Wednesday, December 30, 2015

'Normalization' with Turkey? No thank you - Ari Soffer

by Ari Soffer

Rapprochement with Turkey at this time and under the current terms would be a momentous, humiliating and self-defeating mistake for the State of Israel.

What a shame. Just as it seemed we might put everything behind us, Turkey has once again spurned its erstwhile ally Israel by, not for the first time, leveling conditions it knows the Jewish state can never accept in return for the holy grail of "normalization."

Lifting the blockade of Gaza - which has been ruled as legal by the UN and which is crucial for Israel's security - as demanded by Ankara, would obviously mark a total surrender by Israel from a diplomatic perspective, while placing Israelis at an acceptable risk of attack from terrorists armed with previously-inaccessible, sophisticated weaponry.

It is a condition which even the Netanyahu government - which is apparently keen to get back into bed with the Erdogan regime - cannot accept.

How sad - we were so close. But who knows, perhaps there's still a chance of rapprochement? At least, that's what Israel's foreign ministry apparently thinks.

Well, let's hope not. Rapprochement with Turkey at this time and under the current terms would be a momentous, humiliating and self-defeating mistake for the State of Israel. We can only thank God that, once again, we have been saved from ourselves by the sheer spitefulness and arrogance of our foes - at least for now.

No, our foes are not the Turkish people per se - although the fact that they have repeatedly voted in an anti-Semitic, Islamist demagogue and his clique, who were the ones who so dramatically and deliberately torpedoed their country's relations with us in the first place, doesn't exactly emanate goodwill.

But in the mustachioed, suited Islamists of the ruling AKP, Israel has a foe no less vicious, and only slightly less dangerous than the bearded, robed mullahs of Tehran.

It is a government which has not merely spewed a regular rhetorical stream of anti-Israel bile, while its officials air anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Rhetoric aside, Erdogan's Turkey has been home for several years now to Hamas's most lethal terrorist masterminds, allowing them to plot their genocide of the Jewish state under state protection and largess, while openly endorsing and supporting the terrorist group throughout its wars and terror campaigns against the citizens of Israel.

Then consider the alleged deal under consideration, details of which have been gradually leaked by Israeli officials, most likely in an attempt to test the Israeli public's reactions.

The one thing which is certainly a condition for Israeli-Turkish rapprochement - being the only detail Ankara and Jerusalem have both publicly acknowledged - is an official apology and handsome compensation package to the families of the Islamist extremists who attacked IDF soldiers aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010.

This is likely what Israeli foreign ministry Director-General Dore Gold meant, when he claimed in a recent interview with a Saudi paper that "some points have already been finalized and others are still being discussed, but things are on track."

This condition is itself an indication of the barely-concealed enmity harbored towards Israel by the Turkish government. Remember, the Islamists in question were killed while staging a violent attack on Israeli forces - which left several soldiers seriously wounded - and were all members of an extremist organization (the IHH) which even Turkish police have said has clear links to Al Qaeda.

(Of course, this latter point matters not to a Turkish government which has brazenly backed Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria - but I digress.)

What's more, the Marmara attack was only possible with the Turkish government's cooperation - the flotilla launched its final leg from Turkish shores amid much fanfare and official government support. If anything, it is the Turks who should be apologizing for enabling a flagrant violation of Israeli sovereignty and a violent, near-lethal assault on our soldiers.

The demand that Israel should apologize for its soldiers defending their own lives - and in the process the lives of all Israeli citizens, whose security is served by the maintenance of the blockade the Islamists sought to break - should be considered an unacceptable slap in the face. It's not just a disgraceful betrayal of our soldiers - such a craven apology would merely invite further such attacks. It would also broadcast a more fundamental signal of weakness throughout the region, framing Israel as the local whipping-boy: if you put enough pressure, hold out for long enough, and then dangle a carrot or two, the mighty Jewish state, desperate for friends, will eventually give in to your demands.

In the politics of the Middle East the currency of honor and respect is as valuable for a country's deterrence as its technical military capabilities. This, alas, is a fact our leaders seem stubbornly determined to ignore. Each time our enemies attack us, and lose, we reward them by agreeing to go back to square one in exchange for token agreements we all know will be broken as soon as it becomes expedient to do so.

And what would Israel get in return? That is rather less clear, not least because Turkish officials have in recent days denied what Israeli reports had claimed as the main elements of a normalization agreement. Ties with Hamas are not on the chopping block, while negotiations over a multi-billion dollar natural gas deal are apparently only to begin after any eventual normalization agreement, according to a recent report in Haaretz. Meanwhile, Hamas's terrorist kingpin Salah al-Arouri - who has been behind nearly every single major terrorist plot in Judea and Samaria in recent years, as well as the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers in 2014 which he proudly gloated about - reportedly left Turkey months ago, leaving claims by Israeli officials that his expulsion was part of the deal looking somewhat contrived.

Of course, the very notion that the AKP - the Turkish version of the Muslim Brotherhood - would be open to dropping its Palestinian cousin Hamas seemed far-fetched to begin with. But even if we assume that Turkey's denials are all a political ploy or the result of a sudden about-face, and that such a deal was in fact on the table, none of these "gains" would be of particular value to Israel, certainly not in exchange for an "alliance" with a government as unreliable as Erdogan's. 

Expelling Hamas leaders - the incentive most commonly touted to the Israeli media - would pose no more than a minor, temporary inconvenience for the world's richest terrorist organization after ISIS. Viable alternatives for a safe haven would include Qatar, home of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal himself; and of course, if all else fails, there's always Iran.

The vague suggestion of a Turkish-Israeli "strategic alliance" in view of supposedly mutual regional threats is perhaps more laughable still.

Erdogan may be an enemy of Bashar al-Assad, but the Syrian dictator and his army are hardly a threat to Israel. As for the Sunni jihadis Ankara has claimed to be combating (by bombing the Kurds who are fighting them, naturally): Turkey's support for Al Nusra (Al Qaeda) and other Islamist rebels is one of the Syrian civil war's worst-kept secrets - as is his government's blind eye towards, if not indirect support of, ISIS operatives both along the Syria-Turkey border as well as within his own country.

More importantly, however, is the fact that neither the Syrian army nor Al Nusra or even ISIS (despite the latter's exceptional PR) currently pose an immediate threat to Israel. Hamas does - and its leadership is still warmly embraced by Turkey and, as is clear from the ongoing, intimate tet-a-tets between the two ideological cousins, still will be regardless of the geographic relocation of individual operatives.

Neither does a weakened Ankara, squeezed by an aggressive Russia and an emboldened Iran, and alienated by its own arrogant, failed neo-Ottoman foreign policy experiment, represent much of a bulwark against Tehran. In contrast, the increasingly determined Arab gulf states - led by Saudi Arabia - have shown far more flexibility and far less open hostility towards a relationship with Israel, albeit a semi-covert one.

The Kurds, too - who Erdogan's forces are currently butchering to deafening international silence - represent a far more convincing ally in the fight against both Sunni and Shia jihadism, if only Jerusalem woke up to Kurdistan's immense strategic potential as more than just a source of cheap oil.

Which brings us to the final talking-point surrounding the "normalization" initiative: the prospect of a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline to export Israel's natural gas deposits to an energy-hungry Turkey.

For a start, Turkey isn't the only country in the world looking to buy natural gas, and Israel should certainly not be so quick to embrace as toxic a regime as Erdogan's in exchange for such a deal.

More crucially, this aspect of the talks highlights the very reason why prospects of "normalization" have so magically advanced over the past few weeks.

55% of Turkey's natural gas imports are currently provided by Russia, and with relations with Moscow rapidly deteriorating it can't be ruled out that a vengeful Putin would use that dependency to apply yet further pressure, or even move to withdraw it altogether. Hence, an increasingly isolated Turkey is looking for alternatives - which, thanks to a series of misjudged foreign policy decisions, are in short supply in the Middle East.

Yet if Erdogan is indeed so desperate to source an alternative provider that he is turning to the hated Zionists for salvation then why, to quote Netanyahu himself, is the Israeli government negotiating like a western tourist in a Persian (or Turkish) bazaar? Why should we be capitulating to Ankara's terms, instead of demanding Turkey hands over those Hamas terrorists still living there, stops supporting anti-Israel terrorists and ends its anti-Israel incitement? 

And then there is Russia. At a time when ties between Jerusalem and Moscow are burgeoning - economically and militarily - why risk snubbing Putin by cosying up to his newest public enemy number one?

Instead of hoping for a return to the past in a Middle East that will never be the same again, Israel should look to the future. As I have argued previously, Israel is not a vassal state dependent on the goodwill of others, but a regional power in its own right - one that is fully capable of putting Erdogan's feet to the fire.

And if, as is likely, he opts to continue supporting Israel's sworn enemies, I'm sure the Kurds would be happy to repay the favor.

Ari Soffer


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