John Kerry and Chuck Hagel have been continuing the Obama administration love fest with Israel that began with the President’s visit a few weeks ago. Hagel on his visit bore the gift of a $10-billion arms deal, among which were armaments for Israel, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. All of them were a knife pointed at the throat of Iran. This comes on top of the announcement of a $400-million Pentagon allocation for new Iron Dome missile batteries meant for Israel. If I were an Israeli I’d be asking a few questions on that score, since the battery in Eilat didn’t work when Sinai Islamists fired two rockets from Egypt into Israel a few days ago. This follows the failure of the anti-missile system to successfully intercept any higher than 5% of its intended targets during Operation Pillar of Cloud according to U.S. and Israeli experts in the field. Do I hear, boondoggle??
Returning to that $10-billion weapons sale: those intended for Israel would bolster an attack against Iran, should Israel decide to go rogue and do so on its own. However, the U.S. pointedly refused to include the massive ordnance penetrators (bunker busters) that would be necessary for Israel to penetrate Fordo, Iran’s most sensitive nuclear facility.
Israel’s chief of staff recently announced, somewhat oddly, that Israel could indeed attack Iran successfully alone. It’s odd because Gantz is known to oppose such an attack, and almost every sensible military analyst in Israel and the U.S. says just the opposite–that the level of damage Israel can do to Iran is relatively small (a 1-3 year delay in its nuclear program).
Returning to Kerry, he followed his trip to Israel with a stop in Ankara where he promptly angered both the Turks and Sheldon Adelson (!) You ask: how can Adelson be angry about anything spoken in the ear of a Turk? Kerry committed the unpardonable sin of expressing sympathy for Turkey’s victims of the Mavi Marmara massacre by comparing them to those of the Boston Marathon terror attack. Now mind you, he didn’t even mention the ship’s name or the incident explicitly. He just alluded to it. But that was enough to get the Adelson-Republican Jewish Coalition juices flowing. They’re demanding that he retract his statement or else…or else what you ask? Perhaps they’ll demand they change the name of Turkish coffee to Greek coffee, as the GOP changed French fries to Freedom fries in the Congressional cafeteria after France “betrayed” us in the United Nations regarding the Iraq war.
But the real subject of this post is a bizarre statement Kerry made suggesting that Prime Minister Erdogan’s planned visit to Gaza would be most unfortunate and untimely:
“We have expressed to the prime minister that we really think that it would be better delayed and that it shouldn’t take place at this point in time,” Mr. Kerry said in a news conference here.
“The timing of it is really critical with respect to the peace process that we’re trying to get off the ground,” Mr. Kerry said. “We would like to see the parties begin with as little outside distraction as possible.”
The argument that such a visit could likely torpedo highly anticipated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is pretty funny since there haven’t been any such talks in years and I’ve seen no firm signs of any in our future. Kerry made the specially funny claim that such a trip would be inopportune “at this time.” It begs the question: when will be a more opportune time? Perhaps after Israel has swallowed every piece of arable land on the West Bank and Israeli settler population rises to 1-million?
Turkey’s response was fast and furious. They basically told Kerry to butt out and mind his own friggin’ business:
“Only our government decides where and when our prime minister or another Turkish official would go to, and is not in a position to seek permission or acceptance of any authority,” Mr. Erdogan’s deputy prime minister and government spokesman, Bulent Arinc, said in a televised statement. “Because both Mr. Kerry and the world know that Turkey has the power to do whatever it wishes at the desired time.”
It’s not your job, Mr. Secretary, they said. Turkey also understood that Israel put Kerry up to this bit of political theater. So in effect, Kerry was acting as Bibi Netanyahu’s mouthpiece. This too would not endear Kerry to the Turks.
So we now have the likelihood that Erdogan will be traveling to Washington to see Pres. Obama and shortly after that leaving for his historic visit to Gaza. It will be the first time a Turkish leader has visited Palestine in decades, if ever.
This visit will be a stick in Obama’s eye, but especially in Bibi’s. If both thought Israel’s apology for Mavi Marmara was going to be enough to get the two countries back into each other’s loving embrace, they were wrong. Erdogan plans to continue to forge an independent path in Turkey’s regional politics. He will not become a proxy for either Israel or the U.S. as his country has been in the past.
Neither Israel nor the U.S. likes such leaders. Invariably, we do everything we can to bring them down a peg or two. In the old days, we used to topple them outright with coups as in Iran in 1953 and Chile in 1973. Nowadays, we can’t be so blatant and obvious since it’s less politically acceptable.
But it’s going to be very hard to do any such thing to Erdogan. He’s riding a wave of popularity domestically. His national economy is humming. He needs little from us. And we need him more than he needs us. A very troubling position for the U.S.-Israel Bobsey Twins to be in.
Palestine has a potentially very powerful ally in Turkey. The question is how will it use its power in this circumstance and when. What I would like to see happen is for Obama and Erdogan (perhaps joined by Egypt) to cook up a joint plan that will call for compromises from both sides; and enforce those demands with tangible threats and promises. If the U.S. called Israel to heel and Turkey called Palestine to heel (especially Hamas), that would be a very powerful combination.
I don’t see this happening anytime soon, if ever. Obama simply doesn’t have the balls for it. But I still think it’s an elegant plan and would work if tried.