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.