude).
The stability of pro-American Arab regimes in this time of enormous instability depends in some important part on public anger about treatment of the Palestinians. So to have Netanyahu and Lieberman caroming around making inflammatory statements and adopting belligerent policies, and blowing off Obama’s peace process is rather inconvenient. An announcement by the Palestine Authority that there was a prospect of progress on Palestinian rights through negotiations with Israel would be very, very helpful right about now.
But what does Obama (and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia) get? Announcements of settlement expansions on the West Bank, and Israeli air strikes on Palestinians in Gaza.
Netanyahu has refused to negotiate with the Palestinians in good faith, and his adventurism against the Gaza aid flotilla of 2010 created a diplomatic crisis that continues today. After twisting the arms of Western European allies like Germany to oppose the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations, the Israelis deeply angered Germany and others by cheekily announcing that they will expand settlements yet again. The ostensible argument for opposing the Palestinian UN gambit was that it would make bilateral negotiations more difficult. But wasn’t that precisely what settlement expansion would do?
The Netanyahu government has unnecessarily set a course toward worsening relations with Turkey by refusing to apologize for killing 9 Turkish aid workers (one an American citizen) on the Mavi Marmara in late May of 2010. United Nations investigators found disturbing evidence of the use of excessive force by Israeli commandos. Turkey also objects to the Israeli economic strangulation of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, such that it prevents them from exporting any of their products and so has reduced them to poverty, with 56 percent being food insecure. Such blockades of staples imposed on non-combatants, including children, in an occupied territory are illegal in international law, not to mention inhumane and just plain creepy. I mean, what kind of a person keeps children living on the edge or prevents their parents from putting a roof over their heads? (An Israeli blockade to keep weapons from coming into Gaza would be legal and understandable, but since 2007 they’ve gone way beyond that policy into a very dark area of the soul.)
Turkey wants the blockade on Palestinian civilians dropped, and so does the vast majority of the world (talk about diplomatically isolated!) After the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, who may have gotten kickbacks to do favors for Israeli policy, the new foreign minister, Nabil Alaraby, called the Gaza blockade “shameful.” (Alaraby has gone on to become secretary-general of the Arab League). Egypt shares the Israeli concern about weapons being smuggled into Gaza, but 99 percent of Egyptians object to the rest of the blockade.
The increasingly hostile rhetoric directed at Israel by the Turkish government over these issues, along with the popular protests against it in Egypt (where, if public opinion becomes important, relations are likely to turn even more chilly than those with Turkey– though likely the peace treaty is not in doubt).
Throwing fuel on the flames has been the Netanyahu government’s arrogant refusal to freeze settlements on territory in the West Bank and around Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians, while negotiations proceed as to their ultimate disposition. In short, Israel is determinedly gobbling up the West Bank lands it militarily occupied in 1967, and the Palestinian Authority now says it just isn’t going to bestow legitimacy on this vast land-grab by engaging in mock negotiations that are doomed to leave the Palestinians with less and less territory– even while the negotiations are going on!
It is illegal for an Occupying power to flood the occupied territory with its own citizens, under the Geneva Convention of 1949. While an occupation can be legal, the extent of the violations Israel has committed against the 1907 Hague Convention and the 1949 Geneva Convention are so extensive as to have rendered their continued occupation of the Palestinians criminal at its core.
While the Baath government of Syria has been hostile to Israel and has supported small local anti-Israel paramilitaries like those of Hizbullah and Hamas, it hasn’t taken military action against Israel since 1973 and it intervened in Lebanon in 1976 and after to prevent the Palestinians and their allies from coming to power there. In short, because it is invested in order, the Baath has probably been less dangerous to Israel in recent decades than would be a populist regime of the sort that might emerge if President Bashar al-Asad is overthrown. And a revolution in Syria is not impossible, though it faces an uphill battle.
Even Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq has taken a hard rhetorical line against Israel recently, warning that it might find ways of benefiting from Arab turmoil. The popular political forces in Arab Iraq, whether Sunni or Shiite, are virulently anti-Israel, contrary to what the Neoconservatives used to promise Tel Aviv. Denunciations of Israel are now issuing almost in tandem from Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut.
And that’s another thing. Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s obstreperousness are an opportunity for Iran to gain influence in the Arab world, and helps bolster Iran’s defense of the Bashar al-Asad government from its domestic critics.
Israel’s weird policy of illegally colonizing the West Bank and of keeping the Palestinians of Gaza under civilian blockade is damaging to Israelis. But they can probably get away with it.
My guess is that the Obama administration’s fear is that pro-American Arab regimes can’t get away with it.
Even though two dramatic moments envisaged by Erdogan’s staff– a side trip to Gaza and a speech in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo– have been cancelled, the visit is nevertheless an important one. Erdogan will explore trade deals and military cooperation with Egypt.
Since it came to power at the polls in Turkey in 2002, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party has innovated in much expanding Turkish trade. In 2002 only about 12 percent of Turkey’s external trade was with the Middle East. Now the percentage is about a quarter. By making peace with the Arab world, the Turkish government opened it to commerce on an unprecedented scale.
Justice and Development was able to accomplish this opening to the Arabs because it is more oriented to Turkey’s (Sunni) Muslim latent identity than to the strident Turkish nationalism of the officer corps, followers of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If Turkey is primarily about about being Turkish, then it will likely have ethno-nationalist conflicts with Arab neighbors such as Syria, as were common with the Turkish army dominated Turkish politics. But if Turkish identity is about being a moderate, modern kind of Muslim that values multi-culturalism and aspires to be European, then there is no real reason for conflict with Arab neighbors.
Ethnic nationalism can make for bad relations with neighbors if it is taken too far. But a Christian Democrat or Justice & Development kind of party can sidestep thorny issues of ethnicity and racial discrimination.
Not only has Turkey moved away from a wounded Turkish secular nationalism, but Egypt has moved away from a naive Arab nationalism. With the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime, Egypt is groping toward a new, multi-cultural politics that makes a place for Muslim religious parties and for secularists alike. Many young Muslim Brothers speak favorably of a “Turkish model.”
The combination of trade expansion, “harmonious relations with neighbors,” and emphasis on a moderate Muslim identity instead of a strident Turkish nationalism have allowed Turkey to reestablish strong ties with the Arab world. Most of the Arab world had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire, with its capital in Istanbul. Arabs and Ottoman Turks most often went their own ways during World War I, and at the end of the war the Ottoman Empire collapsed altogether. There were bad feelings between Turks and Arabs. As a result, Israel sought out Turkey as part of its policy of allying with non-Arab countries in the region.
Now that the Turkish government does not define itself primarily in ethnic terms, Turkey is no longer behaving like an outsider in the Middle East. Like the Arabs, it cares about the fate of the displaced, stateless Palestinians. But Turkey likewise is committed to parliamentary democracy, giving it a great deal in common with Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
All Turkey would have to do is to double its trade with Egypt, and it will have replaced its trade with Israel, more or less. Israel refuses to apologize for killing 9 Turks, one of them an American citizen, during a raid in May 2010 on an aid ship aiming to relieve the blockaded civilian population of Gaza.
Israel is by its intransigence driving Turkey into the arms of the Arabs, and the only victim visible on the horizon is the Israelis themselves.
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.
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…
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.”