Monday, July 1, 2013

Israel and Turkey - Looking Toward the Future




by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in the original עברית
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)

Two days after Obama left Israel, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart, RecepErdoğan, to apologize for killing Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara event. The apology put an end to a long period - some may say too long - of a frozen relationship between the two countries that in the past were, and today could still be much warmer, especially in light of the significant changes occurring in the Middle East that began with the jolt called the "Arab Spring".

Clearly, Netanyahu's apology is the result of Obama's visit, but it can be interpreted in two different ways, as a minor, marginal scenario, or, in contrast, an important and major scenario, but since I was not invited to be present in the closed meetings between Obama and Netanyahu, I am deliberating between the two scenarios, and I would thank any of my readers who can enlighten me on the subject.

 The Minor Scenario

The minor scenario suggests that President Obama was displeased with the tense relations between Israel and Turkey, because this tension encourages radical groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who feel that Turkey stands behind their battle - open or covert - against Israel. Worse, the break-off in communications between the Israeli and Turkish governments does not allow them to share intelligence and work together regarding the deterioration in Syria, and as a result of this it is not possible to form a coherent and correct regional operational policy regarding the stores of chemical weapons which could fall into the hands of jihad organizations that might use these weapons against Turkey, Israel or any other country in Europe or indeed any place in the world, including the United States.

If there is any chance that the United States might be harmed, President Obama - and rightfully, to a large extent - wants to minimize this danger. And if this necessitates pressuring Netanyahu into apologizing to Erdoğan then he should apologize. The national security of the United States is more important to Obama than the honor of Netanyahu or Israel's interests, so he wrung out a promise from Netanyahu that "this week" the matter will be closed. And since Netanyahu didn't want his apology to be open to public debate in the weekend newspapers, he waited to phone Erdoğan until Friday at twilight, after he and his sons returned from the ritual bath and before Sarah lit Sabbath candles*.

Obama has another reason to want to negotiate peace between Netanyahu and Erdoğan, which is his desire to appear as someone who is capable (Yes, we can) of bringing peace between two sides in the Middle East who are quarreling with each other. And we must mention here that two days before Netanyahu rang Erdoğan, Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), announced a cease-fire after thirty years of struggle and forty thousand Kurdish and Turkish casualties. My heart tells me that Ocalan's announcement did not come out of nowhere, but rather after the United States had softened up Erdoğan in order to arrive at an agreement with Ocalan. It could also be that Netanyahu's apology was the sweet reward that Obama awarded to Erdoğan for his agreement with Ocalan.

Another sweet reward relates to Erdoğan's ego, because he has been trying for some time to change Turkey's governmental system into a presidential type, like that of France or the United States. Since he cannot be a candidate for prime minister again, he would like to be elected as president, and if he can change the form of government to a presidential type, he could continue to rule the country as president. But for this, the constitution must be changed, and this is accomplished by way of a public referendum. His success in wringing out an apology from Israel improves his public image and increases his chances to make the changes to the constitution by referendum.

Now, after he has killed two birds in one week, Obama can declare to all, that he who can succeed to make peace between Israel and Turkey and between Turkey and the Kurds can repeat his success between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, between the Kurds and the Arabs, and even between Israel and the Palestinians. John Kerry will be the one who remains in the region to run between the different sides and work out the details after President Obama has drawn the general lines of peace in the Middle East. This is how Obama can justify the Nobel Peace Prize that he received in the beginning of his first term, and Iran can wait as an unrelated matter. This describes the minor scenario.

The Major Scenario

Everything said above is relevant and correct, but it is only a small part, the first chapter, of a much broader story, the conclusion of which is totally different: to prepare the ground for an attack against Iran. From the strategical point of view, Obama is trying to distance the fire - in all senses - from the Persian Gulf in order not to harm the allies, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and especially their oil installations. We all remember the Iranian warnings that if one of the Gulf countries is used as a base for an attack against Iran, it will be the end of that country. The people of the Gulf, as well as the Americans, take the Iranian warnings totally seriously. They are trying to remove the Gulf's oil and gas reserves as far as possible from the fire, if only to protect the global energy market from experiencing great shocks.

On the other hand, for the past two years the Turkish government has been increasingly hostile toward the regime of the Ayatollahs in Iran, because they are Shi'ites and also because of the massive support that Iran gives to the "butcher of Damascus" who ruthlessly slaughters the Sunni citizens. Turkey's desire to teach the Ayatollahs a lesson is increasing, and with it the Turkish fear of massive Iranian military involvement in Syria. The power vacuum that has been created in recent months, and especially in recent weeks in Syria might cause Iran to use religious and sectoral arguments - protecting the Shi'ite and 'Alawite minority and Shi'ite holy places in Syria - as a pretense for massive military involvement in the disintegrating state.

Even today, the air space of Iraq serves as a channel for the free flow of weapons, ammunition and fighters from Iran to Syria. Erdoğan and his friends in NATO know that Iran's ground forces - the armored and the mechanized divisions and the heavy artillery - lack only the decision of Ayatollah Khamenei in order to move westward, via Iraq and with  full agreement of Iraq's government, of course, and for Iran's regular forces to take a stand in full battle against the Sunni jihadist gangs that are flooding Syria. Turkey fears this possibility, because the Iranian military will crush the Free Syrian Army like a mosquito, and will bring an end to the Sunni citizens' dreams to free themselves from the dictatorship of the infidel 'Alawites.

Moreover, Turkey fears the Iranian race to the bomb, because this will drastically destabilize the balance of power in the Middle East and will further spread Iranian influence, including to the Shi'ite and 'Alawite minorities inside Turkey itself. A nuclear Iran would be able to apply pressure on the Kurds of Northern Iraq as well, concerning the oil that they export via Turkey, for which Turkey charges large sums of money for its transfer through Turkish territory to ports on the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkey, Israel and the United States see eye to eye regarding the issue of the Iranian danger, and all three of them have arrived at the conclusion that they must begin to act in close cooperation, in intelligence gathering on Iran, analysis of information and turning it into an operational plan that the three of them - along with the forces of other NATO members and additional states in the region - must begin, and very soon, to formulate.  According to the grand scenario, Turkey will be the main base from which the international coalition forces will launch the air and ground action against Iran, with the possibility that additional neighboring states on Iran's northern border - Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan - will also take part in the operation.

In preparation for the planning and execution of such a measure, a few small problems must be solved. Tension between Israel and Turkey over a trivial matter like the Mavi Marmara must make way for close cooperation, and also the Kurdish area of Southeast Turkey must cease making war against the central government, because this area will serve as the jumping-off point from Turkish territory into Iran. According to the grand scenario, Obama's visit in the region was intended to lay down the political and diplomatic basis for the military action against Iran, to convince hesitant citizens and doubtful politicians to join the plan, and to give the regional leadership as well as the peoples of the region the feeling that the United States is determined to progress in its plan and to succeed in it. John Kerry remains in the region in order to tie up the political strings, and people of the American military and intelligence will work with their local colleagues on the formulation of  operational plans.

"You are not Alone"

It could be that in Obama's speech for the Israeli students in the Binyanei HaUma Convention Center, there were a few hints of the grand scenario. In this speech there were a number of sentences and phrases that have been said in other contexts, but it is also possible to interpret them as a preparation for the future. (The quotes from the text appear in the Haaretz site, and my additions are in parentheses):

"we also know that here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle, just like previous generations. It means us working through generation after generation on behalf of that ideal of freedom". .. "people deserve to be free in a land of their own. " ...  "Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa." ... "Now, I stand here today mindful that for both our nations, these are some complicated times. We have difficult issues to work through within our own countries, and we face dangers and upheaval around the world." ... "no matter how great the challenges are, their idealism, their energy, their ambition always gives me hope." ... "And given the ties between our countries, I believe your future is bound to ours. " ... I’d like to focus on how we -- and when I say "we," in particular young people -- can work together to make progress in three areas that will define our times -- security, peace and prosperity. Let me begin with security. I'm proud that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. Never. More exercises between our militaries; more exchanges among our political and military and intelligence officials than ever before; the largest program to date to help you retain your qualitative military edge. These are the facts. These aren't my opinions, these are facts. " ... "We will continue to cooperate closely to guard against that danger. I’ve made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. The world is watching; we will hold you accountable.

The Syrian people have the right to be freed from the grip of a dictator who would rather kill his own people than relinquish power. Assad must go so that Syria’s future can begin (and not as an Iranian satellite). Because true stability in Syria depends upon establishing a government that is responsible to its people -- one that protects all communities within its borders, while making peace with countries beyond them. " ... "These are the things I think about when I think about Israel’s security. When I consider Israel’s security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel’s destruction. It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat.

But this is not simply a challenge for Israel -- it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States. A nuclear-armed Iran would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism. It would undermine the non-proliferation regime. It would spark an arms race in a volatile region. And it would embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.

That’s why America has built a coalition to increase the cost to Iran of failing to meet their obligations. The Iranian government is now under more pressure than ever before, and that pressure is increasing. It is isolated. Its economy is in dire straits. Its leadership is divided. And its position -- in the region, and the world -- has only grown weaker.

I do believe that all of us have an interest in resolving this issue peacefully. Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Peace is far more preferable to war. And the inevitable costs, the unintended consequences that would come with war means that we have to do everything we can to try to resolve this diplomatically. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That’s what America will do, with clear eyes -- working with a world that’s united, and with the sense of urgency that’s required (Israel must not take any steps by itself).

But Iran must know this time is not unlimited. And I’ve made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained, and as President, I’ve said all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

For young Israelis, I know that these issues of security are rooted in an experience that is even more fundamental than the pressing threat of the day. You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected the right of your nation to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all that they had to make a place for themselves in this world. Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Your children grow up knowing that people they’ve never met may hate them because of who they are, in a region that is full of turmoil and changing underneath your feet.

So that’s what I think about when Israel is faced with these challenges –- that sense of an Israel that is surrounded by many in this region who still reject it, and many in the world who refuse to accept it. And that’s why the security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important. It cannot be taken for granted.

But make no mistake -- those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. And today, I want to tell you -- particularly the young people -- so that there's no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America -- (In Hebrew) Atem lo levad. You are not alone. "

According to the sense of the hints, Obama's words on the missiles from Gaza are intended to give the words a context that is not Iranian, as a camouflage for the real thing. This of course, is a long-range interpretation, and considerably biased, to the speech that parts are quoted from here are taken out of the context in which they were spoken. It could be that this is "wishful thinking" but it could also be true. As I said, I don't know what is cooking behind the scenes, and it could be that everything that is said in this article about the "grand scenario" exists only in the imagination of this writer.

Good luck and success to Obama, Netanyahu and Erdoğan...



*Translator's note: The meaning of "Friday at twilight, after he and his sons returned from the ritual bath and before Sarah lit Sabbath candles" is the latest possible moment before the Sabbath, when the use of electronic communications is prohibited by Jewish law. The sentence is to be taken tongue-in-cheek, since the Netanyahu family is not known to be especially rigorous in adhering to Jewish law. 




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Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.

Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
 

 
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.

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