Posted by Joshua on Saturday, January 16th, 2010
The West has remained surprisingly silent in the Israel-Turkey spat. Erdoghan has won boisterous praise in the East, and few reprimands in the West for his tough criticism of Israel. Western politicians from one end of the political spectrum to the other are silently, satisfied to see Israel’s leadership brought up short for continuing to implant its citizens in the heart of what should be a future Palestinian state, making a mockery of Western efforts to jump-start negotiations, and ignoring regional peace offers.
Syria is also the beneficiary of this new Obama strategy – which might be called benign neglect.
Obama is powerless to change America’s relationship with Israel. He continues to provide it with more and better arms. He cannot stop it from acquiring ever more Palestinian land and progressively whittling away at the prospect of a Palestinian state, but he can stop the US from acting as an overt cheerleader and advocate of this usurpation.
In the case of Syria, initial efforts to “remake the relationship” have been abandoned. No ambassador has been named. Sanctions have been reaffirmed, most strikingly with the recent refusal to allow Sarkozy to supply Airbuses to Syria causing serious ire in the Élysée Palace. All the same, Syria enjoys a period of delightful benign neglect from the White House. It is not being abused in the press. It has been allowed to reassert itself in Lebanon. Washington made no effort to stop Hariri’s visit to Damascus. Saudi Arabia has warmed up to Assad; the most recent visit by Assad to Riyadh lasted several days rather than the customary one. Turkey and Syria are still in the heady blush of young love after a century of estrangement. Obama has allowed the Iran deadline to slip by and is still holding out hope for a deal. The latest excuse not to do anything is that the Green movement is gaining traction and will take over somehow, relieving Washington of the task straightening out Tehran – something it is completely powerless to do. Rather than admit honestly, that Washington no longer has the authority in the international community or on the battle field force compliance from Iran, Washington prefers bluster. In some part, this is to placate pro-Israel sentiment among Americans.
Obama and his team undoubtedly understand that benign neglect is the only option they have to change the relationship with Israel. As Turkey assumes regional leadership, it will become a powerful and confident new voice in international affairs. It knows how to strike the correct note of moral disapproval without indicating anti-Semitism or enmity toward the Jewish state. Istanbul has a good track record toward Israel to prove its bona fides.
Israel will eventually discover a more dangerous and unbowed set of leaders emerging in the international arena who will not flinch at the notion of criticizing it. A post-holocaust order holds some surprises for Israel.
As Syria knits together a strategy for renewal, as Iran tip-toes through the minefield set for it by the Bush administration, and as Obama resists conflict with the Israel’s opponents, Authorities in Jerusalem will discover a more challenging environment in which it will have fewer defenders.
Turkey and Israel: The End of the Affair?
By Pelin Turgut / Istanbul
Time Magazine, Friday, Jan. 15, 2010
Not a month goes by without a new chapter in the increasingly bitter diplomatic sparring between traditional allies Turkey and Israel. Relations took a downturn a year ago, when Turkey’s government forcefully criticized Israel’s military assault on Gaza, and have since lurched from bad to worse. “One road accident, two accidents, three … all of a sudden it starts to look as if they’re not accidents — the road itself is the problem,” says Turkish foreign-affairs commentator Cengiz Candar. “The Turkey-Israel love affair is over.”
This week’s drama was provoked by a bizarre p.r. stunt on the part of Israel’s right-wing Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Ayalon called in Turkey’s ambassador to Israel and staged a demeaning photo op calculated to humiliate the Turkish diplomat as a rebuke for negative portrayals of Israel on a Turkish TV drama. Only Ayalon’s last-minute apology prevented the resulting furor from causing a diplomatic breakdown. (See pictures of heartbreak in the Middle East.)
But further rows seem inevitable. Turkey’s newfound ambition to become a major regional power broker has seen an energetic forging of ties with Arab and Central Asian countries. Asserting a foreign policy increasingly independent of Washington, Turkey has not hesitated to criticize Israel’s actions against the Palestinians, defend Iran’s nuclear program and expand economic ties at a moment when the U.S. seeks to isolate Tehran, and repair relations with Syria. Israel’s leaders warn publicly that they believe Turkey is moving into the region’s Islamist orbit, and hard-liners within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government appear to have been spoiling for a fight.
In the past six months, Turkey has scrapped visa requirements for Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and signed a raft of agreements with each country designed to improve trade and cultural exchange. Since publicly chastising Israeli President Shimon Peres over Gaza at a conference in Switzerland last January, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become a hero on Arab streets, and the latest diplomatic spat with Israel won’t do his popularity any harm. Beirut daily Al Akhbar’s headline on the Ayalon apology story praised “Sultan Erdogan” and exalted that “Israel understands only Turkish.”
But while Erdogan may appear to be striking out independently of his country’s NATO partners, it’s notable that his outbursts critical of Israel draw little comment from the U.S. and Europe. That suggests “there is a sense that Erdogan is saying things that someone needs to say to Israel,” says a European diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. Just last month, Erdogan left an upbeat meeting with President Barack Obama, rode to a downtown Washington hotel and gave a speech lambasting Israel for “inhuman” deeds in Gaza. “The timing doesn’t suggest someone who is unaware of what he’s doing in an international context,” says Candar. “The West is relieved to have someone taking on Israel. They’ve outsourced the job to Erdogan. That’s why, when he does the cost analysis of saying these things about Israel, he has the added confidence of knowing that Turkey won’t face recrimination from its Western partners either.”
Turkish-Israeli relations are still anchored by military cooperation, as they have been since the 1950s. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is due to visit Ankara next week, hoping to reinforce strategic ties and negotiate deals for Israel’s military industries, which already have contracts worth more than $1 billion to supply Turkey. Meanwhile, a Turkish delegation is currently in Israel to wrap up the purchase of 10 Heron drones. “Defense ties have become the safety valve for bilateral relations,” says Candar. “They prevent a complete breakdown. That doesn’t change the fact that there has been a significant structural shift in the relationship, and it is open to future crises.”