( Nile Gardiner- The Telegraph).Listening to the Prime Minister’s remarks given yesterday in Ankara, I felt a distinct sense of déjà vu. It reminded me a great deal of Barack Obama’s controversial address to the Muslim world in Cairo in June last year, where he condemned the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank, which sparked a downward spiral of relations with America’s closest ally in the Middle East, which has yet to fully recover.
I fear the PM’s comments on Israel and Gaza could have a very similar long-term effect, with a significant deterioration of ties between London and Jerusalem. In international relations, a single throw away remark can wreak havoc upon the strongest of partnerships, carefully crafted over the course of decades but potentially undone in the space of a 30-minute speech. Here is what the PM said to his Turkish audience:
Let me be clear: the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable. And I have told Prime Minister Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.
Not only are the above remarks hugely unfair, but they are guaranteed to alienate Britain’s most valuable friend in the Middle East. The comments may have gone down well with an increasingly Islamist government in Ankara which is rapidly turning against the West, but they will seriously damage relations with Israel. They also fail to condemn the real source of Gaza’s problems – the reign of terror carried out by Hamas – a brutal terrorist organisation backed by Tehran and Damascus.
If the Prime Minister needs a guide to what he should avoid as a world leader he should look no further than the White House’s policy of constructive engagement or “smart diplomacy” as it used to be known. A key failing of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been his willingness to offend or even undermine key US allies, in order to try to appease hostile regimes, strategic competitors, or even entire regional blocs of countries in the Islamic world or Latin America.
Prime examples have included the Obama administration’s strong arm tactics towards Benjamin Netanyahu over Israeli settlements, the surrender to Moscow over missile defence and the throwing of the Poles and Czechs under the bus, the decision to side with ousted Marxists in Honduras, and support for Argentina in its calls for UN-brokered negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falklands Islands. All of these actions have caused considerable tensions with America’s true friends, while delivering no tangible benefits whatsoever for Washington, except to project a lack of loyalty and considerable weakness.
British foreign policy must be based on core principles that include the maintenance of key alliances and a willingness to stand up to terrorism in all its forms as well as the state sponsors of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah. Israel is Britain’s closest friend in the Middle East, and the new government should do all it can to strengthen ties with the Israelis rather than undermine them, especially at such a dangerous time.
As the West faces a mounting threat from the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, Great Britain, the United States and Israel must be united in defeating the brutal ambitions of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There is a very real chance of a major confrontation in the coming months between the free world and the forces of Islamist tyranny that threaten the very destruction of Israel itself. Now is not a time for division within the alliance, but a moment for key allies to stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of a grave menace to international security.