[NOTE: THIS IS AN EARLIER, THREE PART, MUCH LONGER VERSION (POSTED IN PART ON OCTOBER 29)OF MY LATER ARTICLE ENTITLED “LOSING TURKEY: How Israel and its U.S. Lobby Undermined our Relationship with Turkey and Reduced U.S. Influence in the Middle East” (Posted on November 5). IT DOES NOT HAVE LINKS AND HAS A FAIR AMOUNT OF UNCORRECTED GRAMMAR, ETC. I AM POSTING THIS SOLELY BECAUSE IT PROVIDES MUCH GREATER FACTUAL DETAIL ON THE GAZA INVASION, THE GAZA AID FLOTILLA INCIDENT, AND MORE FLESHING OUT OF THE VARIOUS ISSUES. IT WAS AND IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AND NOT A FINISHED PIECE.]
“Why are we are losing Turkey? That question may soon be supplanted by an even more alarming question—Who lost Turkey? Not since “Truman lost China,” has a Democratic administration been at such great risk of being blind sided by such a significant cataclysmic geo-strategic reversal.” James Jay Carafano, “Let’s Talk Turkey” National Security, June 7, 2010.
If this sounds improbable, consider that Turkey has just recently concluded a covert military air combat training exercise with the Chinese in Turkey in which the Chinese flew their aircraft from China to Turkey, refueling in Iran. Consider also that China has also just concluded a strategic cooperation agreement with Turkey in which China will build a 4500 kilometer railroad in Turkey, along with two high-speed rail lines, plus oil pipeline systems from Iran to Turkish ports. Finally, consider that China has agreed to sell military equipment to Turkey, and is also developing a surface-to-surface rocket-launching system together with Turkey.
How we got to the point of a catastrophe in which the U.S. is “…blind sided by such a significant cataclysmic geo-strategic reversal”, is a complicated tale which will require patience to unravel, and will be accomplished in three parts:
Part One will discuss Turkey’s value as a major U.S. strategic ally, provide a summary of the two Gaza disasters which led to the loss of Turkey, and conclude with a discussion of Israel’s U.S. lobby’s role in the loss of Turkey. Part Two will describe Israel’s 2008 bombing and invasion of Gaza, its 2010 violent capture of the Gaza aid flotilla, and conclude with Turkey’s reasons for and pursuit of a path independent of its long-time NATO ally, the United States. Part Three will discuss the consequences of continued U.S. inaction, provide some recommendations on what should be done to bring Turkey back into the NATO alliance as a strong ally of the U.S., and discuss the problem of confronting Israel and its U.S. lobby and offer the Eisenhower model of how it can successfully be done. Part Three will conclude with a discussion of why Turkey is a far more important and significant ally for the U.S. than is Israel.
PART ONE: Background: Turkey, its Loss, and the Role of Israel’s U.S. Lobby
Turkey’s Value as a Major U.S. Strategic Ally
Turkey, a nation of 73 million Muslims, has been a major strategic ally of the U.S. for some six decades since the beginnings of the Cold War, providing the U.S. with military bases and a forward bulwark against Soviet expansionism into the Middle-East and Mediterranean. Turkey fought valiantly alongside the U.S. in the Korean War, and risked nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis by allowing the U.S. to station nuclear-tipped Jupiter missiles in Turkey, on the Soviet Union’s doorstep.
Turkey has the second largest military force in NATO and has been a close American and NATO ally. Turkey occupies one of the most vital geographic areas in the world, bordering the Mediterranean, Greece, Bulgaria, the Black Sea, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It has the second fastest growing economy in the world, behind only China. Most importantly, Turkey is a stable, moderate, secular, Muslim democracy and provides a model template for success for the many Muslim nations in the Middle East and South Asia that suffer from instability, autocratic rule, religious extremism, and poverty.
Turkey also provides the U.S. with an invaluable entrée into the Muslim world and a proven ability to conduct effective diplomacy and mediation among Muslim nations such as Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Turkey also provides the U.S. with a critical military air base and transportation hub at Incirlik, in southeastern Turkey While strong militarily, Turkey has also been successfully moving to reduce tensions with all of its neighbors, including traditional rivals such as Greece, Armenia, Syria, and Iraq, and, in addition, has also moved to diffuse the conflicts with its minority Kurdish population. It has also taken steps, in part with Brazil, to diffuse the conflict between Iran and the West. In short, Turkey, under its strong civilian leadership, has become a major strategic player in the world economically, politically, and diplomatically, and a vital player and asset for the U.S. and its European allies in the Muslim world and in the Middle East and South Asia.
In 2003Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to invade Iraq through its territory. It did so because it felt that such an invasion would create great instability in that region. While this angered the Bush Administration, Turkey’s actions were those of a friend who was attempting to prevent a foreign policy disaster. Turkey’s fears proved prescient; Iraq quickly descended into ethnic savagery, and Iran’s influence and power in the region increased exponentially. Today Iraq has a non-functioning government, and as the U.S. prepares to leave, ethnic violence is reappearing and a full-scale civil war between Shia, Sunni, and Kurds remains a strong possibility.
If the U.S. had followed Turkish advice and not invaded, the U.S. today would be far stronger militarily and economically, the war in Afghanistan might well have succeeded, and Iran, our main adversary in that area, would not have benefitted by the elimination of its main rival in the Middle East. Sometimes it is useful for even a major power like the U.S. to listen to the advice of a loyal ally and old friend who has lived and survived in the neighborhood for almost 1000 years. Regrettably, the Bush Administration Neo-Cons had little interest in listening to advice from Turkey.
Israel’s brutal bombing and shelling of civilian noncombatants in its invasion of Gaza in December 2008, and in its subsequent violent capture of a Gaza aid ship in May of 2010, coupled with UN investigative reports that later confirmed Israeli atrocities against civilians and other war crimes in both incidents, ultimately caused Turkey, a nation of 73 million Muslims, to end its close strategic alliance with Israel. The U.S.’ unqualified support of Israel’s conduct in both incidents, even after both later UN investigative reports confirmed Israeli atrocities towards civilians, caused Turkey to be highly critical of the US, and ultimately caused Turkey to reduce its strategic alliance and seek, or at least consider, new strategic relationships and agreements with potential U.S. adversaries such as Russia, Iran, and, of greatest concern, China.
The strength and effectiveness of Israel’s U.S. lobby in influencing U.S. foreign policy in matters related to Israel was demonstrated by Congress and the Obama administration’s unqualified support of Israel’s excessively brutal actions toward civilians in its Gaza invasion and capture of the Gaza aid flotilla, in the face of worldwide approbation of Israel. Unfortunately, the lobby’s strength and effectiveness resulted in the loss to both the U.S. and Israel of the support of a major strategic ally, Turkey. Turkey is now forming strategic partnerships with countries that are adversaries or potential adversaries of the U.S. and its allies, such as Russian , Iran and China. The loss of Turkey as a major U.S. ally will change the balance of power in the Middle East and do serious harm to U.S. vital national security interests in that region, not to mention those of Israel itself.
It is inconceivable that the U.S. would allow a strategic relationship with an ally as vitally important as Turkey to be undermined by supporting brutal and unlawful conduct on the part of a far less important ally, Israel. Yet, because of the overwhelming strength and influence of Israel’s U.S. lobby on the Obama administration and Congress, that is precisely what has occurred. The loss of Turkey as a strategic U.S. ally may well have resulted in the cataclysmic geo-strategic reversal mentioned in the quote at the beginning of this article by James Jay Carafano, a foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In short, the answer to the question of “Who Lost Turkey?”, will be “Israel and its U.S. lobby”, along with the political expediency and moral cowardice of U.S. lawmakers and a president who lacked the backbone to stand up and defend vital U.S. strategic interests when confronted by Israel’s all-powerful U.S. lobby.
There is never any debate in Congress or investigations by congressional committees into Israel’s actions and whether or not they might have a negative effect on U.S. foreign policy interests. Any member of Congress that publicly questions, let alone disapproves, any action taken by Israel, quickly suffers the consequences. For instance, 54 members of Congress, many of whom are running for re-election, are now being attacked for supposedly being “anti-Israel” because they signed a letter that labeled Israel’s invasion of Gaza as “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and pressed for “immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza.“ The charge of collective punishment, a war crime, was later fully documented and confirmed by a balanced and competent United Nations investigating committee.
The problem isn’t whether a member of Congress can be criticized for a statement made or action taken, but whether healthy debate about U.S. foreign policy interests is being stifled by the aggressive actions of a lobby that acts in the interest of a foreign government, namely Israel. When Turkey, a major U.S. ally, criticized Israel’s brutality toward civilians in both the Gaza invasion and the Gaza aid flotilla capture, Congress should have debated the issue, particularly since there was widespread televised evidence of the conduct and worldwide universal criticism of Israel’s actions during and after both events. Instead, Congress showed unquestioning support for Israel, without investigating or even inquiring about the facts related to either incident.
Later, when two UN investigations of these incidents developed overwhelming evidence of Israeli war crimes and atrocities toward civilian noncombatants, Congress again immediately sided with Israel and conducted no inquiry or investigation into the incidents, or the allegations and evidence provided in the UN investigations. The Obama administration also sided with Israel, despite the fact that a major strategic ally and fellow NATO member had suffered the death of nine of its citizens in the Gaza aid flotilla incident, and was criticizing Israel and asking the U.S. to join in the criticism and allow the UN to act to sanction Israel and curtail its illegal actions.
The key, critical question is whether Israel’s U.S. lobby’s actions forcing congressional and executive branch approval and condonement of Israel’s brutal and illegal treatment of civilian noncombatants caused Turkey, a major U.S. ally, to change its policies toward the U.S., reduce its commitment to its alliance with the U.S., and take steps contrary to the vital national security interests of the U.S. The answer, unfortunately, is yes. The public statements of Turkish leaders since these incidents, strongly criticizing the U.S. failure to criticize Israel and support Turkey and the rest of the world in sanctioning Israel, plus the near immediate actions taken by Turkey that negatively impact U.S. interests in that region, after the U.S.’ failure to provide that support, demonstrate that causal link.
While it would be easy to adopt the Israel lobby’s view that Turkey’s actions are those of an increasingly radical and Islamic regime, there is little evidence to support such a view. Turkey, in fact, has taken the moral high ground in criticizing Israel’s brutal behavior toward Gazan and Palestinian noncombatants. Turkey had little to gain by entering this fray, and much to lose, both in its relationship with Israel and with its long-time ally the U.S. Nonetheless, it has taken a strong public position against both Israel’s actions and U.S. enablement and complicity in those actions, and it is clearly not about to back down.
PART TWO: Israel’s Actions, U.S. Inactions, and Turkey’s Response
Israel’s extremely violent invasion caused almost 1400 Palestinian deaths including huge numbers of civilians and children, and pulverized all of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including buildings, police stations, schools, public utilities, etc. Despite the ferocity of its attack on Gaza, Israel suffered only 6 combat deaths, plus four caused by friendly fire from its own forces. It also suffered 3 deaths of non-combatants. This extremely low casualty rate demonstrates that Israel used heavy fire power to protect its soldiers at all costs, even though the use of heavy bombing, heavy artillery, including white phosphorus shells and bombs was taking a huge toll on Palestinian civilian noncombatants in the crowded slum neighborhoods of Gaza. Israel then imposed an illegal total blockade and embargo on the entire 1.5 million civilian population of Gaza which continues to this day. The appalling extent of Israeli overuse of fire power was well documented in the UN Goldstone report mentioned earlier, and was widely and accurately described as a massacre.
Turkey was outraged by the horrific televised reports showing Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinian civilians, as was the rest of the world. However, when the United Nations attempted to intervene and achieve a cease fire, the United States blocked the UN’s attempts. Attempts to censor and sanction Israel for its conduct were also blocked by the U.S. The Obama administration and Congress publicly supported Israel’s actions on the grounds that they were purely defensive in nature. The U.S. House voted 390-5 to support the Israeli offensive, despite massive condemnation of Israel’s actions throughout the world. The Israeli lobby’s footprints were clearly visible in all of these actions.
On September 15, 2009, the results of the UN investigation of the Israeli Gaza invasion were released. The 574 page investigation, headed by Richard Goldstone, a noted international jurist (who is also is both a Jew and a Zionist), strongly condemned Israel’s conduct as well as that of Hamas, finding both parties committed war crimes. However, the report was particularly critical of Israel, finding that it had engaged in systematic and deliberate targeting of civilians, systematic reckless use of white phosphorus explosives in dense civilian areas, use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, etc. The Obama administration immediately condemned the report as inaccurate and biased and prevented it from being taken before the International Criminal Court. The U.S. House voted 344-36 also condemning the report as biased against Israel even though Israel had refused to cooperate in the investigation. The report was widely viewed as balanced and received widespread approval among other countries and organizations including the European Parliament. Turkey was angered by the U.S.’ continuing, unwavering support for Israel’s actions, and its failure to recognize the validity of the Goldstone report. Ironically, today Israel is investigating several of the incidents it originally denied, that were so well documented in the Goldstone report.
The comments by Turkey’s foreign minister to the UN Security Council on May 31 were brutally frank, “This is tantamount to banditry and piracy. It is murder conducted by a State. It has no excuses, no justification whatsoever … Israel has blood on its hands .… This is a black day in the history of humanity, where the distance between terrorists and States has been blurred”. “It is the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic that Turkish civilians are killed by a foreign army. This is huge”. On June 2, the Turkish foreign minister said, “I have to be frank: I am not very happy with the statement from Washington yesterday.” “We expect a clear condemnation.” “We expect full solidarity with us,” “It should not seem like a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong, between legal and illegal.” The Obama administration ignored the strong statements of a major strategic ally and showed solidarity only with Israel.
A Turkish official, in discussing the deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel caused by the Gaza Flotilla raid said, “Unless Jerusalem publicly apologizes for the fatal incident and agrees to an independent investigation, Turkey will confront Israel in international forums at every opportunity. We do not wish our relations with Israel to take such a turn, but the bottom line is eight Turkish nationals and one American of Turkish descent were killed on the high seas by Israeli forces. And our expectation of the United States as interlocutor is simple: Israel shouldn’t be encouraged in such aggression.” The Obama administration again ignored the warning.
On September 28, speaking at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stressed Turkey’s desire for greater involvement in Middle East issues. During a question and answer period after his speech, Davutoglu described Gaza as “an open air prison for 1.5 million Palestinians, and that Palestinians have “the full right to live in their own country with full sovereignty based on 1967 territory, including Eastern Jerusalem.” Davutoglu also stressed the illegality of Israeli settlements under international law and pointed out that bargaining for a temporary freeze on settlement building, an activity that was already illegal, made no sense. Finally, he said the Palestinian issue was affecting the entire world and that solidarity from the international community was needed to impose the two state solution based on the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem. He concluded by saying that while Turkey’s vision was peace, peace would not be attainable so long as some countries have more rights than other countries, alluding to U.S. favoritism toward Israel at the expense of Palestinian aspirations and rights.
Also on September 28, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a comprehensive report detailing its findings regarding the May 31 Israeli attack on the six-ship flotilla attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Israel-blockaded Gaza. The report found that much of the Israeli force used “was unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate and resulted in the wholly avoidable killing and maiming of a large number of civilian passengers”; that “at least six of the killings can be characterized as extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions“; and that Israel violated numerous international human rights conventions, and laws of war, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Again, the report was widely viewed as balanced and fair. Predictably, Israel, the lobby, and the Obama administration found the report to be biased, as did the U.S. Senate.
At this point, both Israel’s Gaza invasion and its seizure of the Gaza Aid Flotilla had been thoroughly investigated by two separate UN commissions. Both concluded that Israel’s actions, while perhaps militarily justifiable on a limited scale, were so excessively violent that the actions constituted unjustifiable crimes of war in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Despite this strong, documented evidence of Israeli atrocities toward civilians, widely condemned throughout the world, the reports were immediately condemned by Israel, by the U.S. government, by overwhelming majorities of congress, and by the U.S. Israel lobby which appeared to be leading and organizing the opposition. Turkey was seething with anger at Israel, and at the U.S. for failing to support its long-time NATO ally and for continuing to support and condone Israel’s brutal conduct toward civilians.
Turkey was infuriated at the lack of U.S. support of a trusted NATO ally whose civilians were brutally killed on the high seas, and appalled by U.S. attempts to punish Turkey and then threaten it for complaining about documented atrocities against Palestinian and Turkish civilians.
It apparently decided it was fed-up with U.S. disloyalty, and decided to pursue strategic paths outside the confines of its long-time alliance with the U.S. Turkey then invited the Chinese to replace the U.S. in the Anatolian Eagle air combat exercises. The Chinese, delighted at the opportunity, quickly agreed and sent several dozen Sukhoi SU-27 fighter aircraft and pilots to train with Turkey’s F-16 fighters. Iran agreed to refuel the Chinese aircraft at air bases in Iran. Ominously, the joint Turkish-Chinese air-force exercises, were held covertly.
That week the U.S. and Israel were reported to be very concerned about Turkey’s growing military ties with Iran and China. The Obama administration protested Turkey’s military cooperation with Iran after hearing Chinese fighter planes were sent to Turkey via Pakistan and Iran. The U.S. has been concerned about the changes in the Chinese military’s structure, and especially the long-range naval and aerial exercises that indicate Beijing’s intention to acquire the ability to conduct warfare far from China’s borders. China’s participation in Turkey’s Anatolian Eagle air combat exercise confirmed those concerns and demonstrated China’s growing ability to project military power in regions far from its borders.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and a large Chinese delegation, visited Turkey the following week, on October 8-9. Both countries then announced they had formed a strategic partnership aimed at increasing trade between the two countries to $100 billion by 2020. China would assist Turkey in building a 4500 kilometer railway in Turkey, in addition to two high speed rail systems. Both countries would also cooperate on building oil pipelines from Iran, and China would sell military equipment to Turkey. China is also developing a surface-to-surface rocket-launching system together with Turkey. Clearly, the strong concerns expressed by the U.S. and Israel about Turkey’s growing military ties with China and Iran have a strong basis in fact.
On October 16, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reemphasized Turkey’s continuing outrage about Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians, and U.S. actions enabling that conduct. He said that until Israel apologized for its May attack on a Gaza-bound aid ship in which nine Turkish citizens were killed it would remain isolated in the Middle East. “Israel must apologize to Turkey and pay compensation for the state terrorism in the Mediterranean. If it does not, it will be doomed to remain isolated in the Middle East.” The Turkish premier also criticized the United States for continuing to support Israel after the “uncivilized” attack, “Nine Turkish martyrs on the ship received 21 bullets from Israeli soldiers in their bodies, we provided post mortem reports and even the pictures to the EU and U.S. but Washington is not ready to condemn the state terrorism of Israel against Turkey which means that the U.S. is supporting an international terrorist who killed our citizens in international waters.” The Obama administration continued to remain silent.
On October 18, Prime Minister Erdogan indicated he would not attend a climate change conference in Athens if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended. “A prime minister who is proud of such an armed intervention [the Gaza Flotilla incident] is a prime minister with whom I do not agree to talk,” Erdogan told Skai TV before his planned visit to Athens. “On this issue, I think that Israel is close to the point of losing a very important friend in the Middle East and that is Turkey,” he said. “I think that they must pay for this audacity that characterizes the policy of this government.”The Turkish prime minister also recently stressed the importance of close ties between Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey, saying that the countries have a common security and financial future. Turkey is also considering removing Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Greece from their list of “threatening countries.” In addition to refusing to support the United Nations decision to place sanctions on Iran, Turkey also attached new conditions for the U.S. and NATO to put a missile defense system on its territory, including not allowing Israel access to any intelligence or early warning data derived from the new system.
On October 25, Israeli media reported that Turkey had severed intelligence sharing relations with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. On October 28, Turkey’s National Security Council made a major change to its National Security Policy Document by describing Israel, only recently a strong ally, as now a threat to Turkey because of its actions in the Middle East which were causing instability in the region and creating conditions for a regional arms race.
These actions show that Turkey is determined to continue to aggressively criticize and act to reduce Israel’s influence in the Middle East based on its harsh treatment of the Palestinian and Turkish civilians, its unlawful settlement building on lands set aside for a Palestinian state, and its continuing oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Turkey is clearly also willing to strongly criticize U.S. policy and actions that support and enable Israeli misdeeds. More ominously, has also shown that it is willing to forge a path independent of the US, NATO, and the European Union if it is not given the respect it is due as a major strategic ally and power in Southern Europe and the Middle East, and if Israel’s brutal and illegal conduct toward the Palestinians is not curtailed and sanctioned.
Despite the threat of losing a vital, strategic ally, and despite the ominous nature of Turkey’s increasingly close military and economic ties with China, the U.S. has apparently resorted to threatening Turkey that a failure to curtail its current diplomatic actions toward Iran and China, and continued tensions with Israel could result in a Congressional resolution recognizing Armenian claims of a 1915 Turkish genocide, and the withholding U.S. arms sales to Turkey. Such actions would be very offensive to the Turks who likely will react by closing down the Incirlik air base and requiring all U.S. troops to leave Turkey. The U.S. has no real leverage over Turkey which is economically strong and independent of the U.S. Turkey has made clear that if the U.S. intends to continue to unconditionally support Israel in its immoral and illegal policies toward the Palestinians, it will pay the price of losing Turkey as a major strategic ally. While this is not a price the U.S. should be willing to pay, Israel and its U.S. lobby will likely prevent any attempt by the U.S. to mend its ties with Turkey and forge a more rational Middle East foreign policy. The results could well be catastrophic to the U.S. and to Israel.
Other U.S. allies in the region are losing faith in the U.S.’ ability to conduct an effective foreign policy in the Middle East, independent of the influence of Israel’s U.S. lobby. On October 23, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and U.S. ambassador, give a speech highly critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, saying “…there are live human Muppets in Washington D.C. who are run by AIPAC [the main Israel U.S. lobby]. Unfortunately, what they bring us is war and tragedy.,”, and “…when dealing with the United States, there has grown, over the years, a web of very tight and strong strings that bind the U.S. to her client state, Israel.” He described how the United States “has failed to curb Israel: in the brutal policy of collective punishment; arbitrary arrests and killings; illegal colonization; the merciless Israeli bulldozing of Palestinian homes;…”, etc. And how “Saudi Arabia agreed with the other Arab states to give peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine a chance, more than once, under the United States negotiated partial colony freeze. The United States failed to stick by its assurances and, to add insult to injury, offered the Netanyahu government more money, arms, protection from UN sanction, and, shamefully, the stationing of Israeli troops on Palestinian territory; as if this territory were part of the United States sovereign lands. All this was to get him to extend the partial freeze for a few more days. Now that the Netanyahu government has rejected that offer, we are waiting to see what else the U.S. will offer.”The bitterness and anger expressed by the U.S.’ two staunchest allies in the Middle East, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, reflects a growing understanding that the U.S. is powerless in dealing with Israel and that ultimately it is Israel and its U.S. lobby that pulls the strings of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. While the Saudis have yet to break their ties with the U.S., clearly Turkey has run out of patience with U.S. weakness and fecklessness, and is looking elsewhere to form alliances with allies more loyal, reliable, dependable, and perhaps sympathetic to the plight of the still stateless Palestinians who have been waiting 63 years for the Arab State of Palestine promised them in the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine.
For those who remain nostalgic about Israel, our supposed great friend, strong ally, and strategic partner in the Middle East, imagine the following scenario: China offers Turkey billions of dollars in development aid for oil and gas pipelines, ports, railways, and other infrastructure projects. In return it receives a long-term exclusive lease for Incirlik air base and a major naval base on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Turkey then withdraws from NATO and improves its trade ties with Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russian and forms an alliance with these countries, and perhaps including Lebanon and even Jordan. Such an alliance would control much of the oil resources in the Persian Gulf. Russia and China would both benefit from this arrangement, China most of all by gaining access to Iranian and Iraqi oil and natural gas resources. China would also gain a significant strategic position in southern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf with a major air base and naval base in Turkey.
The U.S. and NATO would be suddenly faced with a major strategic competitor in what had been largely their own private Mediterranean lake. With the loss of its Incirlik air base, the U.S. would no longer have easy air access to the Middle East and South Asia. European Union countries would be facing a loss of Persian Gulf oil and gas resources. Israel would be even more isolated strategically, now facing the might of Turkey against any incursion it might contemplate against Lebanon, Syria, or Iran. The U.S. would be in the unenviable position of having to defend Israel against not only Turkey but potentially China and Russia as well. Not a happy picture, but also one that Turkey seems to be actively considering and quickly moving toward.
The U.S. and the EU seem to have awakened to this scary scenario and have been busily scurrying around in the past several weeks having high level meetings with Turkey. Let’s hope its not too late. One sobering alternative is being discussed in Europe in which Russia would assume a large role in the European Union as the EU backed away from its close NATO alliance with the U.S. Perhaps the Europeans are beginning to share Turkey’s view of the U.S. as a wilting paper tiger with a foreign policy axis that begins in Jerusalem, then proceeds to its U.S. lobby headquarters in Washington D.C., and only then to Congress and the executive branch. The only reverse flow on the axis consists of complimentary statements toward Israel from Congress and billions of dollars of undeserved military aid to Israel, one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
The U.S. needs to finally recognize the harm Israel and the U.S. Israel lobby is doing to U.S. vital national security interests. It is inconceivable that Israel and its U.S. lobby should have a veto power over U.S. foreign policy decisions or with its relationships with major strategic allies such as Turkey. The choice for the U.S. is clear: it needs to join Turkey and the rest of the world in condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza and against the Gaza aid flotilla, and allow the UN to impose sanctions against it. It needs also to take strong steps aimed at forcing Israel to accept a fair and reasonable resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, along the 1967 Green Line boundaries, as proposed in both the Geneva and Arab Initiatives.
As Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu recently said, “We don’t need a road map, we need an end to the road”. What is needed is not temporary delays in illegal settlement building, but an immediate and permanent end to all settlement building. What is needed is not a negotiated settlement, but a final imposed solution in accord with either the Geneva or Arab initiatives that both guarantees Israel’s security and provides the Palestinians with the long-promised state of their own, side-by-side with Israel.
This time Israel and its lobbies’ meddling in major power relationships must be stopped. It is clearly in the best interests of the U.S. and its European allies to finally do so. It is also critical to Israel’s survival as a democratic Jewish state, and in Israel’s best interest that it be separated from the excesses of its lobbies.
For those faint of heart who see the Israeli lobby as invincible, take heart, there was a great man in our distant past who stood tall, faced down the lobby and prevailed. President Eisenhower did so in 1957, despite heavy pressure from both Israel, its lobby and Congress. Eisenhower told the Israelis they had to give back Gaza to Egypt which they had conquered and occupied during the 1956 Suez war. Israel refused and applied great pressure, through its lobby and its influence on Congress and the media, to force Eisenhower to back down . Unlike Obama’s current embarrassing kowtowing to the Israelis, President Eisenhower ignored the pressure, stood his ground and spoke to the nation saying:
“We are now faced with a fateful moment as the result of the failure of Israel to withdraw its forces behind the Armistice lines, as contemplated by the United Nations Resolutions on this subject. I would, I feel, be untrue to the standards of the high office to which you have chosen me, if I were to lend the influence of the United States to the proposition that a nation which invades another should be permitted to exact conditions for withdrawal”, he continued. “I believe that in the interests of peace the United Nations has no choice but to exert pressure upon Israel to comply with the withdrawal resolutions”.
Eisenhower then threatened to cut off all U.S. aid to Israel, and access to U.S. tax-free donations. He also said the U.S. would support U.N. sanctions against Israel. Israel then backed down and withdrew its troops from Gaza, despite strong, ongoing support from Congress and the media.
President Obama needs to draw on the strength, integrity and moral courage of his predecessor, President Eisenhower. He needs to go public and explain to the American people why Israel’s settlement policy and settlements are illegal, and why Israel must withdraw from its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and enter into a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the Arab nations that protects Israel’s security and allows the Palestinians to have the state and nation promised them 63 years ago in the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine. The vast majority of Americans, including Jewish Americans, believe Israel’s settlements are illegal, and feel the Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own, side by side with the state of Israel. I suspect most Americans would welcome strong, resolute action by their president to insure a rapid and fair resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict over Palestine, particularly when they learn the lack of a solution is doing severe harm to U.S. vital national security interests.
Why the U.S. Needs Turkey More than Israel
Turkey is also a stable, moderate, secular Muslim democracy and, as a Muslim country, provides the U.S. an invaluable entre into the Muslim world and a proven ability to conduct effective diplomacy and mediation among Muslim nations such as Iraq, Syria, Iran and others. Turkey also provides the U.S. with a critical military air base and transportation hub at Incirlik. While strong militarily, Turkey has also been moving to reduce tensions with all of its neighbors, including traditional rivals such as Greece, Armenia, Syria and Iraq, and has also moved to diffuse the conflicts with its Kurdish population. It has also taken steps, in part with Brazil, to diffuse the conflict between Iran and the west. In short, Turkey, under its strong civilian leadership, has become a major strategic player in the world, economically, politically and diplomatically, and a vital player for the U.S. in the Muslim world and in the Middle East.
By comparison Israel offers the U.S. very little as an ally. Israel is certainly not a major power and is relatively insignificant as a nation. It ranks 96th in the world in population, 58th in GDP, 134th in arable land, and 29th in military size. It has little natural resources and no oil reserves. As a U.S. trading partner it ranks 23rd; less than one percent of U.S. exports go to Israel. The U.S. has no major military bases or ports on Israeli soil and has never had military help from Israel’s army, navy or air force in any foreign war including the current Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Israel’s location is of little strategic value as it borders no major critical geographic trade route nor choke point. Clearly, Israel is nowhere close to being a significant, important strategic ally of the U.S. At best it is a third tier ally.
Israel also has some major liabilities as an ally: It is the largest consumer of U.S. foreign aid, receiving over $3.0 billion per year in military aid alone. Israel also has a history of very antagonistic relations with its neighbors and the Arab and Muslim world in general. While some of this antagonism was caused in part by aggressive actions by its Arab neighbors, Israel shares a major part of the blame for its illegal policies of annexation, settlement, and occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel’s antagonistic relations with the Muslim world, its unlawful actions toward the Palestinians, and its unwillingness to conclude a fair resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict over Palestine places a major burden on U.S. relations with the Muslim world and is doing severe harm to U.S. vital security interests.
Morally, Israel is difficult to justify as an ally due to its 43 year military occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. Its occupation of the West Bank and annexation of East Jerusalem, coupled with its unlawful transfer of over 500,000 of its Jewish citizens into segregated settlement colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas specifically set aside by the United Nations for the Arab State of Palestine, violate the provisions of the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine as well as key provisions of the Geneva Conventions and constitute war crimes.
While Israel has the right to defend itself, it has an obligation to use reasonable means to do so and to not inflict unnecessary casualties on civilians. Israel has repeatedly violated the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war in its invasions of Lebanon and Gaza by failing to protect civilians and by causing massive, unnecessary destruction to vital civilian infrastructure.
Israel has also repeatedly violated laws of war prohibiting collective punishment of entire civilian populations, in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, in retribution for isolated attacks against it. For instance, in response to the death of 4 of its civilians over a two year period from wildly inaccurate rocket fire from Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, Israel heavily bombed Gaza City and invaded in December 2008 and January 2009. Israel’s extremely violent invasion caused almost 1500 Palestinian deaths including huge numbers of civilians and children, and pulverized all of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including buildings, schools, public utilities, etc. It then imposed an illegal total blockade and embargo on the entire 1.5 million civilian population of Gaza which continues to this day.
Despite the ferocity of its attack on Gaza, Israel suffered only 6 combat deaths, plus four caused by friendly fire from its own forces. It also suffered 3 deaths of non-combatants. This extremely low casualty rate demonstrates that Israel used heavy fire power to protect its soldiers at all costs, even though the use of heavy bombing, heavy artillery, including white phosphorus shells and bombs was taking a huge toll on Palestinian civilians in the crowded slum neighborhoods of Gaza. The appalling extent of Israeli overuse of fire power was well documented in the UN Goldstone report mentioned earlier, and was widely and accurately described as a massacre.
In short, Israel as an ally is no bargain. Turkey, on the other hand, is a major, critically important strategic ally that deserves far stronger loyalty and support from the U.S.; loyalty and support we abjectly failed to provide during the critical past two years. Our failure to see Turkey as an ally far more critical to our vital national security interests than Israel was purely the result of interference and undue influence by a foreign power and its all-powerful lobby on both the congressional and executive branches of our government. That interference and influence clearly must be stopped.
Israel need not be abandoned by the U.S. in favor or Turkey. It just needs to assume the importance in our foreign policy commensurate with its actual value as an ally. We can continue to guarantee its survival as a nation, but only if it agrees to act and conduct itself in a manner that supports our vital national security interests. This would mean that it would have to cease its unlawful attempts to cease and colonize territory outside its pre-1967 borders, and allow the Palestinians to finally have the Arab State promised them in the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, with secure borders for Israel in accord with either the Arab or Geneva Initiatives.