Sunday, March 24, 2013

Friends again!

One positive outcome of Pres. Obama's visit to Israel was the renewal of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey.  Just before leaving the tarmac of Ben Gurion airport, Obama presided over a call from PM Netanyahu to Pres. Erdogan in which Bibi apologized to Turkey for the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara and for any mistakes that Israel had made during the incident.  Of course, we all know that the IDF action was justified both in terms of the naval blockade of Gaza and in the reaction to the violent attack by dozens of Islamist extremists on our paratroopers.  The pictures of them hitting the IDF soldiers with iron bars will forever stick in our minds and the defensive reaction of the troops was entirely justified.  Yet, in order to palliate Turkey and renew the friendly relations it was necessary for Bibi to swallow his pride and make the apology.  It was accepted by Erdogan and now we are friends again.
However, although Bibi satisified two out of three requirements by Erdogan, namely he apologized and agreed to pay compensation to all injured Turkish parties, he has lifted some of the restrictions on Gaza, but not the actual naval blockade that Erdogan wanted, which is justified under international law.  In return, Turkey agreed to drop all legal actions against the IDF and to renew military cooperation.  This was the aim of Obama, who saw that given the threat from their mutual neighbor Syria, it was necessary that both US allies coordinate their actions.   
Unfortunately Erdogan has made several incendiary anti-Semitic statements in the interim, including recently calling Zionism a "crime against humanity," and equating Zionism with Nazism, so that it will be difficult for any Israeli leader to fully trust him.  He is a died-in-the-wool Islamist for whom the Palestinians can do no wrong and the Israelis can do no good.  But, circumstances may have made him reconsider; first Turkey's nemesis the Kurds, and particularly their leader Abdullah Ocalan, have announced a ceasefire with the Turkish military and the situation in Syria is bordering on military intervention.  Under these circumstances it is best for Turkey to have a friend in Israel, so that any military actions by Turkey, Israel and the US and its Western allies in Syria can be coordinated.   
Turkey is also involved in the Iranian nuclear issue.  Remember that Turkey and Iran were for centuries rivals in their attempts to control the Arab hinterland that lies between them.  Turkey of course won the competition and its Empire incorporating most of the Arab world lasted for 800 years.  Yet, Iran, as Persia, looked back on a glorious tradition of control of the region, before the advent of Islam.  Now it is unacceptable for the predominantly Sunni Arabs to be dominated by Shia Iran, and Turkey sees itself as a champion of the Sunni Arabs.  To also coordinate potential military action against Iran is is important that Israel, Turkey and the US be on the same page.  2013 may be the year of destiny in the Middle East, and it is good that Israel and Turkey will be on the same side.
PS. Happy Pesach to all my readers.  There will be a break in e-mails for a few days.


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