Change we must believe in

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Change has come to the Middle East. Over the past several weeks, multiple press reports indicate that Turkey is collaborating militarily with Syria in a campaign against the Kurds of Syria, Iraq and Turkey.


Turkey is a member of NATO. It fields the Western world’s top weapons systems.


Syria is Iran’s junior partner. It is a state sponsor of multiple terrorist organizations and a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.


Last September, as Turkey’s Islamist government escalated its anti-Israel rhetoric, Ankara and Damascus signed a slew of economic and diplomatic agreements. As Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made clear at the time, Turkey was using those agreements as a way to forge close alliances not only with Syria, but with Iran.


“We may establish similar mechanisms with Iran and other mechanisms. We want our relationship with our neighbors to turn into maximum cooperation via the principle of zero problems,” Davutoglu proclaimed.


And now those agreements have reportedly paved the way to military cooperation. Syrian President Bashar Assad has visited Istanbul twice in the past month and then two weeks ago, on the Kurdish New Year, Syrian forces launched an operation against Kurdish population centers throughout the country.


On Wednesday, Al-Arabiya reported that hundreds of Kurds have been killed in recent weeks.


The Syrian government media claim that 11 Kurds have been killed.


There are conflicting reports as well about the number of Kurds who have been arrested since the onslaught began. Kurdish sources say 630 have been arrested. The Turkish media claims 400 Kurds have been arrested by Syrian security forces.


Al-Arabiya also claimed that the Syrian campaign is being supported by the Turkish military.


Turkish military advisers are reportedly using the same intelligence tool for tracking Kurds in Syria as they have used against the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq: Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicles.


Even if the Al-Arabiya report is untrue, and Turkey is not currently using Israeli-manufactured weapons in the service of Syria, the very fact that Syria has military cooperation of any kind with Turkey is dangerous for Israel. Over the past 20 years, as its alliance with Turkey expanded, Israel sold Turkey some of the most sensitive intelligence- gathering systems and other weapons platforms it has developed. With Turkey’s rapid integration into the Iranian axis, Israel must now assume that if Turkey is not currently sharing those Israeli military and intelligence technologies and tools with its enemies, Ankara is likely to share them with Israel’s enemies in the future.


OBVIOUSLY, THE least Israel could be expected to do in this situation is to cut off all military ties to Turkey. But amazingly and distressingly, Israel’s leaders seem not to have recognized this. To the contrary, Israel is scheduled to deliver four additional Heron drones to Turkey next month.


Even more discouragingly, both the statements and actions of senior officials lead to the conclusion that our leaders still embrace the delusion that all is not lost with Turkey. Speaking to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee earlier this month, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told lawmakers, “What happens in Turkey is not always done with the agreement of the Turkish military. Relations with the Turkish army are important and they need to be preserved. I am personally in touch with the Turkish chief of staff.”


As Turkish columnist Abdullah Bozkurt wrote last week in Today’s Zaman, Ashkenazi’s claim that there is a distinction between Turkish government policies and Turkish military policies is “simply wishful thinking and do[es] not correspond with the hard facts on the ground.”


Bozkurt explained, “Ashkenazi may be misreading the signals based on a personal relationship he has built with outgoing Turkish military Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug. The force commanders are much more worried about the rise in terror in the southeastern part of the country, and pretty much occupied with the legal problems confronting them after some of their officers, including high-ranking ones, were accused of illegal activities. The last thing the top brass wants is to give an impression that they are cozying up with Israelis…”


As described by Michael Rubin in the current issue of Commentary, those “legal problems” Bozkurt referred to are part of a government campaign to crush Turkey’s secular establishment.


As the constitutionally appointed guarantors of Turkey’s secular republic, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist government has targeted the military high command for destruction.


Two years ago, a state prosecutor indicted 86 senior Turkish figures including retired generals, prominent journalists, professors and other pillars of Turkey’s former secular leadership for supposedly plotting a coup against the Islamist regime.


By all accounts the 2,455-page indictment was frivolous. But its impact on Turkey’s once allpowerful military has been dramatic.


As Rubin writes, “Bashed from the religious Right and the progressive Left, the Turkish military is a shadow of its former self. The current generation of generals is out of touch with Turkish society and, perhaps, their own junior officers. Like frogs who fail to jump from a pot slowly brought to a boil, the Turkish General Staff lost its opportunity to exercise its constitutional duties.”


And yet, rather than come to terms with this situation, and work to minimize the dangers that an Iranian- and Syrian-allied Turkey poses, Israel’s government and our senior military leaders are still trying to bring the alliance with Turkey back from the dead. Last month’s disastrous “top secret” meeting between Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Davutoglu is case in point.


Far from ameliorating the situation, these sorts of gambits only compound the damage. By denying the truth that Turkey has joined the enemy camp, Israel provides Turkey with credibility it patently does not deserve. Israel also fails to take diplomatic and other steps to minimize the threat posed by the NATO member in the Iranian axis.


OUR LEADERS’ apparent aversion to accepting that our alliance with Turkey has ended is troubling not only for what it tells us about the government’s ability to craft policies relevant to the challenges now facing us from Turkey. It bespeaks a general difficulty that plagues our top echelons in contending with harsh and unwanted change.


Take Egypt for example. Over the past week, a number of reports were published about the approaching end of the Mubarak era. The Washington Times reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is terminally ill and likely will die within the year. The Economist featured a 15- page retrospective on the Mubarak era in advance of its expected conclusion.


There are many differences between the situation in Egypt today and the situation that existed in Turkey before the Islamists took over in 2002.


For instance, unlike Turkey, Egypt has never been Israel’s strategic ally. In recent years however, Egypt’s interests have converged with Israel’s regarding the threat posed
by Iran and its terror proxies Hizbullah and Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the Mubarak regime’s nemesis, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. These shared interests have paved the way for security cooperation between the two countries on several issues.


All of this is liable to change after Mubarak exits the stage. In all likelihood the Muslim Brotherhood will have greater influence and power than it enjoys today. And this means that a successor regime in Egypt will likely have closer ties to the Iranian axis. Despite the Sunni-Shi’ite split, joined by a common enmity toward the Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood has strengthened its ties to Iran and Hizbullah of late.


Recognizing the shifting winds, presidential hopefuls are cultivating ties with the Brotherhood.


For instance, former International Atomic Energy Agency chief and current Egyptian presidential hopeful Mohamed El-Baradei has been wooing the Brotherhood for months. And in recent weeks, they have been getting on his bandwagon. Apparently, El-Baradei’s support for Iran’s nuclear program won him credibility with the jihadist group even though he is not an Islamic fanatic.


If and when the Brotherhood gains power and influence in Egypt, it is likely that Egypt will begin sponsoring the likes of Hamas, al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. And the more powerful the Brotherhood becomes in Egypt, the more likely it is that Egypt will abrogate its peace treaty with Israel.


It is due to that peace treaty that today Egypt fields a conventional military force armed with sophisticated US weaponry. The Egyptian military that Israel fought in four wars was armed with inferior Soviet weapons. Were Egypt to abrogate the treaty, a conventional war between Egypt and Israel would become a tangible prospect for the first time since 1973.


Despite the flood of stories indicating that the end of the Mubarak era is upon us, publicly Israel’s leaders behave as though nothing is the matter. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s routine fawning pilgrimage to Mubarak this week seemed to demonstrate that our leaders are not thinking about the storm that is brewing just over the horizon in Cairo.


TURKEY’S TRANSFORMATION from friend to foe and the looming change in Egypt demonstrate important lessons that Israel’s leaders must take to heart. First, Israel has only a very limited capacity to influence events in neighboring countries.


What happened in Turkey has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the fact that Erdogan and his government are Islamist revolutionaries. So, too, the changes that Egypt will undergo after Mubarak dies will have everything to do with the pathologies of Egyptian society and politics, and nothing to do with Israel. Our leaders must recognize this and exercise humility when they assess Israel’s options for contending with our neighbors.


Developments in both Turkey and Egypt are proof that in the Middle East there is no such thing as a permanent alliance. Everything is subject to change. Turkey once looked like a stable place. Its military was constitutionally empowered – and required – to safeguard the country as a secular democracy. But seven years into the AKP revolution the army cannot even defend itself.


So, too, for nearly 30 years Mubarak has ruled Egypt with an iron fist. But as Israel saw no distinction between Mubarak and Egypt, the hostile forces he repressed multiplied under his jackboot.


Once he is gone, they will rise to the surface once more.


Moving forward, Israel must learn to hedge its bets. Just because a government embraces Israel one day does not mean that its military should be given open access to Israeli military technology the next day. So, too, just because a regime is anti-Israel one day doesn’t mean that Israel cannot develop ties with it that are based on shared interests.


Whether it is pleasant or harsh, change is a fact of our lives. The side that copes best with change will be the side that prospers from it.


Our leaders must recognize this truth and shape their policies accordingly.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post. 
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  • Marc Handelsman, USA 07/23/2010 at 12:43

    Israeli foreign policy needs to be recalibrated toward Turkey. Since Turkey joined the Evil Axis, Israel should stop selling weapon systems to Turkey. Israel should not break off diplomatic relations with Turkey, but should aid the Turkish secular movement where possible. As for Egypt, the situation will probably deteriorate after President Mubarak dies. There could possibly be an Islamic revolution in Egypt similar to the one in Iran. If Israel is going to effectively “hedge its bets,” it needs to restore a credible strategic deterrence to defend its sovereignty.

  • Anonymous 07/23/2010 at 17:29

    The article does not address the fundamental Muslim antipathy against Israel and Jews. This basic, permanent, and near universal antipathy makes it easy for a Muslim country to turn anti-Israel and difficult to turn pro-Israel.
    In Turkey the muslim Immams for many decades preached virulently against Jews and Israel. Even in what was essentially a secular nation this has had its effect. Granted the Turkish military were friendly to Israel and Turkish people were friendly to Israeli tourists the change has come. Within several years the AKP which was freely elected by the Turkish people has managed to turn the situation completely around. To hope to retain influence by selling arms to Turkey is suicidal. One can hope that the AKP will be thrown out at the next election but if the AKP is not worried about losing an election one must wonder at the likelihood of this happening.
    In Egypt there was no peace agreement until after Egypt lost 4 wars with Israel. It was very difficult to turn Egypt! The man that made the agreeent, Anwar Sadat, was assasinated and the man keeping the agreement is very old now and of course cannot be expected to be able to rule the country for too long (we can only hope he lives as long and keeps as alert as Moses). Even so the peace is more like an armistace and the fundamental Muslim hostility against Jews was repeatedly displayed. Jews cannot even visit Maimonides’ Synagogue or marry Egyptians or attend medical conferences.
    One cannot hedge one’s bets when the house odds are very long against you. Hedging is merely a prescription for continuing to stay at the table and lose money. Hedging with the Nazis was tried and failed. Netanyahu has been doing nothing but hedging since he took office with the result that the enemies of Israel were encouraged. The side that accurately and without self-delusion assesses the situation and prepares for it with courage is the one that has a chance of survival.

  • naomir 07/23/2010 at 19:57

    What will it take to convince us that our enemies are, indeed, our enemies. Turkey has made it clear in so many different ways that we are no longer in their good graces. Are we that desperate to sell weapons to them that we could end up being on the receiving end of those same weapons G-d forbid? Hosni Mubarak is at death’s door. Yes, there has been an uneasy truce all these years, but the possibility is that Gamel Mubarak will inherit his father’s position. He is not strong enough to keep out the Muslim brotherhood. Israel’s leaders have some vital decisions to make and deciding to play stupid should not be one of them. Shabbat shalom.

  • Terry, Eilat - Israel 07/24/2010 at 1:02

    At the moment, the only change I believe in is getting rid of our current gov’t.
    And, since that isn’t likely, or rather, we’d only get a worse gov’t., the only change I foresee is the end of our state in the near future. Sorry to be so pessimistic but any realistic analysis points in that direction.
    I read the news every day, various blogs, and all that comes to mind is one word: stupid.
    This country, for all the achievements, is stupid. Our political system is a ghastly failure. More & more, I think of re-locating.
    You & a few others do an excellent job of analysis but who is listening?
    I’ll add one other point – I would face any hardship, have no fear of any danger, if we as a nation stood firm against our enemies. But, this is not the case. We are committing national suicide & for that, I’m not willing to make any sacrifice. Better to get the hell out & admit to myself that coming here was a mistake.

  • Geoffrey Britain 07/24/2010 at 13:54

    Once again, Turkey, Erdogan, Iran, Ahmadinejad, et al are NOT the problem. They are symptoms. The mind-set characterized by Ehud Barak and the majority of the Israeli media with its support within the Israeli public for Barak’s point of view is THE problem.
    That’s the 800 lb gorilla in the room.
    Until that factor is resolved, no real progress will occur and Israel is simply being led in fits and starts, toward the gallows…
    Netanyahu knows this but the political support he needs to enact real change is fundamentally lacking.
    Were he to ‘face the facts’ and treat Turkey as the enemy they currently are it would precipitate a crisis within his government and he would almost certainly fall from power with a liberal appeasement-minded government taking his place.
    Under Obama, there’s a very similar situation developing in the US regarding radical Islam, Israel is just further down the same road we are traveling together.
    In both countries, those who see the hand-writing on the wall and are willing to fight are in the minority and in both countries the leftist liberals prevent decisive action from being taken.
    Appeasers don’t change because at the heart of appeasement is moral cowardice and cowards run away from conflict, they don’t suddenly ‘grow a pair’, like a rat they only turn and fight when cornered.
    All of these factors mean that Israel will not awaken until it is either too late or almost too late.
    Given the psychology at play, this is all as predictable as a Japanese Kabuki play.
    Nothing will change until Israel is on the very brink of total defeat, genocide and the final solution.

  • Bill K. 07/25/2010 at 3:16

    The thoroughly inadequate response of the Israeli government to the Turkish sponsored flotilla and the Turkish military alliance with Syria is symptomatic of the moral rot at the center of the West.
    By refusing to face the facts of reality involving Turkey’s descent into militant Islam, Israeli officials are aiding and abetting the formation of another pestiferous totalitarian Islamic state in the mold of Iran. Selling any military equipment to Turkey is no different than selling it to Iran. Israel should just not cut any ties with the Turkish military but also sever diplomatic relations.
    The rot that sanctions this sort of immoral behavior on the part of the Israeli government is the morality of altruism that prohibits any actions that may benefit one’s self, or by extension, one’s country. Appeasement, the sacrifice of one’s rational interests to another, is a manifestation of altruism. This is also why Israel has not destroyed Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria when it has every right to.
    How should Israel have responded to the flotilla and other Turkish outrages?
    “The purpose of this flotilla was unmitigated evil. And Israel had both a right and an obligation to thwart it. Unfortunately, her efforts to do so were pathetic—as were America’s reactions to Israel’s efforts.
    “For her part, Israel self-sacrificially placed her commandos in harm’s way by having them rappel, one by one, onto the deck of a ship full of hostile thugs. This is obscene. Israel’s soldiers are not meat to be fed to animals; they are noble, heroic young men and women charged with fighting at the front line against barbarians. (They are also conscripted, which is utterly immoral, but that is an issue for another day.) Sacrificing teenagers and twenty-somethings to pacify the “international community” is an unforgivable moral crime.
    “What should Israel have done about the flotilla? She should have warned the “peace activists” that any attempt to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza would be seen as an act of war (which it is), and that any boat that got close enough to the blockade to pose a credible threat11 would be sunk. If, after the warning, the boats continued toward the blockade, Israel should have sunk them.
    “Of course, the “international community” and the anti-Israel media would still have screamed “bloody murder!” So what? By acting on the principle that any attempt to break Israel’s vital blockade constitutes an act of war, Israel would have stood on the objective, selfish, moral high ground. She could then have answered: “Yes, we sank the enemy ships, and if any more approach our blockade, we will sink them too. We have a moral right to defend ourselves against barbarians who seek to kill us and against ‘useful idiots’ who seek to help them. Israel is a legitimate, rights-respecting nation, and we will not participate in stunts designed to harm or weaken us.”

  • Anonymous 07/25/2010 at 15:58

    If Iran conducts nuclear tests this year, as everyone in the know seems to believe it will, will Messrs. Netanyahu and Barak be tried for sedition and dereliction, or will their only punishment be the disgrace with which history’s record will regard them?

  • Josh 07/25/2010 at 19:58

    To Terry from Eilat,
    I’ve followed your talkbacks on JPost and elsewhere for quite some time (it appears we receive our news from the same sources). Upon reading your latest talkback on Caroline’s blog, I became distressed. I hope you don’t leave Israel. Yes, there is much in Israel that needs to be changed, but leaving Israel is not the answer. Without dedicated Jews and Zionists who have high ideals, common sense and strategic acumen, like you, Israel will be in an even worse position. Furthermore, there are other concerned Israelis like yourself, who are struggling to enact positive changes. These include Knesset members like Arieh Eldad and Danny Danon, as well as academics and writers at organizations such as the Jerusalem Summit and the Ariel Center for Policy Research. And don’t forget about the New Israel Guardsmen who protect Jewish homes and farms in the North. Join these courageous Israelis in their struggles. Don’t leave Israel — Israel needs you! (If only the Likud under Yitzhak Shamir had won the 1992 Israeli elections, Israel and the world would be better and safer places.)

  • Dave Schatz 07/28/2010 at 14:16

    Why does Israel continue to sell military equipement inclding drones (used in the Turkish Syria war against Kurds)? These could come back to Israel. As we speak the Taliban are killing US soldiers with stinger anti aircraft missiles the CIA sold them to fight the Russians when they were in Afghanistan.

  • Mick 07/31/2010 at 13:35

    And there arose in America a president who knew not Joseph!
    And there arose in Turkey a prime minister who knew not Joseph!
    And there arose in Egypt (again) a president who knew not Joseph!
    Are you getting the picture Israel? It’s time to wake up!


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