Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Middle East is Changing, and Ankara Knows It

By Ramzy Baroud

"Even despots, gangsters and pirates have specific sensitiveness, (and) follow some specific morals."

The claim was made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a recent speech, following the deadly commando raid on the humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza on May 31. According to Erdogan, Israel doesn’t adhere to the code of conduct embraced even by the vilest of criminals.

The statement alone indicates the momentous political shift that’s currently underway in the Middle East. While the shift isn’t entirely new, one dares to claim it might now be a lasting one. To borrow from Erdogan’s own assessment of the political fallout that followed Israel’s raid, the damage is “irreparable.”

Countless analyses have emerged in the wake of the long-planned and calculated Israeli attack on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, which claimed the lives of nine, mostly Turkish peace activists.

In “Turkey’s Strategic U-Turn, Israel’s Tactical Mistakes,” published in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Ofra Bengio suggested Turkey’s position was purely strategic. But he also chastised Israel for driving Turkey further and faster “toward the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

In this week’s Zaman, a Turkish publication, Bulent Kenes wrote: “As a result of the Davos (where the Turkish prime minister stormed out of a televised discussion with Israeli President Shimon Peres, after accusing him and Israel of murder), the myth that Israel is untouchable was destroyed by Erdogan, and because of that Israel nurses a hatred for Turkey.”

In fact, the Davos incident is significant not because it demonstrates that Israel can be criticized, but rather because it was Turkey — and not any other easily dismissible party — that dared to voice such criticism.

Writing in the Financial Times under the title, “Erdogan turns to face East in a delicate balancing act,” David Gardner places Turkey’s political turn within a European context. He sums up that thought in a quote uttered by no other than Robert Gates, US defense secretary: “If there is anything to the notion that Turkey is moving Eastward, it is in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought.” But what many analysts missed was the larger political and historical context, not only as pertaining to Israel and Turkey, but to the whole region and all its players, including the US itself. Only this context can help us understand the logic behind Israel’s seemingly erratic behavior.

In 1996, Israeli leaders appeared very confident. A group of neoconservative American politicians had laid out a road map for Israel to ensure complete dominance over the Middle East. In the document entitled, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” Turkey was mentioned four times. Each reference envisaged the country as a tool to “contain, destabilize, and roll back some of .. (the) most dangerous threats” to Israel. That very “vision” in fact served as the backbone of the larger strategy used by the US, as it carried out its heedless military adventures in the Middle East.

Frustrated by the American failure to reshape the region and unquestioningly eliminate anything and everything that Israel might perceive as a threat, Israel took matters into its own hands. However, in 2006 and between 2008 and 2009, it was up for major surprises. Superior firepower doesn’t guarantee military victory. More, while Israel had once more demonstrated its capacity to inflict untold damage on people and infrastructure, the Israeli weapon was no longer strategically effective. In other words, Israel’s military advantage could no longer translate into political gains, and this was a game-changer.

There are many issues the Israeli leadership has had to wrangle with in recent years. The US, Israel’s most faithful benefactor, is now on a crisis management mode in Iraq and Afghanistan, struggling on all fronts, whether political, military or economic. That recoil has further emboldened Israel’s enemies, who are no longer intimidated by the American bogyman. Israel’s desperate attempt at using its own military to achieve its grand objectives has also failed, and miserably so.

With options growing even more limited, Israel now understands that Gaza is its last card; ending the siege or ceasing the killings could be understood as another indication of political weakness, a risk that Israel is not ready to take.

Turkey, on the other hand, was fighting — and mostly winning — its own battles. Democracy in Turkey has never been as healthy and meaningful as it is today. Turkey has also eased its chase of the proverbial dangling carrot, of EU membership, especially considering the arrogant attitude of some EU members who perceive Turkey as too large and too Muslim to be trusted. Turkey needed new platforms, new options and a more diverse strategy.

But that is where many analysts went wrong. Turkey’s popular government has not entered the Middle Eastern political foray to pick fights. On the contrary, the Turkish government has for years been trying to get involved as a peacemaker, a mediator between various parties. So, yes, Turkey’s political shift was largely strategic, but it was not ill-intentioned.

The uninvited Turkish involvement, however, is highly irritating to Israel. Turkey’s approach to its new role grew agitating to Israel when the role wasn’t confined to being that of the host — in indirect talks between Syria and Israel, for example. Instead, Turkey began to take increasingly solid and determined political stances. Thus the Davos episode.

By participating at such a high capacity in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, with firm intentions of breaking the siege, Turkey was escalating its involvement well beyond Israel’s comfort zone. Therefore, Israel needed a decisive response that would send a message to Turkey — and any daring other — about crossing the line of what is and is not acceptable. It’s ironic how the neoconservatives’ “A Clean Break” envisaged an Israeli violation of the political and geographic boundaries of its neighbors, with the help of Turkey. Yet, 14 years later, it was Turkey, with representatives from 32 other countries, which came with a peaceful armada to breach what Israel perceived as its own political domain.

The Israeli response, as bloody as it was, can only be understood within this larger context. Erdogan’s statements and the popular support his government enjoys show that Turkey has decided to take on the Israeli challenge. The US government was exposed as ineffectual and hostage to the failing Israeli agenda in the region, thanks to the lobby. Ironically it is now the neoconservatives who are leading the charge against Turkey, the very country they had hoped would become Israel’s willing ally in its apocalyptic vision.

London Progressive Journal



Belizegial said...

Renegade, it is always good to hear every side of the situation and you certainly know how to deliver here. Take care and have a great week ahead.

sonia said...

There is one word missing from this otherwise perceptive article: Russia. Russia (and its close ally Armenia) are Turkey's arch-enemies. When Russia was close to the Iran and the Arab countries, Turkey was close to US and Israel. With Russian foreign policy undergoing a shift, Turkey's foreign policy is changing as well.

US pushed the Turks away with their support for the Kurds. Ankara never forgave them for it.

SecondComingOfBast said...

"Even despots, gangsters and pirates have specific sensitiveness, (and) follow some specific morals."

"The claim was made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a recent speech,"

And he certainly should know what's he's talking about.

Nevin said...

An interesting article but not entirely accurate. First and for most, one can not read the latest developments that are happening in the Middle East, namely the events that has been taken place between Israel and Turkey as things are shifting in the region or Turks are turning their back to the West. What is happening in Turkey in general is a reaction towards the violence against the Muslim world committed by the West, namely USA, Britain, European allies and Israel.

We must also separate how Turks (in general) are feeling towards Erdogan’s administration internally and externally. Even though most are quite proud that Erdogan’s government is standing up for the suffering of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, they are not all that psyched about how he has been running the country so far. Western media for what ever reason have not been publishing the out right human rights violations that has taken place under the shadow of “democratizing the country”…. There are many “secular” journalists who appose the “Islamic” based party are imprisoned without proper charges, the legal system is constantly manipulated by the AKP, Erdogan screams on Turkish TV’s when ever any media member writes a critical article about him, there are many anti AKP voices who are silenced either by imprisonment, accusation of being a traitor to Turkey, being anti democratic or other means of bullying…. So the notion that Democracy is flourishing is not entirely true.

Having said that, AKP has done some really good changes in the last decade, which should be recognized as moving away from the “same old same old”; such as giving more freedom to it’s Kurdish population by opening up Universities and schools with Kurdish as the main language, opening up TV channels aimed at the Kurds with Kurdish language, openly talking about the Armenian problem and allegations of Genocide, talking about sectarian problems between two Muslim groups, such as the Alevis and the Sunnies….

In those terms, Erdogan’s administration has made big changes, which should be commanded.

AKP is a mix bag of problems for me. On the one hand I applaud their stance against Israeli blockade towards Gaza but on the other, I do not trust them or even like them all that much. As a secular Turk who is an atheist, I find it quite hard to trust any government with Islamic roots…. I can not wait to see the back of them but can not see CHP as being the alternative party right now, unless they made major changes internally....

I must also add, I am quite fed up with one-sided support towards Israel by United States and it’s Europe allies. It is about time the blockade be lifted and 2 state solution be implemented as soon as possible in the region….

We all need peace and quite.... wars do not achieve anything! Israel must leave the occupied territories, USA must leave Iraq and Afghanistan, western powers should come to an agreement with Iran regarding nuclear energy and AKP should not be seen as a white dove, as well as, oligarchic families and dictators should not be supported such as in Egypt or Saudi Arabia....

The region needs real democracy, not this comical version of it!

roman said...

Interesting article from the Progressive Journal of London. While the flotilla was planned to be a complete media disaster for Israel (videos showing "peaceniks in kumbaja settings), the planners did not foresee that the soldiers sent to board the ships came equipped with advanced video surveillance equipment as a safeguard from historically bad press. As a result, one could not help but notice news reports repeatedly showing the Israeli commandos being viciously clubbed with huge metal pipes upon boarding the ships. Based on these video taped occurences, a viewer could easily make the case that the commandos acted in self defense while attempting to inspect the cargo for weapons. So the obviously false narrative reported in this journal as fact (Israeli commandos sent out to kill, kill, kill "peaceful activists" under orders from their bloodthirsty political leaders) has not been received, by the Western audience at least, as a foregone conclusion thanks to a free and mostly unencumbered media.
The journal's curiously creative language throughout this analysis is noteworthy. Note this strange description " peaceful armada to breach what Israel perceived as its own political domain".
Armada? Breach? Not very convincing peaceful descriptions.
The media "wars" of public perception are being waged effectively on both sides of the divide. The nine lives lost are a tragic price to pay for Erdogan's failed publicity stunt.

SecondComingOfBast said...

If we had a President with a spine, generally known as Republican, this whole situation would provide him the perfect excuse to get out of NATO. Maybe President Palin will see the light and get us out of that useless body as her first act of office. Or maybe President Christie will do so.

The only other recourse would be to drum Turkey out of the organization. Of course, that's not going to happen, so the damn thing just just evaporate. It's long past the time it served a legitimate function. If the US abandoned NATO, it would probably wither away quicker than Lenin's Soviet Union withered away.

Europe's about at the point of imploding anyway, why should the US stick around to pick up the pieces. There are more than enough Turkish immigrants to take care of that task.

Frank Partisan said...

Belizegal: Thank you.

Sonia: Thinking it over, I agree. Russia is not playing an important role in the Middle East, in exchange Israel doesn't arm Georgia etc.

Nevin: I don't believe at all Turkey is turning its back to the West. It is changing towards the ME.

You are correct as far as domestic politics. I don't know if Turkey has a labor party.

The ME needs people who realize that both sides have legitimate concerns.

Roman: The videos were highly edited. Even worse Israel put on Flickr pictures dated 2006. Israel lost the public relations war, and didn't care. Hamas is impotent. The flotilla attack was against Turkey, not Hamas.

Pagan: No president either party, ever gave such an idea a minute of thought. Europe believes that's what the US is for.

Nevin said...

Ren: CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) is a bit like the Democrats in the US which would be seen as the center left... Maybe you have read the recent sex scandal that took place which brought down the old dragon Deniz Baykal a few weeks ago.... Deniz Baykal was ruling the party as if a dictator for years.... It is still quite unclear who is behind the sex scandal but it worked out well in the end... we got rid of Baykal!

Now CHP's new leader is Kemal Kilictaroglu who is originally of a Kurdish background.... I am not expecting major changes but it is at least better then that old dictator Baykal...

CHP is the lesser of the 2 evils.....

As for the flotilla... I agree with you, that attack was specifically a message to Turkey to back off...

Frank Partisan said...

Nevin: Is the CHP supported by unions?

Nevin said...

ren: No! unfortunately CHP doesn't support unions, although their slogan is for the "little guy"... it is very much a neoliberal political party. Like I said, it's like the Democrats in the US.

After Obama was elected, I wasn't expecting much change... I do not expect much change after the leadership of Kilictaroglu, even though he is a fresh face who energized the party a little...

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