Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 March 2012
Issue No. 1087
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Turkey and Israel drift apart

Mossad is the source of all evil according to the Turkish media. Sayed Abdel-Maguid looks at the evidence

Time works in mysterious ways. Just over a decade ago -- towards the end of the last century -- Turkey's rising political star Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to reassure the West that his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) would not reverse his country's foreign policy and, indeed, would work to strengthen relations with the West. He simultaneously sent several good-will messages to the Israeli embassy, located in the elegant Ghazi Othman Pasha district of Ankara, to the effect that his government would not seek rupture but rather closer cooperation with Israel.

Nevertheless, the intervening years brought a succession of stormy winds that, with the respect to Ankara's relationship with Israel, in particular, turned friendship into acrimony. More remarkably yet, Israel has become the source of all Turkey's troubles, or at least that is the impression one gets from the Turkish media, most of which -- in another amazing change that has occurred over the past years -- are now close to the government if not government mouthpieces.

During the past few days, the Turkish press has unleashed a barrage of accusations against Tel Aviv. The outcry was triggered by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit to Cyprus, which has been divided between the Greek and Turkish sides since 1974. The visit has major ramifications on security and offshore gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Netanyahu's visit comes on top of the crisis involving the Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, who was revealed to have held secret talks with leaders of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Oslo. The talks, which were said to have had the direct backing of the prime minister, allegedly involved a deal that would resolve the Kurdish question and that would include the release of the PKK leader Abdullah äcalan who has been serving a life sentence on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara in western Turkey since February 1999. The current and former Turkish intelligence chiefs and the assistant of the former intelligence chief have received summons from the public prosecutor for investigations. The news was extremely embarrassing for Erdogan because a broad segment of Turkish public opinion would not stomach the idea of releasing äcalan, who is regarded as responsible for the death of 30,000 Turks.

The government's media machine swiftly moved into action, pointing to a Mossad hand in the affair. Analysts were equally quick to produce reasons why the notorious Israeli intelligence agency would be involved. It is exacting revenge against Turkish intelligence for having uprooted Mossad agents from Turkish territory, frozen Israel's intelligence activities and closed down its spy stations in Turkish territory, they said. In addition, MYT, as the Turkish national intelligence agency is abbreviated, also managed to persuade various parties to halt their dealings with Israeli businessmen and to obstruct agreements that were crucial to Israel.

In the assessment of these analyses, the competition between the two countries has grown intense and, since the Israeli assault on the Turkish aid ship en route to Gaza two years ago, which caused the death of nine Turkish citizens, their relationship has become increasingly strained. They also found that the once frequently convergent interests of the two countries have begun to diverge in Tunisia, Libya and other parts of the Middle East. With the appointment of Hakan Fidan as intelligence chief, it became clear that Ankara and Tel Aviv were verging on a cold war. Senior Israeli officials were displeased by this appointment, the most vehement disapproval being aired by Minister of Defence Ehud Barak who claims that Fidan harbours pro-Iranian sympathies and that he might hand Tehran sensitive documents regarding Israeli-Turkish intelligence cooperation which, Barak said, could imperil Israeli security. As a consequence, Israel has been manoeuvring to have Fidan dismissed or at least to weaken his position.

To fill in the picture and connect the dots in the "cosmic" conspiracy being hatched against Anatolia, the Aydynlyk Gazette quoted Sadettin Tantan, a prominent Turkish official who had served as minister of interior in the B├╝lent Ecevit coalition government (1991-2002), as saying that it is not Turkey, but the separatist PKK that is a strategic ally of the US. Although Washington is part of the tripartite mechanism that also includes Ankara and Baghdad and that seeks to check Kurdish separatist drives, in fact it is acting contrary to this aim. According to Tantan, Washington has secretly been coordinating with militant Kurdish groups to create problems and drag Turkey into a maelstrom of conflicts. "Why did the US administration insist on keeping its notorious Predator pilotless spy planes in Incirlik airbase in southeastern Turkey after the US withdrawal from Iraq, and then restrict their use by the Turkish air force when the reason why Turkey agreed to the presence of this aircraft on its territory was so it could be used to unearth terrorist pockets along the Turkish-Iraqi border," he asked. "The reason is that the US does not want to eliminate that terrorist organisation, at least for the time being, because it finds its continued existence useful. The US, therefore, is jeopardising Turkish national sovereignty because it is using these aircraft, stationed in Turkey, for reconnaissance missions over Syria and Iraq, rather than over northern Iraq, the traditional staging post for terrorist attacks against military and civil targets inside Turkish territory."

There may be some substance to Turkish suspicions against Israel, but only some. In other words, it is clear that Tel Aviv is no longer motivated to support the Turks, as it had been a decade ago or even more recently than that. We recall that, in the 1990s, the Israeli President Shimon Peres urged the European parliament to approve Ankara's membership in the European customs treaty, which, in fact, occurred and went into effect in January 1996. However, with the rise of the Justice and Development Party to power, Israeli attitudes towards Ankara soured, especially during the past three years.

Evidence of this change of heart can be seen in the shift in the stances of the French and US Jewish lobbies on the question of the Armenian genocide. Whereas these lobbies once used their influence to prevent official recognition of the death of a million and a half Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War I as genocide, more recently they have done nothing to obstruct the passage of such laws as the one passed by the French national assembly and ratified by the senate, making Armenian genocide denial a criminal offence. Such a law would never have been passed unless it was determined that Ankara was not towing the line with Western policies and Israeli policies, in particular. That conclusion was apparently sealed when Ankara hosted the leaders of Hamas, which the EU regards as a terrorist organisation.

When the Justice and Development Party's actions infuriate Israel this sends tremors through the relationship between Ankara and Washington, which is equally displeased when Turkey demonstrates support for Hamas. However, this does not imply the existence of a master conspiracy to destroy the Turkish republic.

What is clear is that a spanner has been thrown into Erdogan's plans to solve the Kurdish problem and that his dream of a new Turkish ascendancy in the Middle East with him at the lead is fading while, at home, he is coming under heat for overbearing style and autocratic methods. Once the victim of a politicised judiciary, Erdogan has now turned this same weapon against his adversaries and a "conspiracy" is always a way to lash out at many at once and, simultaneously, to divert attention from his increasingly visible flaws.

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