Professor Juan ColeThe crisis between Turkey and Israel deepened on Monday, allegedly provoking severe tensions between the Israeli officer corps and the far right-wing Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman. There was also disarray among the officers over an allegation by one general that the Middle East might be moving toward comprehensive war, an assessment that was firmly rejected by the Israeli chief of staff and the minister of defense.
The Turkish government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan froze military trade and sent more naval vessels in the the eastern Mediterranean on Monday. Erdogan will go to Egypt next week to improve ties with its new revolutionary government. There is some talk of Erdogan visiting Gaza while in Egypt, but the trip may not materialize, especially if Egypt’s transitional government is [not] open to the idea.
Erdogan’s ruling AK Party includes among its constituencies Turks who are interested in Muslim politics. But AK is not a fundamentalist party and has not sought Islamization of Turkish law.
Israeli politicians and officers are usually adept in presenting a united front to the outside world, even though Israeli society is, like any other, divided socially and politically. But the Turkey crisis and the upheavals in the Arab have provoked open divisions that offer a window on the fissures in the Israeli elite.
PM Erdogan is angry that Israel refuses to apologize for killing 9 Turks on the Gaza aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in May, 2010. The Israeli government maintains that commandos landing on the ship were within their rights to enforce the naval blockade against the Gaza Strip, which they construe as an enemy state. But the rest of the world almost uniformly views Israel as the Occupying Power for the Gaza Strip, insofar as it controls the Strip’s land borders, sea and air space.
Since Israel refuses to allow the Palestinians to have a state, it is hard to see how they can call Gaza an enemy state. Occupying powers operate in international law under the Geneva Convention of 1949, which forbids punitive measures against the civilian population of the sort that Israel routinely takes against Palestinians in Gaza (they are not allowed to export anything they produce or make, which has thrown most of them into horrible poverty and food insecurity).
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the top Israeli officers are saying that the government should offer an apology, “even if it is undeserved,” but have been rebuffed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman. The Turkish and Israeli militaries have had close ties in recent years. Al-Hayat says that Avigdor Lieberman of the extremist Yisrael Beitenu (“Israel is our Home”) Party thinks the Turks can be dealt with through international pressure.
Lieberman is known for his hard line stances and tendency to far rightwing extremism. He is said to have once joked about Israel bombing the Aswan Dam and washing the Egyptians into the Red Sea should Egypt take a negative stance toward Israel. He has also campaigned to deprive the 20% of the Israeli population that is Arab of their Israeli citizenship. Lieberman has been accused of harboring racist sentiments toward the Muslim peoples that surround Israel in the Middle East.
Not only is the officer corps apparently blaming Lieberman rather than the Turks for the severity of the crisis, but so too is opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party. She points out that Kadima had tense moments with Turkey, but always managed to find a way to smoothe over disputes, and she rejects the Likud-led coalition’s assertion that the rift with Ankara is “inevitable.” Kadima is a splinter of the Likud Party that rejected Greater Israel expansionism to some extent and favored relinquishing much Palestinian territory.
Meanwhile, the recent comment by Major Gen. Eyal Eisenberg that the Middle East might be moving toward comprehensive war was rebutted by his bosses, Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Beni Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak’s subordinate Amos Gil’ad, head of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Security Department, underlined that there is no coalition of Arab armies, and there is no current significant threat of terrorism inside Israel. Barak added that Israel can live even with a nuclear-armed neighbor (apparently uncharacteristically, Barak wants to downplay the putative threat of Iran’s civilian nuclear research program.
Barak has in the past admitted that an atmosphere of high tension between Israel and Middle Eastern regional powers could cause substantial Israeli out-migration.
“Israeli Military Sources Deny Regional War Likelihood; Gil’ad: Situation Best Ever
Israel — OSC Summary
Tuesday, September 6, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Summary…
Gil’ad: Eisenberg’s Statement Simplistic, Incorrect
State-funded but independent Jerusalem Voice of Israel Network B in Hebrew reports at 0400 GMT: “IDF and defense establishment sources are saying that there is no situation assessment anticipating a comprehensive war. Their comments came in the wake of the remarks of Major General Eyal Eisenberg, the Home Front Command chief, to the effect that the likelihood of a comprehensive war is rising. Speaking to our army and defense affairs correspondent Karmela Menashe, a defense source wondered whether it was necessary to warm up the arena. He added that it is untenable that an IDF general would make comments that would force the army to rephrase his remarks.
“Chief of Staff Beni Gantz said yesterday in closed discussions that he is not certain the Arab Spring is bringing a true spring, and that it may bring a winter or a fall. A military source noted that Gen Eisenberg may have been referring to the chief of staff’s statement. He stressed that Lt Gen Gantz did not speak of a growing likelihood of a comprehensive war.
“Amos Gil’ad, head of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Security Department, said in an interview with the Voice of Israel this morning that the comprehensive war statement was simplistic and incorrect. According to him, our security situation has never been better: There is no domestic terrorism, there is deterrence both in the north and the south, there is no coalition of Arab armies, and the region’s regimes are stable. Nevertheless, processes are taking place that deserve our attention.
“Gil’ad further told our correspondent Arye Golan that Turkey has not dissociated itself from Israel. He stressed that, contrary to reports, the Israeli military attache in Turkey remains in his position. He noted that Turkey stands to lose a lot if it pursues an extreme course of action, and this aspect is the space in which Israel should maneuver.”
Baraq: Comprehensive War Not Expected in Near Future, Nonconventional Weapons Unlikely
Commercial Jerusalem Channel 2 Television Online in Hebrew reports at 0656 GMT: “Defense Minister Ehud Baraq said in the course of a tour this morning that ‘there is no fear of a comprehensive war in the near future’ and that ‘the national situation assessment has not changed.’ Baraq made these remarks just hours after an opposite statement was made last night by Home Front Command Eyal Eisenberg.”
“Baraq added: ‘We are prepared for any eventuality, but it seems unlikely that any of our enemies will use nonconventional weapons, if they possess any, in a war against Israel.’”
“Political and defense sources were angry with Eisenberg’s remarks. ‘He revealed classified material that had been presented in a situation assessment only yesterday,’ they told the IDF Radio this morning.” Eisenberg Qualifies Statement
Amir Buhbut’s 0730 GMT report in leading news site Tel Aviv Walla! in Hebrew adds that “Gen Eisenberg this morning asked for a meeting with Chief of Staff Beni Gantz ‘to explain his gloomy forecasts’ concerning the growing likelihood of a comprehensive war.” “Eisenberg stressed that a comprehensive war may break out only if the most extreme scenarios materialize.”