A fascinating and disturbing analysis here by Melkulangara Bhadrakumar. Bhadrakumar sees the real goal of the visit as being the formal apology to Turkey that the US President squeezed out of Netanyahu!
It is a complex analysis:
- The purpose of the trip to Israel was the apology to Turkey
- The purpose of the apology to Turkey was to pave the way for direct intervention in Syria.
- The purpose of direct intervention in Syria is ultimately to weaken the leadership in Tehran.
Of course it’s not that ‘simple’ either, but politics never is! However we put the pieces together, what emerges clearly is that Obama’s visit didn’t have anything to do with any humanitarian concern for the people of Israel or Palestine, let alone for the Syrians and Iranians!
Obama Unleashes Dogs of War in Syria
By Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR
The smoke screen given to the United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel has lifted. But then, no one really bought the thesis that it was a mere kiss-and-make-up visit aimed at improving Obama’s personal chemistry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that prompted the US president to jet down to the Middle East in a rare overseas trip.
The expose came dramatically at the fag end of the visit just as Obama was about to get into the presidential jet at Tel Aviv airport on Friday. Right on the tarmac, from a makeshift trailer, he dialed up Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and after a brief exchange of pleasantries, he handed the phone to Netanyahu who thereupon went on to do what he had adamantly refused to do for the past two years – render a formal apology to Turkey over the killing of nine of its nationals in 2010 who were travelling in a flotilla on a humanitarian mission to help the beleaguered Palestinians in the Gaza enclave.
The Gaza incident had ripped apart Turkish-Israeli relations and things deteriorated sharply when Tel Aviv point blank refused to render an apology and pay compensation, as Ankara demanded. This is probably the first time in its entire diplomatic history that Israel, which pays much attention to its «macho» image, went down on its knees to render a national apology to a foreign country for sins committed. But then, the breakdown in ties with Israel left Israel stranded and helpless in the region, reduced to the role of a mere spectator at a historic juncture when the region is going through an upheaval.
The alliance with Turkey is vital to Israel to safeguard its core interests. In his statement welcoming the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation, US secretary of state pointedly said that the development “will help Israel meet the many challenges it faces in the region” and a full normalization between the two counties will enable them to “work together to advance their common interests”.
The telephone conversation at Tel Aviv airport didn’t happen all of a sudden. In a background story, senior Turkish editor Murat Yetkin who is a well-informed commentator in Ankara disclosed that according to “high-ranking sources”, Washington had approached Ankara a few weeks ago with the demarche that Obama wished to work on a rapprochement between Erdogan and Netanyahu and hoped to utilize his Israeli visit as a mediatory mission. Yetkin wrote:
As Ankara said they could accept the good offices of the U.S. to have an agreement with Israel, based on an apology, the diplomacy started. Before the start of Obama’s visit on March 20, diplomatic drafts about the terms of a possible agreement started to go back and forth between Ankara and Jerusalem under the auspices of U.S. diplomacy.
Tell tale signs
The big question is why has Turkish-Israeli normalization become so terribly important for Obama who has his hands full with so many problem areas – and, equally, for Erdogan and Netanyahu as well? The answer is to be found in the testimony given by the head of US European Command and NATO’s top military commander Adm. James Stavridis before the US Senate Armed Services Committee last Monday on the eve of Obama’s departure from Washington for Israel.
Stavridis advised the US lawmakers that a more aggressive posture by the US and its allies could help break the stalemate in Syria. As he put it, “My personal opinion is that would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the [Syrian] regime.” The influential US senator John McCain pointedly queried Stavridis about the possible role of NATO in an intervention in Syria. Stavridis replied that the NATO is preparing for a range of contingencies. “We [NATO] are looking at a wide range of operations and we are prepared if called upon to be engaged we were in Libya,” he said.
Stavridis went on to explain that the NATO Patriot missiles now deployed in Turkey ostensibly for the sake of defending Turkish airspace has the capability also to attack Syrian air force in that country’s air space and that any such a NATO operation would be a “powerful disincentive” for the Syrian regime.
Equally significant is that the NATO warships of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 [SNMGI], which arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean in late February, visited the Turkish naval base of Aksaz (where Turkey’s Southern Task Group maintains special units such as «underwater attack») recently, en route to joining last week the US Strike Group consisting of the Aircraft Carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and escorts. The SNMGI forms part of the NATO Response Force, which is permanently activated and is held at high readiness in order to respond to security challenges.
Thus, the picture that emerges – alongside other tell tale signs lately – is that a western military intervention in Syria could be in the making. A major consideration could be the timing. Iran is preparing for a crucial presidential election in June and will be heavily preoccupied with its domestic politics for the coming several months thereafter.
Obama is moving carefully factoring in that any commitment of US troops on the ground in Syria is out of the question. The US public opinion will militate against another war. But the US and NATO (and Israel) can give valuable air cover and can launch devastating missile attacks on the Syrian government’s command centres.
The western powers would focus on eliminating President Bashar al-Assad rather than display shock and awe and physically occupy the country, as George W. Bush unwisely did in the Iraq war. However, after degrading the regime comprehensively, if ground forces need to be deployed inside Syria, Turkey can always undertake such a mission. In fact, Turkey is uniquely placed undertake that mission, being a Muslim country belonging to NATO.
However, the crucial operational aspect will be that in order for the US-NATO-Turkish operation to be optimal, Israel also needs to be brought in. A close cooperation between Turkey and Israel at the operational level can be expected to swiftly pulverize the Syrian regime from the north and south simultaneously. Hence the diligence with which Obama moved to heal the Turkish-Israeli rift.
Turkey of course has strong motivations – historical, political, military and economic – to invade Syria with which it has ancient scores to settle. The Baa’thist regime in Damascus never accepted Turkish hegemony in the Levant and a strong and assertive Syria has been a thorn in the Turkish flesh. Besides, there are simmering territorial claims.
For Israel too, the comprehensive destruction of Syria as a major military power in the Middle East means that all three major Arab powers which could offer defiance to Israel in the past and have been the repositories of “Arabism” at one time or another – Iraq, Egypt and Syria – have been dispatched to the Stone Age.
But the revival of Turkish-Israeli strategic axis has other major implications as well for regional security. From Erdogan’s point of view, he has thoroughly milked the last ounce, politically speaking, by his grandstanding against Israel and Zionism to bolster his image in the «Arab Street» as a true Muslim leader who never lacked courage to stand up for the Arab cause.
He probably senses that Netanyahu’s «apology» will boost his standing even further as a Muslim leader who made Israel blink in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. But, having said that, as an astute politician, Erdogan also would size up that henceforth the law of diminishing returns is at work and he might as well now think of seeking some help from Israel.
The point is, Erdogan is currently pushing for a negotiated deal with the Kurdish militants belonging to the PKK. Last week, it appeared that his efforts may have met with some success. The PKK leader who is incarcerated in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, has called for the vacation of the Kurdish militia from Turkish soil, which brings an end to the heavy bloodletting in Turkey’s eastern provinces for the past year and more.
No more pretensions
A curious detail that cannot be lost sight of is that Ocalan always kept contacts with the US operatives, while Israeli intelligence always kept a strong presence in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Quite obviously, there could be a back-to-back arrangement on the PKK problem between Washington, Ankara and Tel Aviv, which would work well for all three protagonists.
It could buy peace for Turkish armed forces from the Kurdish fighters and in turn enable them to concentrate on the forthcoming Syrian operation. Turkey has traditionally depended on Israel to provide it with actionable intelligence on the Kurdish militant groups.
At a broader level, Turkish-Israeli reconciliation will help NATO’s future role in the Middle East. The US hopes to introduce NATO on a long-term basis as the peacekeeper in the Levant – massive energy reserves have been discovered in the Levant Basin in recent years – and a prerequisite for this would be close coordination with Israel.
The NATO’s efforts in the past four to five years to bring Israel into full play in Eastern Mediterranean as a virtual member country of the alliance were proceeding well until they hit the bump of the Turkish-Israeli rift in 2010. During the past two years, Turkey has doggedly blocked NATO’s plans to integrate Israel into its partnership program. Ankara even prevented the NATO from extending invitation to Israel to attend the alliance’s sixtieth anniversary summit in Chicago in 2010.
Suffice to say, in terms of the overall strategic balance in the Middle East, NATO’s projection as a global organization capable of acting as a net provider of security for the region – with or without UN mandate – will be optimal only with Israel’s participation.
Equally, Turkish-Israeli collaboration at the security and military level has profound implications for the Iran question. Turkey sees Iran as a rival in the Middle East while Israel regards Iran as an existential threat. Both Turkey and Israel estimate that Iran’s surge as regional power poses challenge to their own long-term regional ambitions. Thus, there is a Turkish-Israeli congruence of interests at work with regard to containing Iran in the region.
The Turkish-Israeli axis can be expected to play a crucial role in the coming months if the US ever decides to attack Iran.
In sum, Obama’s mediatory mission to Israel and his stunning success in healing the Turkish-Israeli rift resets the compass of Middle Eastern politics. In a way, American regional policies are returning to their pristine moorings of perpetuating the western hegemony in the Middle East in the 21st century, no matter how.
In the process, the Palestinian problem has been relegated to the backburner; Obama didn’t even bother to hide that he feels no particular sense of urgency about the Middle East peace process. The resuscitation of the Turkish-Israeli strategic axis gives the unmistakable signal that the Obama administration is shifting gear for an outright intervention in Syria to force «regime change». Thereupon, the strong likelihood is that Iran will come in the US-Israeli-Turkish crosshairs…
Turbulent times indeed lie ahead for the Middle East and Obama’s Israel visit will be looked upon in retrospect as a defining moment in his presidency when he cast aside conclusively and openly even his residual pretensions of being a pacifist. Indeed, he can be sure of a rare consensus in the Congress applauding his mission to Israel, which could have interesting fallouts for his domestic agenda as well. Netanyahu can help ensure that.
Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR, Former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. Devoted much of his 3-decade long career to the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran desks in the Ministry of External Affairs and in assignments on the territory of the former Soviet Union. After leaving the diplomatic service, took to writing and contribute to The Asia Times, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. Lives in New Delhi.
This report just in! What is the Israeli government up to? This is outright provocation?
If the IDF is barring access to Al-Aqsa Mosque from Palestinian worshipers, the order must have come directly from the top! Al-Aqsa (literally ‘the farthest Mosque’) is the third holiest site in Islam and is located in the old city of Jerusalem. By barring Muslims from accessing a sacred site, the Israeli government must know that the Palestinians will not stand for this!
Is Netanyahu trying to bring on the third Intifada and have it well underway by the time US President Obama makes his visit? Is this all designed to undermine any attempt by the US to build closer ties with the Palestinian government in Ramallah?
God knows what the Israeli Prime Minister is up to, but certainly he is playing with fire!
Israel denies Palestinians access to Al-Aqsa
Israeli police on Monday denied Palestinian worshippers access to Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayer, eye witnesses told The Anadolu Agency.
Israeli police also prevented a number of Palestinian students from entering the mosque compound where they learn how to recite the Quran, Muslims’ holy book.
Israeli officials have yet to make a statement over the incident.
This is a startling article that just appeared in the New York Times!
I have nothing but respect for Sam Bahour (one of the authors) and so I take what he says seriously. It seemed to me that Mr Netanyahu’s plans for more settlements in the crucial ‘E1′ area between Gaza and the West Bank were the final nail in the coffin for the ‘two-state solution’, but if Sam and his co-author still hold out hope, who am I to question their wisdom? Further, they still believe that America has a role to play in re-starting negotiations!
The authors suggest that the sort of disillusionment people like myself feel is based on four assumptions:
In my words, these are:
- That the ideological differences between the two sides are irreconcilable.
- That demographic realities will force negotiations anyway, without need for foreign interference.
- That Abbas’ government is penniless and useless.
- That Obama’s hands are tied by the powerful US Zionist lobby.
The article responds to each of these assumptions but I confess that I remain unconvinced. Bahour and Avishai argue that the fervent ideology of Hamas is fueled by the frustration experienced by years of failed peace negotiations but this obviously doesn’t apply to the ideology of the settlers. And do either of the two sides trust America any more as a broker? I get the feeling that, for the Palestinians, they are looking more to their Arab neighbours now as potential intermediaries.
U.S. Inaction, Mideast Cataclysm?
By BERNARD AVISHAI and SAM BAHOUR
ISRAELIS go to the polls today in an election that will likely give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a third term; like the current one, Israel’s next governing coaltion will probably be heavily reliant on right-wingers and religious parties.
Even so, Mr. Obama’s second term could offer a pivotal opportunity to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In his first term, he backed away from the process, figuring that America could mediate only if the parties themselves wanted to make peace — and that new talks were unlikely to be productive.
This is a mistake. The greatest enemy to a two-state solution is the sheer pessimism on both sides. Unless President Obama uses his new mandate to show leadership, the region will have no place for moderates — or for America either.
The rationale for inaction rests on four related assumptions: that strident forces dominate because their ideologies do; that the status quo — demographic trends that would lead to the enfranchisement of occupied Palestinians, a “one-state solution” and the end of Israel as a Jewish democracy — will eventually force Israel to its senses; that the observer-state status secured by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations is empty because his West Bank government is broke, dysfunctional and lacking in broad support; and that given the strength of the Israeli lobby, Mr. Obama’s hands are tied.
These assumptions seem daunting, but they are misguided. First, while Hamas, the militant Islamists who control Gaza, and Israel’s ultra-rightists, who drive the settlement enterprise, are rising in popularity, the reason is not their ideologies, but young people’s despair over the occupation’s grinding violence.
Last month, a poll by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, based in Washington, found that two-thirds of Israelis would support a two-state deal, but that more than half of even left-of-center Israelis said Mr. Abbas could not reach binding decisions to end the conflict. The same month, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, in Ramallah, found that 52 percent of Palestinians favored a two-state resolution (a drop from three-quarters in 2006, before two Israeli clashes over Gaza). But two-thirds judged the chance of a fully functional Palestinian state in the next five years to be low or nonexistent. In short, moderates on both sides still want peace, but first they need hope.
Second, the status quo is not a path to a one-state solution, but to Bosnian-style ethnic cleansing, which could erupt as quickly as the Gaza fighting did last year and spread to Israeli Arab cities. Right-wing Israelis and Hamas leaders alike are pushing for a cataclysmic fight. Mr. Abbas, whose Fatah party controls the West Bank, has renounced violence, but without signs of a viable diplomatic path he cannot unify his people to support new talks. If his government falls apart, or if the more Palestinian territory is annexed (as right-wing Israeli want), or if the standoff in Gaza leads to an Israeli ground invasion, bloodshed and protests across the Arab world will be inevitable. Such chaos might also provoke missiles from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group based in Lebanon.
Third, the Palestinian state is not a Fatah-imposed fiction, but a path toward economic development, backed by international diplomacy and donations, that most Palestinians want to succeed. It has a $4 billion economy; an expanding network of entrepreneurs and professionals; and a banking system with about $8 billion in deposits. A robust private sector can develop if given a chance.
Fourth, American support need not only mean direct talks. The administration could promote investments in Palestinian education and civil society that do not undermine Israeli security. Mr. Obama could demand that Israel allow Palestinian businesses freer access to talent, suppliers and customers. He could also demand a West Bank-Gaza transportation corridor, to which Israel committed in the 1993 Oslo accords.
America is as much a player as a facilitator. The signal it sends helps determine whether the parties move toward war or peace. The White House, despite its frosty relationship with Mr. Netanyahu, hasn’t set itself up as a worthy mediator by opposing Palestinian membership in the United Nations and vetoing condemnations of settlements.
In nominating Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon, Mr. Obama rightly ignored attacks by “pro-Israel” (really pro-Netanyahu) groups. He should appoint a Middle East negotiator trusted by all sides — say, Bill Clinton or Colin L. Powell. He should lead, not thwart, European attempts to make a deal. He has stated that the settlements will lead to Israel’s global isolation; he should make clear that they endanger American interests, too.
Washington has crucial leverage, though this won’t last forever. When it weighs in, it becomes a preoccupying political fact for both sides. If it continues to stand back, hopelessness will win.
Bernard Avishai is an Israeli-American writer in Jerusalem. Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, the West Bank
It seems that Netanyahu runs the risk of winning the battle but losing the war!
While the Israeli PM’s violent attack on Gaza and his announcement of new settlement activity in the West Bank may be ensuring him victory at the upcoming Israeli election, the rest of the world seems to be increasingly isolating Israel and putting their weight (and their money) behind the Palestinians!
- Earlier this week the UAE donated $50 million to Gaza!
- This was followed by Tunisia’s Hamadi Jebali meeting with Mahmoud Abbas and announcing “Tunisia will spare no effort at the level of the Arab League to encourage Arab leaders to lend financial support to their Palestinian brothers”
- At the same time the European Union accelerated their timetable for delivery of aid to the West Bank.
- And now, as you’ll see in the article reprinted below, Saudi Arabia has chimed in with another $100 million for the Palestinian Authority!
Meanwhile, according to some commentators in the US, Barack Obama’s disdain for Netanyahu is becoming increasingly obvious!
I get the feeling that Netanyahu’s upcoming electoral triumph may prove to be something of a Pyrrhic victory.
Saudi Arabia to give $100 million to Palestinian Authority
Saudi Arabia will give the Palestinian government $100 million to help with a budget crisis.
Saudi Arabia will give the Palestinian government in the West Bank $100 million, Reuters reported. The donation comes as President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Arab countries for a $100 monthly “safety net.” He promptly thanked Saudi Arabia, a longtime benefactor.
Abbas has been asking for the money since December, when the Israeli government decided to seize more than $120 million in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, the Guardian reported.
“The state’s budget is facing a large deficit as a result of the docking of Palestinian money by the Israeli government as a punitive step after the UN recognition of Palestine as an observer state,” Abbas said in a statement.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told reporters last week his government could not pay the salaries of most government employees, the Times of Israel reported. He warned that more than 1.5 million Palestinians could be pushed into poverty. Other Arab states had also pledged to give $100 million to Palestine recently but have failed to follow through.
Could the crisis at Bab al-Shams be the turning-point in the Palestinian struggle for justice?
Despite international opposition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that he will push ahead with more colonialist expansion into the West Bank – the latest act of aggression being the planned ‘E1′ settlement.
This time though, instead of trying to protest through the courts or simply waiting for the inevitable to happen, Palestinian activists took the initiative and created their own ‘fact on the ground’ – a tent-city settlement of their own in one of the Palestinian areas slated for Israeli settlement construction!
The important thing to realise about the Palestinian ‘settlement’, in contrast with the coming Israelis-only settlement, is that the former is entirely legal. The Palestinians are building on privately-owned Palestinian land with the permission of the owner. Even so, the Israeli courts somehow ruled in favour of the Israeli settlers, and ordered the Palestinian protesters and their international partners to be removed from their land!
I have often said that there are three levels of racism that can infect a community.
- The first is where racism happens but is not officially tolerated nor accepted by the broader culture.
- The second level is where racism is culturally acceptable, even if officially frowned upon.
- The third and most terrible level is where racism receives official sanctioning from the courts and government.
Nazi Germany is probably the most horrible example of this third and final form of a racist state, but if Israeli courts are now so blatantly backing the eviction of Palestinian people from their own land, they are surely on the same terrible path!
Israel mustered 500 armed troops to disperse the Palestinian protesters. As you’ll see from the video, the Palestinians kept to the classic protocols of non-violent resistance. Even so, many of them were brutalised.
It is possible that this valiant act of non-violent resistance could play the same role in the Palestinian struggle as did the ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident of 1965 for the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Can the world really watch this sort of injustice take place and simply say nothing?
Whether this particular act of violence will be the turning point or not, the testimony of Mustafa Barghouthi (recorded below) – that this will be the first of many such non-violent actions – is telling indeed! The Palestinians are tired of waiting for the rest of the world to take action. They have taken the future into their own hands!
If you can’t view this video, click here.