Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ankara's Washington misreading

The flotilla attack, which turned out to be one of the saddest events of the Republic of Turkey's recent history, still produces consequences in the Middle East and beyond.
Following the attack, Turkey waged a diplomatic war against Israel with every possible instrument that it held in its disposal. Billions worth of military contracts and joint military exercises are canceled, the Israelis started to boycott the Turkish goods along with sending dramatically fewer tourists to Turkey. The leaders of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, have uttered the heaviest words possible in the international diplomacy arena against Israel since then, and received equally harsh responses from Jerusalem.
Turkey, in the days that imminently followed the flotilla attack, rightly, acted crossly and mobilized the international bodies to punish Israel. Israel failed to confront the aid ships safely and it will, at some point, have to accept its responsibilities in killing 9 people. In light of this disproportionately heavy intervention by the Israeli Navy commandos, various international actors rallied behind the Turkish position, along with the majority of public opinion.
It can be well argued, on the other hand, that the Erdogan government used the flotilla crisis to the limit to exploit it for its own domestic and foreign political gains as well. Sadly, it seems that the hard-hitting rhetoric against Israel is politically very convenient in Turkey, because there are so few minorities left to demonstrate any meaningful backlash against those populist orators.
The leadership of the AKP, however, did not stop with waging a diplomatic war. Instead, Ankara chose to cut about all its diplomatic and intelligence ties, most importantly back channel exchanges of information with Jerusalem. The new head of the Turkish Intelligence Service, or MIT, Mr. Hakan Fidan, was also detested by Jerusalem the minute it became clear that Fidan was promoted to the job. The Israeli media, in a rare occurrence, targeted and flaked Mr. Fidan harshly and tended to depict him as someone who has closer ties with Iran than Israel. The Israelis, according to sources who have close eyes on the clandestine services and world, are panicked by a possibility that some of the military and diplomatic secrets that have been shared with Turkey can be passed onto Iran and others.
The diplomatic relations also took a heavy hit between Ankara and Jerusalem, when Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel in very early days of the crisis. Since then, with almost no or very little behind the scene communication, Turkey has chosen to shout lauder, and angrier at the Israelis. And this is when the US administration began to draw a line with the Turkish government.
Did the AKP sincerely believe that it could push Washington to take a position against Israel, dump it if necessary and support the Turkish position all the way? It appeared throughout the recent weeks that Ankara indeed believed that, through building its own '9-11' rhetoric to convince the Obama administration.
It can be safely argued then, that whoever is in the charge of reading Washington on the side of the AKP government, read Washington upside down, and picked up the mistaken insights.
The Turkish ambassador to Washington, Mr. Namik Tan, is known with his clear understanding and deep familiarity with the realities of the Washington political theater. It is also confirmed by different sources that the Turkish diplomatic channels did indeed ring the alarm bells continuously in recent weeks to warn Ankara that a stormy weather has been gathering against Turkey in Washington which would be extremely difficult to defy once starts to act.
The next question then becomes which other channels are in the loop, between Ankara and Washington that produce many of the miscalculated analyses, which mostly run against the realities of Washington or the official diplomatic cables, and known that they arrive on policy making desks?
Nowadays, another huge disadvantage of the current Turkish government is its lack of credible and well-connected backchannel relations with Washington's power houses. It was easy to recognize the negative effect of this missing chain just a week ago when the AKP Parliamentary delegation was in Washington. The AKP delegation was consisted of prominent Parliamentary figures in its ranks to explain Turkey's position in Washington highest officials possible. However, the delegation ended up meeting none of the first class American Congressional leaders, and the US administration officials.
For the last few weeks, "no" vote at the United Security Council coincided with the flotilla crisis, and for many, this coincides also validated the arguments that suggest Turkey drifts away from the West. Whether the members of the US Congress know much about the Turkish foreign policy and its newly found regional leadership aspirations, is a different topic. However, various letters have been distributed to the members of the Congress throughout weeks received a record number of signatures. For instance, 87 out of 100 senators did not hesitate to sign on a letter that targeted Turkey's foreign policies, without naming names, next to ask stronger support for Israel from Obama.
Turkey now seems to be put in a dog house in Washington for a while. The US administration treats Turkey extremely carefully, and the statements that came from the various State Department officials in recent days, lack excitement, spirit and warmth. This stonewalling attitude of the US administration does not mean necessarily it wishes to alienate the Turkish administration. However, it does signal that it will not tolerate some of the harsher rhetoric that repeatedly come from there.
Israel eased the blockade on Gaza last week, and Turkey's role to push Israel in that direction is undeniable. The Turkish administration can build on this noteworthy success and be persistent to see the total end of the blockade in foreseeable future. Though, Turkey also must be able to calculate its priorities and preferences when it comes to new engagement and disengagement policies in the region.
Ankara, first, shall start spending more time to read Washington better. The US domestic politics, and the turbulent months ahead will even more complicate the power balance in Washington, most likely resulting a weaker President in few months time along with a stronger legislative branch and the opposition.
Ankara cannot afford to misread Washington any longer.
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Guest - James
2010-06-30 23:38:35
 These are all Israelis talking here. I think a large part of the American foreign policy establishment in the U.S. would like to see a more assertive democratic, Muslim majority Turkey, with NATO membership in the M.E. Don't discount domestic policy in driving the U.S. At least until November elections the U.S. will be forced to back Israel 100%, not because it is in America's interests, but because AIPAC and its donors help pay for political campaigns, and Israel and its lobby intimidate politicians into supporting Israel. They throw money at candidates that don't sign onto AIPAC letters, and label them terrorist supporters. But Israel is becoming partisan, and democrats, before Obama, were starting to question Israel. If Israel continues with its policies, and is unable to explain them, a shift in American opinions is possible. And AIPAC will be weakened! 
Guest - Alex
2010-06-29 19:16:12
 With regard to perception of Turkey, the strongest lesson from the flotilla incident seems to be that Turkey has no loyalty whatsoever to people who have treated it as friends. Whatever the merits of the Gaza situation, no one will ever trust Turkey again. What sort of country sets a trap for a country with which it has had friendly relations, and then bitterly denounces that country in the most insulting terms? If Turkey can act like that towards Israel, clearly it has no qualms about doing so towards other 'partners' (e.g. NATO or EU) should the perceived needs of the moment dictate. The loss of confidence in Turkey will have long term implications. 
2010-06-28 21:19:42
 THE MAIN THRUST OF THE ARTICLE IS VITALLY IMPORTANT, IN FACT... Has Turkey already jumped off the precipice between it's NATO alliance and it's alliance with Iran? Knowing or believing that Iran is or may soon be nuclear ready, bluff or not, the Turkey-Syria-Iran Axis consolidation is a profound shift of power in the Middle East and in the World. Such an Axis including Hezbollah (Lebanon) and Hamas (Gaza) may well provoke World War Three, a war that may have already set sail or may set sail soon. So-called "Peace Flotillas" that threaten Israel would not be tolerated by the nations that send them. Imagine; suppose Israel were to send such a flotilla to aid the PKK! Hello! The Turkey-Syria-Iran Axis should take a severe look at their own culpabilies in pressing Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, preferably before WW3 breaks out.... 
Guest - dkjack
2010-06-28 19:43:58
 Alas, foreign relations are being driven by domestic politics. If one seeks to win favour amongst the Islamists in his country, what better way than to support an anti-Israel provocation like the flotilla? The ideal of Atatürk -- of making Turkey a full partner in the community of civilized nations -- is being undermined by the Islamists and the demagogues who pander to them. 
Guest - Hublo
2010-06-27 16:42:47
 @ UK Bloke. You write "What about the strong body of evidence that both the US and Israel are funding the PKK? " Can you please show this STRONG BODY of evidence please? And please not, I am asking for what you claim i.e. a "strong body of evidence" not just some vague indications. Until I will not trust what you are writing, and so should no one else. 
Guest - vhardman
2010-06-27 10:39:47
 Apparently sending a flotilla to break an allies blockade is not considered an act of war in Turkey???? Luckily for this flotilla it was not sunk as it could have been and if Lebanese or Iranian ships attempt it they will be 1 Your sense of proportion is sadly lacking and mars the value of your article ? 
Guest - Human
2010-06-27 09:34:30
 UK Bloke. Be so good as to point us to this 'strong body of evidence that both the US and Israel are funding the PKK' will you ? There's a good chap. 
Guest - Uri D.
2010-06-27 07:25:13
 The real question now is, when NATO will reject Turkey, that by all means, under the AKP is anti-west. The Turkish support for the Hamas terror organization, the Hezbollah terror organization, as well as IHH that turn to be terror supporting organization cannot be tolerated anymore. Turkey under the AKP lost any integrity; should it continue that way, kicking off Turkey from NATO is just a question of when, not if. 
Guest - Gary
2010-06-27 03:29:10
 Ironically, because of the Erdogan’s rhetoric, Turkey can’t even take a credit for braking the blocade. The credit deservingly went to the Quartet and Tony Blair while Erdogan continue insisting on the apologies and complete lifting of the blockade. Good luck with that.. 
Guest - Gary
2010-06-27 03:26:04
 Ankara has misread the EU as well. Apart of the few customary statements on the morning of the flotilla disaster the only reaction from the EU was further mistrust of the current Turkish government. The flotilla events just proved the reason behind the reservations that many in Europe had with regard to Turkey joining the EU. 
Guest - andy from DC
2010-06-27 02:39:20
 The author is assuming that Mr Erdogan made a mistake. It is far more likely that He is doing all this knowing what the results will be. In the time since the Gaza Flotilla lost 9 dead attacking the Isreali Commandos thousands of Muslims have been slaughtered in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan, Did Turkey hold rallies for these innocent victims who, unlike the Turkish dead did not go looking for a fight? Of course not, because they were slaughtered by other Muslims. It happens every day from Sudan to Uzbekistan, yet Erodgan says nothing and cares not. Why? Most people in the USA have drawn their conclusions and they do not include the idea that Turkey is simply making a "mistake". 
Guest - Lion
2010-06-27 00:39:35
 Erdogan went too far with the harsh rhetoric’s, those started several years prior to the flotilla incident, and has only escalated to a crescendo. The intent for some time was to shift some of the axis as it is well called in the comments and discussions at Turkey. I am not sure it is for Turkey's benefit, unless one assumes that the Arab world and Iran are the next leading forces in the world. These steps are viewed as opposing the west and Turkey has lost a lot. Regarding internal and domestics affairs, I don't know, maybe secularism and liberalism is not such a valued issues by the Turks, but this is yet to be learnt. 
Guest - henry laycock
2010-06-26 22:05:35
 It may be of interest to note that Mr Tanir is in the employ of a US corporation, the Allbaugh International Group, which describes itself as offering 'emergency, security, and anti-terrorism planning'. Mr Tamir also studied at George Mason University. Furthermore, that university runs a program on what it calls 'Political Instability' which is openly funded by the CIA. 
Guest - henry laycock
2010-06-26 21:54:34
 It is apparent from a number of the comments, as indeed from the article by Mr. Tanir himself, that the influence of Israeli propaganda, whether overt or covert, remains strong. The suggestion that Turkey must curry favor with Washington, and submit to the power and influence of Israel, while forgetting about the continuing gross injustice done to the Palestinians, is morally disgusting. 
Guest - Honest Abe
2010-06-26 19:08:17
 Turkey showed her true colors. 
Guest - Rich
2010-06-26 15:40:50
 While you seem to have some understanding that Turkey's Prime Minister has risked a lot for his own domestic politics, he has also lit the match of anti-Semitism in Turkey too. Putting that aside, Mr. Erdogan set back "peace" many years. Turkey is not a credible mediator between Israel and the Arab states, and so long as the AKP is in charge, it cannot be trusted by Israel at all. Israel and "peace" will have to wait for Turkey to return to its senses. Even then, this launching by a friendly nation of an armed flotilla against Israel will not be soon forgotten- neither in Israel- nor in Washington nor in Europe. For while the Europeans enjoyed the attack on Israel- they also- do not trust Turkey's intentions. 
Guest - UK Bloke
2010-06-26 14:44:01
 Are you suggesting Ilham that Ankara should should reject it's values in the cause of defending Israel whenever it seeks to kill Turks? What about the strong body of evidence that both the US and Israel are funding the PKK? Your loyalty is suspect my dear friend. Very suspect. 
2010-06-26 14:34:57
 Basic facts must be understood: 1. Israel is fighting to exist and shall never commit suicide. 2. Iranian port in Gaza endangers Israel existance (Look in the map and get it). 3. Unlike Turkiye US is truely Israel ally. Combine 1, 2 and 3 and you will understand Israel and US positions. 
Guest - Omer, Israel
2010-06-26 10:49:39
 President Ahmadinejad of Iran is percieved as a new kind of Hitler by most Israelis - because of his public plans and declarations to totally destroy Israel, and because he denies the fact of the Holocaust. Most of the Israelis lost family members in the Holocaust. Most of the Turkey-supporting Jewish community in Greece & former Yugoslavia was murdered by the Nazis. Therefore, anyone that helps Ahmadinejads' nuclear program, and everyone that seeks warm security ties with Iran- might be seen as a colaborator of the Iranian-Fascism. I'm sad that PM Erdogan doesn't understand what he's doing and how he offends us Israelis. 
Guest - Hublot
2010-06-26 09:14:33
 The hard rethorics also made the western media taking a closer look at the "activists" and the way they were presented was not only flattering. Also Turkey's relation with IHH was scrutinized, and that wasnt either particularly nice from Turkey's point of view. The third issue was that many Western newspapers also thought that Turkey was overreacting and blow the issue totally out of proportion. So the PR effects for Turkey were certainly not positive over all. This whole affair has only produced losers, and no one has been benefitting. 
Guest - kwell
2010-06-26 06:19:52
 a good summing up. useful insider look. i started to think what exactly Fidan's background... 
Guest - Suleyman
2010-06-26 05:56:41
 Ankara has not 'misread' Washington. Rather they've read them perfectly and decided that continual coddling and acceptance of Israeli crimes can not be tolerated. Washington has to continually make excuses for and support Israel, regardless of what that nation does. The Jewish Lobby and Zionist US Congress will not allow anything else. But Ankara is under no such constraints, we can make policy based on reality and our own interests. Turkey does not seek conflict with Israel or any other nation. But we will not turn a blind eye when Israel flagrantly violates the human rights of Palestinians or Turkish citizens in international waters. Turkish middle east policy must be based on what's good for Turkey, not what's good for Israel. If Mr. Tanir can't understand that than I wonder where his allegiances lay? 
Guest - Emile
2010-06-26 03:00:14
 Dear Mr. Tanir, I read your article. It is excellent and wise. We were all shocked to learn about the flotilla. It was very clear, from the videos of the events, that this was a Turkish provokation. Although things calmed down somewhat, we are also very astonished, that the Turkish engaged all available negative forces, instead of the positive ones to solve this problem. Knowing Turkish history since Ataturk, and the progress Turkey has made towards civilization and approachment to the West, we are more than amazed about the sudden turn the Turkish government has taken, which is neither logic, nor to Turkey's advantage. By getting closer to Iran, to Syria, to the Hamas, and to Hizbollah, how can Turkey expect the American government to respect it? Even more so, we are astonished that Turkey has provoked and attacked its best ally and the Jewish people who have always followed and admired it since the days of the Spanish inquisition. I hope that your article will spread the wisdom. 
Guest - Islandergene
2010-06-26 02:50:18
 How Turkey could have become so culturally and politically lost to get into bed with the Israelis in the first place is what really needs examining. 
Guest - Omer
2010-06-26 01:17:17
 "The flotilla attack, which turned out to be one of the saddest events of the Republic of Turkey's recent history" - yes it was a terrible tragedy, but what about some proportions here. Scan your newspaper in the last 10 years and you can easily find 100 events more tragic than this one. Not to mention the insult (here in the US) comparing it with 9/11 ... sometime I have the feeling that this orchestrated exaggerations have only one objective to incite the public for internal politics purposes and to gain some cheap support in the Arab world... this support will not hold any water ... simple as is ... wait and see... meanwhile we are left with serious problems while the public attention is diverted to some other place ... it will bounce back soon. 
Guest - Kemal
2010-06-26 01:03:03
 Ilhan Bey, 'Ankara's Washington misreading' ... I think you are misreading the consequences of our government continuous provocations ... no one in the west (and some in the east) appreciate that ... on the contrary, the PM rhetoric's reinforce the rejectors of Turkey in the EU ... in fact your second mistake is your observation regarding Turkey's achievement with the Flotilla - wakeup, we are in the Damage Control of this act !!! BTW, each time you indicate these 'achievement' you admit that the government was behind this provocation ... or shall I call it PLOT ... a popular word lately in Turkey

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