Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Con Game: Turkey's Faux Pose Of Restoring Ties With Israel

There has been a great deal of speculation about Turkey restoring ties with Israel, based on leaked details of initial meetings between representatives of the two nations that were held at Islamist Turkish leader Tayyip Erdoğan's request.

For those of you who need a quick recap, Israel and Turkey had very close ties until Erdoğan and his Islamist AKP Party took over in 2002, after which they deteriorated rapidly. The end came in 2010 when the Turkish government sponsored a 'humanitarian aid' fleet designed to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. When the Israeli navy intercepted the ships and instructed them to proceed to an Israeli port so their cargoes could be examined, they all complied without incident except one, the Mavi Marmara.

That ship was loaded with IHH terrorists who were deliberately seeking a confrontation. After refusing repeated orders to put into port, the ship was boarded only to find that the crew of the Mavi Mamara had planned an ambush and attacked the unarmed sailors with knives, iron bars, clubs and firearms.

The Israelis sent Naval commandos to board the ship to rescue the injured sailors and take over the ship. This time the results were different, with 9 of the crew of the Mavi Mamara ending up getting themselves killed when they attacked the commandos. Out of the entire flotilla of ship attempting to run the blockade, only two were found to have small amounts of what could be called 'humanitarian aid. Most of them, like the Mavi Mamara carried nothing and were simply seeking to run the blockade.

In spite of Israel's attempt to placate Turkey and resolve the matter, Erdoğan used this as an excuse to break relations completely. Even an apology to Erdoğan that US President Barack Obama arm twisted out of Israeli PM Netanyahu didn't change anything, and Erdoğan subsequently proved on many occasions that he dislikes Jews and Israel almost as much as he hates Kurds.

So what's behind the sudden attempts to kiss and make up?

Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter on November 24th that was in Turkey's air space for something like 17 seconds was a major overreach. Vladimir Putin made it quite clear that he regarded the attack as unprovoked aggression and that there would be significant consequences. So Erdoğan has now come scurrying back to his former friends - NATO, and Israel. Ankara is also concerned about Iran's growing power and feels it shares a common enemy with Israel there.

The original negotiations, carried out in Switzerland went something like this. Israel tentatively agreed to set up a compensation fund - unconfirmed reports put it at around $20 million (I personally doubt it was anything like that much) for the families of the 9 killed on the Mavi Mamara. Turkey would bar Hamas from Turkey, and the two countries would also exchange ambassadors.

Even more important, Turkey and Israel would collaborate on a gas pipeline to supply gas to Turkey and Europe from Israel's massive Mediterranean gas strikes.

While Israel's Hebrew press went wild over this, reality has now reared its ugly head.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Instead of distancing itself from Turkey's friends Hamas, the first thing Erdoğan and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu did was to invite Hamas politburo chief Khalid Mesha'al to Ankara for a nice cozy chat over the weekend. And then Davutoğlu gave a press conference which spelled out clearly that whatever occurred in Switzerland, the AKP's attitude towards Israel hadn't changed one bit.

“No one is more sensitive on Gaza, Palestine, than us. Our sole goal is to bring solutions to the problems of our Palestinian brothers. This is the main objective behind our talks for the normalization of our relationship with Israel. We will not take any steps that would sadden Palestine and Gaza but we won’t hesitate to take every step that would be to their benefits, no matter what they say,” Davutoğlu told his parliamentary group on Dec 22. He also exchanged views with Hamas official Khaled Meshal about Turkey’s process with Israel in a meeting over the weekend. {...}

“Turkey has become the first state to ever enjoy the honor of making Israel formally apologize over such an incident. We have not given concessions to anybody while defending our rights,” Davutoğlu said, adding that no final agreement had been reached but talks were continuing positively with Israel.

in classic Middle East bargaining style, the Turks, you see,now want something else to finalize the deal. They want Israel to break the blockade of Gaza and allow Turkey to have what some sources referred to as 'a foothold in Gaza', and to be the intermediary between Israel and Hamas.

As Netanyahu made clear, that isn't going to happen, especially since Turkey has made no move to oust Hamas, who now have their headquarters in Istanbul. The only tangible sign of that was the expulsion of Saleh al-Arouri, a senior figure in Hamas’ military arm who operated terrorist cells in Judea and Samaria from there. There's no indication that this is anything but a temporary measure, since he could return any time. In fact, at least one of my sources tells me there's a decent amount of evidence that this particular move was even arranged in advance with Mesha'al and al-Arouri. The Hamas headquarters haven't been closed down and there are still plenty of Hamas figures still in Turkey.

Even without getting rid of the Gaza Blockade, the deal is a good one for Turkey but not nearly so good for Israel. The AKP and Erdoğan are not to be trusted one iota when it comes to Israel because they will always return to their Islamist love affair with the likes of Hamas, and their innate hatred of Israel. It's in their DNA. And siding with them against Russia and Putin is a bad idea, not to mention the Israel-friendly Kurds. Additionally, the idea of a pipeline running through Turkish territory could leave Israel open to blackmail and even sabotage in the event Erdoğan decides to turn the screws. There are other customers for Israel's gas and other ways of getting it to them.

The Iran factor shouldn't be counted on too much either. Turkey was notorious for violating the sanctions on Iran, and given Turkey's poor economy, there's no guaranty they could be trusted there either. As a matter of fact, Turkey hasn't exactly been much of an ally to NATO since the AKP took over, and there's no reason Israel should expect anything better from Erdoğan's Turkey at this point.

Far better to just agree to limit this to the exchange of ambassadors and see if Erdoğan is actually serious or if he simply wants to get whatever he can out of Israel before torpedoing relations like he did the last time.

Personally, I'd bet it's the latter.

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