Commentary: Political Dividends from Turkish-Israeli Row


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is intoxicated with success after his party’s third electoral victory handed him a mandate for domestic and legislative reform, with boundless gusto to go after Ergenekon operatives to demonstrate to the civilized world that he means business in putting Turkey’s house in order.

The brunt of that gusto targets also the restive Kurdish minority, which is in a bloody clash with the police and the army.

Erdogan’s foreign policy guru, Ahmet Davutoglu, had devised his zero-problem-with-neighbors stance, although that zero-problem policy thus far has yielded only zero results, as Armenia’s foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, has indicated. Now it is headed further south for negative dividends. Turkey has begun to move its warships from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean in a challenge to NATO, Israeli and Greek naval forces, which have dominated the Eastern basin of the seaway, in a part of the world where many conflagrations are extant.

Erdogan’s mounting dispute with Israel has crossed another threshold, reaching a point beyond the demand for an apology for the Mavi Marmara incident and plainly declaring his intentions to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip. Erdogan’s intoxication is derived from the success of his lip service to the Palestinian case, which Turkey has translated into an economic boom throughout the Muslim world.

Israeli policymakers who were looking for creative formulas to meet the Turkish demand, now have scrapped those efforts for a more assertive and aggressive posture.

Indeed, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s arrogance matches that of Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and he has thrown down the gauntlet and undertaken a series of punitive measures to tame Turkey’s bold initiatives.

Those measures include some reference to the Armenians and the Armenian Genocide.

In addition to supporting and arming Kurdish rebel groups in Turkey (including the PKK), “Another planned move is the facilitation of cooperation with Turkey’s historic rivals, the Armenians. During Lieberman’s visit to the United States this month, the foreign minister is expected to meet with leaders of the Armenian lobby and propose anti-Turkish cooperation in Congress. The implication of this move could be Israeli assistance in promoting international recognition of the Armenian Holocaust, a measure that would gravely harm Turkey. Israel may also back Armenia in its dispute vis-à-vis Turkey over control of Mount Ararat,” writes the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot.

Lieberman concludes his diatribe against Turkey by adding: “We’ll exact a price from Erdogan that will prove to him that messing with Israel doesn’t pay off.”

This unexpected confrontation between long-time allies throws Foggy Bottom policymakers into a dilemma.

For a long time, when Muslim Turkey was forced into an alliance with Israel, the US State Department was in a comfortable position. Today, the equations have been changed.

Thus far, all lobbying activities in the US in passing the Armenian Genocide resolution in the Congress have been hampered by the Israeli lobby, as part of its service to Turkey. We cannot miss this window of opportunity if it is sincere, because it may not last very long.

Though the Jews had gone through the same traumatic experience of ethnic cleansing, Israeli official policy always opposed the recognition of the Armenian Genocide because of political expediency. Now the tables have been turned through the exigencies of the same political dynamic.

We do not believe that the Holy Spirit visited Mr. Lieberman to stir love and sugar in that country’s policy towards the Armenians. The Genocide issue is being used as a chip, which unfortunately is the nature of politics.

But the proof of the pudding is in its eating. Mr. Lieberman’s sincerity may be proven if he takes the initiative to pass through the Israeli Knesset the Genocide resolution before heading for Washington.

Similarly, Israeli foreign policy is involved in a double game.

Indeed, Israel is training the Azeri army and supplying it with lethal military hardware. And Azerbaijan has only one enemy in the world: Armenia.

On the one hand, Israel is using the Genocide issue to punish Turkey and on the other hand, it is encouraging Baku to launch a blood bath in the region.

Besides the interests of the energy sources in Azerbaijan, they both share a common enemy: Iran. Since the Abulfaz Elchibey era, Baku has had claims on Iranian Azerbaijan. On the other hand, Tel Aviv is interested in dismantling another anti-Israeli bastion, after Iraq and Libya, if possible, through US muscle. As we see it, Israel has a multi-dimensional policy towards Armenia, based on its own national interests. When we are given an opportunity for pick and choose, we should not hesitate to take advantage of these developments, always being mindful that our cases can win when they coincide with the interests of other powers.

Should Mr. Lieberman carry his new policy to the end, he will offer us some political dividends we cannot refuse.