Monday, January 11, 2010

Aluf Benn / Israel alone can't be blamed for failing Turkey ties

(Aluf Benn-Haaretz).Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman demonstrated yet again Monday his policy of "aggressive response" to the slander against Israel in foreign media. Lieberman wanted to embark on serious diplomatic sanctions against Turkey in response to the airing of an episode of a Turkish television series in which Mossad agents were portrayed as evil murderers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that it would be sufficient to reprimand the Turkish ambassador to Israel.

Lieberman and his deputy, Danny Ayalon, decided to maximize the blow: The ambassador was invited to the deputy minister's office in the Knesset, and with him came the cameras of Channels 2 and 10. Ayalon explained to the cameras what the director wanted to show: The ambassador, smiling uncomfortably, was seated in a low sofa, and facing him, in higher chairs, were three somber Israelis and "only a single flag." This is how Lieberman's instructions are carried out on how to protect national honor.

Like Lieberman, Netanyahu believes that Israel must respond strongly to anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli propaganda abroad. But it is doubtful whether the prime minister expected the staged humiliation of the Turkish ambassador to open the evening newscasts. Lieberman has shown that even if he is not a welcome guest abroad, he is capable of establishing facts in foreign policy.

The whole affair can be viewed in three circles. In the internal Israeli circle, Lieberman trying to show that he is protecting national honor and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is due in Ankara on Sunday in an attempt to salvage the relations, is a groveling wimp before the bad Turks. Lieberman is angry with Barak for preventing the Ariel University Center from being accredited as a university, and Monday announced that Yisrael Beiteinu will vote against all bills put forth by Labor.

In the foreign affairs circle, Israel is not solely responsible for ruining relations with Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not missed an opportunity to harshly direct criticism at Israel since Operation Cast Lead. On Monday Erdogan roared once more, while Lebanon's prime minister Sa'ad Hariri stood at his side, blaming Israel of excessive and disproportionate use of force, stealing water, and called on the world to deal with the Dimona reactor like Iran's nuclear program.

Erdogan's relations with Israel are complex: He is strongly opposed to its military actions in the territories, but had good ties with Ariel Sharon during the disengagement, and before Cast Lead, also with Ehud Olmert. He is boycotting Netanyahu.

In the third circle, the strategic one, Turkey is near the top of the list of the failures of U.S. President Barak Obama. Obama's reconciliation with the Muslim world began in Istanbul, but the Turks did not respond to him and opted to turn "eastward," according to Netanyahu, toward Tehran and Damascus.

The previous Democratic administration, that of Bill Clinton, managed to link Turkey and Israel in a strategic alliance that served U.S. interests in the region. The downward spiral began under George W. Bush, but in the first year of the Obama administration everything fell apart. The Americans need to ask themselves how this happened and whether Turkey is lost. This is a subject for discussion for National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who is due Tuesday in Israel as part of his visit to the region.