This week we witnessed Mahmoud Abbas presenting his bid for recognition of a state of Palestine to the United Nations General Assembly.
We heard the rapturous applause he received entering the UNGA.
We heard the rather less rapturous greeting received by Israel Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu whose few supporters in the UNGA tried desperately to raise the decibels of applause.
It was clear that whatever the outcome of the Palestinian bid, there is no doubt it was a PR success for Abbas and has highlighted Israel’s growing isolation.
So let’s first look at Israel’s standing in the popularity stakes versus Turkey’s; once good friends, now anything but.
Israel’s support from the US was bolstered by President Obama’s speech where he signalled his country’s intention to use the veto in the UN Security Council, if necessary and a strong affirmation of the need to settle the conflict via negotiations. Canada has also come out strongly on Israel’s side.
The Europeans are fence-sitting, but Spain’s unexpected declaration confirming Israel as the Jewish national home was a welcome plus for Israel.
The UK is waiting to make its decision in the UNSC but will probably abstain whilst making the usual noises about Israel’s right to security. Other European countries, including France, have made similar declarations.
Any vote in the UNGA to enhance the Palestinian status from observer to non-member state will clearly demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of UN member states recognise the State of Palestine.
In short, the UN shennanigans of the PLO have further highighted Israel’s isolation and its reliance on the USA.
Recently, in Egypt, as a result of the Arab Spring, the long-standing peace agreement with Israel, a legally binding agreement, has been questioned. The pipeline which provides Israel with 20% of its gas has been blown up for a sixth time.
A terror attack near Eilat a few weeks ago was launched via Egypt and some of the participants may have been Egyptian. The subsequent tragic death of Eagyptian border police during the Israeli pursuit of the murderers of eight innocent people further enflamed sentiments in Egypt.
The attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo which almost resulted in the lynching of six Israeli security officers has emphasised an undercurrent of anti-Israel anti-Jewish sentiment in Egypt which is bubbling to the surface as new freedoms materialise.
Egypt will not even sell palm leaves to Israel for the Succot festival which comes immediately after Yom Kippur. A mean and childish act which pretty much tells you what ‘Cold Peace’ means.
In Jordan, King Abdullah appears to be keen to bolster his popularity in a country which is 80% Palestinian and whose people are also making noises about their own peace treaty with Israel.
And, most importantly, Israel’s long-standing friendship with Turkey is not only in ruins, but Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pursuing a series of belligerent measure against Israel politically, economically, juridically and militarily.
Turkey’s actions are ostensibly in response to Israel’s refusal to apologise to Turkey for the death of nine Turkish passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara when Israel intercepted their boat in order to enforce its blockade of Gaza. But relations have been cooling for some time. The national affront which Turkey cites as its reasons for punishing Israel may be covering its drift away from Ataturk secularism toward a form of democratic Islamism.
However, Israel’s loss of Turkish friendship may have released it to forge other friendships which highlight Turkey’s growing isolation.
On the principal, it seems, that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, Greece, a country not previously known for its affection for Israel, has strengthened ties.
The forty-year-old festering European sore that is the division of Cyprus, which somehow remains firmly under the world’s radar, is an important issue for Greece and Turkey.
Israel has signed agreements with the (Greek) Cypriot’s to co-operate on gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, angering the Turks who have made more belligerent noises about Turkish Cypriot rights to the potential bonanza in the seeming belief that only Turkey has any rights in this field.
Israel’s gas exploration is at a juncture of Lebanese, Israeli and Cypriot waters which Lebanon is disputing and Turkey, naturally, supports Lebanon’s position against Israel.
Israel has also been active in the new state of South Sudan quickly establishing diplomatic and commercial ties.
In West Africa there is a surprising rapprochement with Nigeria, a country with a large Muslim population and sectarian divisions.
Israel is a major trade partner with Turkey’s neighbour Armenia and has recently supported moves for recognition of the Armenian genocide, a move which Turkey cannot be expected to approve given its 100 yer denial of being the perpetrator of that genocide. Israel’s break in relations with Turkey have released it from the fear of causing offence to its former friend.
Moves by Prime Minister Erdogan to pressurise Azerbaijan to cut ties with Israel have, so far, not succeeded. Azerbaijan is an important link in the oil pipeline to Israel. Any moves to cut off that oil would be in contravention of international law and would have to be seen as an Act of War by Israel if Turkey should pursue that particular enterprise.
Israel remains one of only two countries whose citizens do not require visas to visit Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile the perceived thuggishness of Erdogan and his attempted bullying of Israel have done him no favours.
He has threatened the EU should Cyprus take the chair of the EU next year; a somewhat hollow threat coming from a country which still has plans to join the EU.
Turkey’s relationship with Iran is strained as both vie for power in the region and disagree about policy toward President Assad in Syria.
Recently, Turkey agreed to the placing of a NATO radar system as part of the West’s defence against, presumably, Iran furthering that country’s suspicions of its neighbour.
Erdogan’s visit to Egypt had a mixed reception once he berated them about democracy.
Turkey’s new policy to actively patrol the Eastern Mediterranean will send warning signs to Greece and Cyprus as well as Israel. The UK and Italy may also be nervous.
Incidents at the UN between Erdogan’s body guards and UN security as well as an attempted attack on Erdogan by an unknown assailant have all shored up the impression of his being part Mafioso part head of state.
So Turkey still has one foot in the West and one in the East and is playing the game well to the extent that the US and NATO seem unfazed by Turkey’s belligerence toward Israel and have asked the two countries to patch up their disagreement.
The US has agreed to drone sales to Turkey to replace its Israeli ones and NATO is shtum when it comes to the problematical membership of a country which has ties with Islamist regimes inimical to NATO.
But how many real friends does Turkey now have? Not Syria, not Iran, not Israel or Greece. If it carries on it will soon alert the Europeans and the US to pressurise it further to tone things down.
Turkey’s new-found nationalist pride which presents itself in the form of sabre-rattling and muscle-flexing on the international scene is a direct result of America’s and Europe’s perceived weakening due to financial disasters, low growth, potential inflation and increasing civil unrest. And you can add to that two pretty disastrous excursions in Iraw and Afghanistam which make further military adventures improbable.
Countries like Turkey and Iran sense a growing power vacuum and are testing the waters, literally, to see how far they can push before they meet resistance.
Any economic recovery in America and Europe would be a severe blow to countries waiting in the wings to pick the bones of Europe and the USA.
If Turkey sullies its good relations with Russia by trying to punch above its weight, then isolation would become a reality. However, recent commercial deals and mutual interests in the Caucasus make this a remote possibility. Nevertheless, Russia has sent warships to the Eastern Mediterranean to protect Cypriot gas exploration. Turkey will not want to confront Russia.
Turkey also has problems with Kurdish separatists, the PKK, and tensions with Iran or even Iraq could be problematical.
Turkey is in a unique position geographically and is seen and behaves as a conduit between the West and the Muslim world.
But if you judge each country by its real friends (whatever friend means in international relations) then it’s pretty even between Israel and Turkey.
It is a tragedy that a great country like Turkey seems to be determined to make waves in the Mediterranean as well in diplomatic circles rather than nurturing its ties with Israel, mending fences and performing an important role as a bridge between the West and the Islamic world.
Erdogan’s behaviour is anything but statesmanlike. His recent speech in the UN stating that Israel is still trading off the Holocaust as well as claims that Israel has killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians place him as borderline antisemitic.
Although he may be a hero to those who like bashing Israel, to the rest of the world he is a dangerous man who could light the fuse of a new war in the Middle East.
It will be interesting to see how the two countries fare over the coming months as things develop in the Middle East, Europe and in the USA where President Obama’s hoped for second term looks to be in serious trouble.
Are we are seeing the beginning of a new polarised alignment of powers as the former hegemonies of the US and Europe are diluted?
A period of dangerous instability with Israel at the epicentre may be upon us.
The post, written in March, tells us about how in February 1982 the Syrian army enter the city of Hama in central Syria to hunt down anti-Ba’athists.
The anti-Ba’athists were in fact mainly what we would now call ‘Islamists’, some affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. This group had already revolted in the past in order to bring down the government of Hafez Assad, the father of the current President of Syria.
These rebel insurgents in Hama were Sunni Muslims. When they attacked and killed Syrian soldiers hunting down the regimes political enemies, what followed was a true massacre of medieval proportions and brutality.
The Syrian army went on a killing spree not just against insurgents but the whole city. In scenes reminiscent of the Nazis who razed whole towns in the Second World War, government forces killed between 10,000 and 40,000 people, men women and children. Exact figures are hard to come by but most commentators now believe that 40,000 is nearer the mark than 10,000.
The city was surrounded and shelled for three weeks. Scenes of unspeakable acts of mutilation and mass executions were reported.
The world did nothing. The Syrian regime remained. The uprising was limited to Hama, and the Muslim Brotherhood was eliminated in Syria, either going to ground or scattering to neighbouring countries, the USA and Great Britain.
Over the past few weeks we have seen that Hafez Assad taught his son, Bashar, well.
A generation later the insurgents have returned. This time they are not necessarily Islamists but from a wide spectrum of Syrian society determined to put an end to decades of the Assad dynasty. What these latterday insurgents want is not always clear, but political rights and greater freedoms are on their agenda. One assumes.
The reaction of the current President Assad is to behave like his father. He, too, is prepared to use tanks and bombs against his own citizens, indiscriminately, to fire on unarmed demonstrators, arrest and detain thousands.
This time it is not just the residents of Hama who are rising up, but also Deraa, Baiyas, Aleppo and Homs. Even the Damascus region has tanks on the streets of its towns.
Not 40,000 dead this time but, according to best estimates about 800. So far, but it could get a loss worse and probably will.
There is a striking comparison to be made between the siege of Deraa where its people have no-one to protect them and Misrata in Libya.
For weeks the Libyan army has pounded the people of Misrata, the front line of the rebel advance. Yet these insurgents are armed and are protected by the most sophisticated air force in the world – that of Nato aided by a few Qataris representing the Arab League.
So what is the difference between Libya and Syria?
According to pundits, the Arabs agreed via the UN Security Council and Resolution 1973 to ‘invite’ Nato to protect Arabs from other Arabs because even this roll-call of oppressive regimes could not stomach the spectacle of Gaddafi killing his own people.
Yet when it comes to Syria not one of them has so much as whispered disapproval. Not the Saudis, not the Egyptians who are now supposed to be paragons of democracy, not the Jordanians and not Assad’s good friends the Turks (until today) and the Iranians (“no need for intervention”).
No international intervention has materialised because the Arabs appear to value the blood of Libyans above that of Syrians, and the UN can just issue its usual mumbled toothless condemnations.
The EU, meanwhile, proclaims sanctions. Big deal.
Apparently, it’s a different situation to Libya because Assad still has the support of his people. Did anyone take a poll in Libya and Syria to determine which regime had most popular support?
The simple truth is that Syria is a ‘player’ a regional power which bestrides the geographic and political ground between Turkey and Iran. Libya, on the other hand, apart from a bit of oil, is of little strategic importance and Gaddafi’s heyday of state terrorism, WMD, assassinations, racism and islamisation are largely in the past.
The recent Arab Spring has shown to what lengths the regimes in the region are prepared to go to preserve power and hegemony; whether it is the racist pragmatist Gaddafi or the Bahraini sheiks, the Ba’athists in Syria or the Shi’ites in Yemen.
Let’s not forget the hundreds who died in Egypt before we proclaim this was a bloodless ‘revolution’.
Despite the West’s wishful thinking that all these Arab uprisings will lead to democracy and the New Millenium, due to the very nature of the regimes in these countries, we have no idea of the motivations, political leanings or any future political outcomes resulting from these uprisings. The West assumes that if you through the pack in the air it will land as a perfect House of Cards, but revolutions and seismic political events leave vacuums into which other dark forces can come which are even more inimical to West and western values.
And in this maelstrom, at the eye of this storm, is Israel being encouraged to make a deal with a Fatah-Hamas coalition to introduce another murderous, undemocratic, Islamist, Jew-hating regime in the region.
An opportunity not to be missed.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Turkey plans to send five ships and a submarine to join a naval operation to enforce an arms embargo off Libya.
You couldn’t make it up, as they say.
This is the same Turkey that condemned Israel for intercepting the so-called ‘humanitarian’ flotilla last year which resulted in the death of 9 IHH Islamist activists.
This UN blockade is OK because NATO is enforcing UN resolution 1973.
Israel’s blockade is deemed illegal by all those for whom it is convenient to believe this fantasy.
Israel has about as much chance of having a UN Resolution in its favour to protect it from murderous rocket fire as Ahmadinejad converting to Judaism
So Libya is to be prevented from receiving arms.
Israel is criticised and demonised for trying to prevent Hamas from receiving arms by, inter alia, stopping ships such as the Mavi Marmara and, more recently, the Victoria.
I now keenly await the IHH and other humanitarian organisations that are so keen on breaking the Gaza blockade to send a flotilla with humanitarian aid to Tripoli and refuse to comply with orders to stop and be searched. And should they attack and attempt to kill the Turkish or other coalition naval personnel who try to board their boats?
Won’t happen will it.
Dear Secretary General
On June 1st you issued a statement about the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ in which you condemned “the acts which have led to this tragedy”.
It was not clear what those acts were, but most would conclude that you were condemning Israel. You then called for an International Enquiry. This seems to represent a pattern in enquiries about Israel’s conduct; first the members of the UN’s Goldstone report accused Israel of war crimes and then made their investigation; now you are also condemning Israel before any investigation is carried out.
I am also amazed that you have stood by whilst the Turkish government, a NATO member, embraces the vile Iranian regime and the dictator of Syria who is supplying arms to Hizbollah in Lebanon.
The Turkish Prime Minister also claims that Hamas is not a terrorist organisation.
Why have you not condemned Turkey for allowing a bunch of jihadis to board a ship in a Turkish port without passports with the intention of confronting the Israeli navy with murderous intent whilst the Israelis were legally seeking compliance with their maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip?
You issued your statement on June 1st. I think you should withdraw your condemnation in light of overwhelming evidence of a prepared ambush on soldiers whose intent was not lethal but who found themselves in fear of their lives and resorted to lethal force as a last resort.
You should at least revise your statement to reserve your condemnations until an appropriate investigation has been carried out.
How can Turkey remain a member of NATO whilst its government pursues political alliances with regimes totally inimical to NATO?
Surely Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, would be a worthier member.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan says:
I have told this to US officials… I do not accept Hamas as a terrorist organisation..
he [does] not view Hamas, which runs Gaza, as a terrorist organisation…
resistance fighters who are struggling to defend their land
So ends Turkey’s relationship with Israel which has been one of co-operation for many years. As Turkey, the first truly secular Islamic state, kisses goodbye to its founding principles and moves inexorably into the arms of Iran it is on a collision course, not with the Israeli navy but with Europe.
Turkey should be suspended or kicked out of NATO for having close ties with Iran and Syria.
Apart from Israel, both the US and the EU have declared Hamas as a terrorist organisation. The UN, of course, loaded as it is with Islamic countries, sees Hamas as Turkey does; an elected group to be treated like a legitimate state actor on a par with the illegitimate Israel.
Of course, Mr Erdogan is right. Hamas are struggling to defend their land, except the land in question is Israel which it does not recognise and seeks to destroy.
Once Turkey dreamed of being a member of the EU; it just had to tidy up its human rights record – stop persecuting Kurds, and fess up to the Armenian genocide and sort out Cyprus. Now it’s more likely to be kissing Ahmadinejad’s backside.
In fact the flotilla gave Turkey a great excuse to turn on its old friend, Israel. The relationship was becoming increasingly untenable as Erdogan got closer to Syria and Iran and as his people became increasingly radicalised.
Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the US agrees with this analysis:
“Turkey has embraced the leaders of Iran and Hamas, all of whom called for Israel’s destruction,”…
“Our policy has not changed but Turkey’s policy has changed, very much, over the last few years,…
“Under a different government with an Islamic orientation, Turkey has turned away from the West.”
What a tragedy for Turkey. They always did pick the wrong side in a conflict.
*For those of you who aren’t too good on irony, the headline is ironic (RC)
During and after Operation Cast Lead the Israel Defence Force (IDF) was vilified for ‘war crimes’ and the notorious Goldstone Report which concluded that Israel had a deliberate policy to kill civilians and destroy property has become a major vehicle for attacks on Israel.
Israel always maintained that in war mistakes are made but it was never its policy to target civilians. The IDF has conducted and continues to conduct its own investigations and has rebutted many of the specific accusations in the report.
As is the nature of attacks on Israel, the mud always sticks and anything ranging from truth to downright lies will pass as truth as long as it carries a negative image of the State of Israel with which its enemies can beat it.
Now there is an ironic echo of how Israel characterised its campaign in December 2008 to January 2009 and how NATO is conducting its ‘surge’, Operation Moshtarak, against the Taliban. There is an uncanny similarity in the language and also the situations that NATO has confronted.
Let’s draw one important distinction between Cast Lead and Moshtarak; Gaza is a heavily populated, built-up, narrow strip of land which is very difficult terrain in which to carry out a military campaign; Helmand is open country with relatively sparsely populated villages and towns.
Both Israel and NATO have stated that they have no argument with civilians. Israel went to extraordinary lengths to warn civilians of impending strikes by leafleting, mobile phone calls and even dropping special munitions on houses which sounded as if they were explosive devices but were only designed to warn those inside to get out.
NATO are fighting an extremist Islamist group who have repeatedly targeted NATO forces with IED’s; Hamas was rocketing Israeli civilians for several years sending over thousands of rockets into southern Israel.
No NATO country is directly threatened by the Taliban; Israel is not only directly threatened but Hamas have stated in their own charter that their goal is to destroy Israel and kill Jews.
Yet look at the different way the world’s press and especially the UN responds and reacts to operation Moshtarak:
the BBC reports :
Taliban militants are increasingly using civilians as “human shields” as they battle against a joint Afghan-Nato offensive, an Afghan general has said.
Gen Mohiudin Ghori said his soldiers had seen Taliban fighters placing women and children on the roofs of buildings and firing from behind them….
It is difficult for the Afghan army and Nato to storm Taliban-held areas because to do so may inflict heavy civilian casualties and there are still a lot of civilians in Marjah.
“Whenever they launch an attack, the Taliban take refuge in civilians’ homes.
Now isn’t that exactly what the IDF claimed Hamas were doing in Gaza and Goldstone found no evidence of this, or more specifically Fact-finding mission member Colonel Travers could find no evidence?
And then this in the same report:
US Marines fighting to take the Taliban haven of Marjah have had to call in air support as they come under heavy fire.
They have faced sustained machine-gun fire from fighters hiding in bunkers and in buildings including homes and mosques.
Now hang on, this is what the Israelis said Hamas were doing but not only did Hamas deny it but Goldstone again found little evidence and our friend Travers could find no evidence of mosques being used despite Israeli videos which conclusively proved the opposite and also an important independent witness Col. Tim Collins.
And then there was the incident where NATO said twelve civilians had been killed by a missile that had malfunctioned only later to correct this by saying that the intended target was hit but thy didn’t realise civilians were in the building.
Gen Carter confirmed on Tuesday a missile that struck a house outside Marjah on Sunday killing 12 people, including six children, had hit its intended target.
Gen Carter said the rocket had not malfunctioned and the US system responsible for firing it was back in use. Officials say three Taliban, as well as civilians, were in the house but the Nato soldiers did not know the civilians were there.
Initial Nato reports said the missile had landed about 300m (984ft) off its intended target. Gen Carter blamed these “conflicting” reports on “the fog of war”.
Now I urge you to cast your mind back to Operation Cast Lead where Israel was saying very similar things and the result was a UNHRC investigation, war crimes accusations and a threat that figures in the IDF and government would become international criminals – indeed some have already decided this is the case.
So where are the calls from the UNHCR now? How soon will Judge Goldstone regather is little band of men and women and go straight to the Taliban and ask then if they committed any war crimes (answer will be ‘No’) and give evidence of the many crimes of NATO. Will he then come up with a 500 page report recommending senior NATO commanders and politicians in NATO countries be taken to The Hague on charges of war crimes? Will Brown and Miliband, Obama and Clinton, Sarkozy and the rest be hauled before a tribunal? Will the US, UK and other NATO countries become international pariahs? And look at the difference: they were fighting far from home an enemy they claim is a threat to their national security. Did any UN body ever dispute this? Israel was fighting an enemy on its doorstep that was killing its civilians and targeting them on a daily basis for years and years before it took any action.
Now I know what you are thinking: in Gaza hundreds of civilians were killed; what about white phosphorus, white flags etc. Now just compare the terrains in Gaza and Afghanistan as I have already pointed out.
Israel has admitted mistakes; it may be that its interpretation of international law in respect of some of its actions differs from others; it may be that some of its soldiers acted disgracefully writing graffiti and trashing property. They should be disciplined. Are these war crimes? If so NATO is certainly guilty. And what about the Iraqi who was beaten up by British soldiers and died of his injuries? Is that not a war crime? Where is the UN on that? Where is the UN on Abu Ghraib? Where is the UN on Guantanamo Bay? Will the UN regard the Taliban as a legitimate military in the same way Goldstone and the UN regard Hamas?
What’s the difference?
I’ll tell you in case you didn’t already guess: Israel. Always Israel. They are not considered to be capable of regulating or examining their own conduct like the US or the UK or any European country or any great power such as China or Russia. Where are the resolutions on Chechnya? South Ossetia? Where Tibet?
The UN acts like a bully; pushing around small countries, especially Israel is fine but the big boys are exempt.
The UN is no longer fit for purpose because it is run supposedly along democratic lines but is numerically dominated by countries which are not. This same bunch of tyrants and dictators have a natural antipathy to Israel, not least that most of them are Muslim states. This means that whenever Israel tries to defend itself it will always be vilified and demonized. America can kill hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Sunnis can kill tens of thousands of Shia and vice versa. They can attack the others’ holy shrines and you just hear the odd ‘tut tut’. All Hamas have to do is show a dead baby and the entire world is calling for Israel’s destruction.
Isn’t that called anti-Semitism? Used to be. Doesn’t get Israel off the hook for real crimes or human rights violations but if there is never any differentiation or fairness with regard Israel’s actions then any genuine criticism which every country should be subject to, will be dismissed as vilification. If genuine criminals like Mugabe or Bashir are not pursued with the same vigour as legitimate Israeli politicians, if George W Bush and Tony Blair aren’t guilty but Tzipi Livni is then where is the justice? Think extraordinary rendition. Think torture. So why is Israel always the bogeyman?
The BBC News website reports :
A member of the Afghan parliament has criticised a Nato air strike on a clinic where a Taliban leader was being treated for his injuries.
The report stresses that NATO checked there were no civilians in the clinic first before they attacked with helicopter gunships.
Amnesty International has called for an investigation. NATO say 12 militants were killed.
I’d like you to compare this incident to the furore that would surround and has surrounded Israeli attacks of a similar nature.
For NATO to say they checked that there were no civilians in the building requires a healthy degree of scepticism.
Clinics like hospitals are protected buildings unless they are being used as a base for military operations or direct attack.
Think Gaza Operation Cast Lead and accusations of war crimes.
But AI are very reasonable when it’s not Israel who are the accused party:
Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the attack, but added that if the Taliban fired first, they had committed a serious violation.
Not quite the point despite AI’s attempt to whitewash NATO. If you were confronted by troops and gunships you might be inclined to fire first too. This does not vindicate the imminent attack on a clinic.
Just replace NATO with Israel and Taliban with Hamas. Now what would you say?
I know what I would say. Proportionality.
Israel is being and was being directly attacked on its own borders by Hamas. This rendered Hamas a legitimate target. If those targeted are responsible for horrendous acts of terrorism and are hiding in a protected facility then, as far as I am aware, Israel waits for them to come out. In Operation Cast Lead hospitals were only fired upon when fired from. The main hospital in Gaza, where the Hamas leadership were using the basement as an operations centre, was not attacked. If Israel was so intent on war crimes and so careless of civilian casualties would they not have targetted Shifa hospital?
Apparently NATO would.
Double standards anyone?