LOSING TURKEY: How Israel and its U.S. Lobby Undermined our Relationship with Turkey and Reduced U.S. Influence in the Middle East


Cross-posted on Mondoweiss.net as Alienated affection: Israel relationship is costing the U.S. its alliance with Turkey

Israel and its U.S. lobby’s insistence on unquestioning U.S. support for Israel in its brutal and illegal conduct toward Palestinian and Turkish civilians has cost the U.S.  a major, strategic ally, Turkey, and has severely undermined U.S.  foreign policy goals, strategy, and power in the Middle East.

            President George W. Bush has been accused of having the most disastrous foreign policy in U.S. history. Unfortunately, President Obama’s apparent inability to stand up to Israel’s U.S. lobby may have created a foreign policy catastrophe that exceeds even that of his hapless predecessor by costing the U.S. the loss of Turkey as our main strategic ally in the region, and by drastically reducing U.S. influence and power in the Middle East. 

            If this sounds implausible, consider the following: Turkey just recently concluded a public but covert military air combat training exercise with the Chinese in Turkey in which the Chinese flew their jet fighter aircraft from China to Turkey, refueling in Iran.  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao just made a state visit to Turkey after which both countries concluded a strategic cooperation agreement.  China will build a 4500-kilometer railroad to Turkey, along with two high-speed rail lines, plus oil pipeline systems from Iran to Turkish ports.  China has agreed to sell military equipment to Turkey, and is also developing a surface-to-surface rocket-launching system together with Turkey.  Turkey’s foreign minister is visited China this week, working out details of its new strategic relationship.  Turkey has also strengthened its ties with Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran, and refused to support the most recent UN resolution imposing sanctions on Iran.

            Turkey has ceased all cooperation with its former close ally, Israel, including closing its airspace to Israeli planes, ceasing all cooperative military exercises, ending intelligence sharing with Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and has changed Israel’s status from a close ally to a strategic threat.  Turkey has strongly condemned Israel for its brutal conduct against Palestinian and Turkish civilians in Israel’s December 2008 Gaza invasion, and the recent Gaza aid flotilla incident, accusing Israel of committing state terrorism.  Turkey has also accused the  U.S., formerly its strongest ally, of supporting an international terrorist (Israel) for failing to condemn Israel’s atrocities, and for its monetary, military, and diplomatic support of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and illegal settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem

            In less than two years, Turkey has changed from being a strong U.S. ally and NATO member to a country pursuing an independent path toward strategic relationships with countries that are either adversaries or potential adversaries of the U.S.  How did we get to this point? 

                                     Turkey’s Importance  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 the 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 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 important, 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 permits the U.S. to use a critical military air base and transportation hub at Incirlik, in southeastern Turkey  While strong militarily, Turkey has 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 defuse the conflicts with its minority Kurdish population.  It has also taken steps, in part with Brazil, to reduce 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.

            It is difficult to imagine an ally of greater strategic importance to the U.S. in the Middle East than Turkey.  Its loss is a major blow to U.S. vital national security interests.

                                            The Gaza Disasters and the Loss of Turkey

            In December of 2008, the U.S. and Turkey remained strong, close NATO allies.  Israel and Turkey also had a strong strategic alliance in which they cooperated on intelligence matters, and conducted joint military training exercises; Israel had the use of Turkish airspace for training and operational use; Turkey purchased weapons systems from Israel; trade and tourism between the two countries was booming.  Turkey was also mediating the disputes between Syria and Israel in the hope of resolving their differences and achieving a permanent peace treaty for the two countries.

            Israel’s brutal bombing and shelling of civilian noncombatants in its invasion of Gaza in December 2008, and in its violent capture of a Gaza aid ship in May of 2010, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed, at least five execution-style, by Israeli commandos, deeply angered the Turks.  These events, coupled with subsequent UN investigative reports that confirmed Israeli atrocities against civilians and other war crimes in both incidents, ultimately caused Turkey to end its close strategic alliance with Israel.  The U.S.’ unquestioning support of Israel in both incidents, even after both later UN investigative reports confirmed Israeli atrocities toward civilians, caused Turkey to be highly critical of the U.S., and ultimately caused it to reduce its strategic alliance with the U.S. and seek, or at least consider, new strategic relationships and agreements with potential U.S. adversaries such as Russia, Iran, and, of greatest and most recent 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.  An unfortunate and apparently unforeseen byproduct of the lobby’s actions was the loss to both the U.S. and Israel of the support of a critical major strategic ally, Turkey. 

            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, and to Israel’s as well.  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 strategically 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 Israel Lobby’s Role in the Loss of Turkey as a Key U.S. Ally

             The Israel Lobby, headed by the American-Israeli Political Action Committee, or AIPAC, acts in a variety of ways to protect and promote Israeli interests in this country.  Any Israeli action, such as the Gaza invasion or the capture of the Gaza aid flotilla, is immediately condoned and praised, discussion and debate are stifled, and dissent is punished.   While it is beyond the scope of this article to address the lobby’s strategy and methods in any detail, these are well-known and well-documented. After the Gaza incidents, letters or resolutions supporting Israel’s actions were immediately forthcoming from either the U.S. Senate or the House, or both, and were typically signed or approved by astonishingly overwhelming margins, typically 75 to 90 percent. 

            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 were running for reelection, were 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.”  Yet, the charge of collective punishment, a war crime, was later well 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 at least 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 separate 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 and provided unquestioning support for Israel, describing the investigations as biased.   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 that the UN investigation described at least five of the deaths as illegal summary executions seemed an unimportant detail to the Obama administration.

             The key, critical question is whether Israel’s U.S. lobby’s actions forcing congressional and executive branch approval and support for Israel’s brutal and illegal treatment of civilian noncombatants caused Turkey 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 strong actions taken by Turkey that negatively impact U.S. interests in that region, after the U.S.’ failure to provide that support, demonstrates that causal link.  Turkey’s frustrations and disillusionment with U.S. uncritical support for Israel along with its failure to move aggressively toward achieving a two-state solution, had reached a breaking point. 

            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 longtime 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. 

                                                      The Consequences of Inaction

            Unless the U.S. can reengage with Turkey, allow the UN to sanction Israel for its Gaza atrocities toward civilian noncombatants, and move to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a major, even cataclysmic shift in the balance of power in the Middle East could occur.  Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran could assume control and assert power in that area in place of the U.S.’ traditional “moderate” allies of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  Both China and Russia are interested in gaining economic and political influence in the northern Persian Gulf area and are lukewarm toward or unwilling to support strong sanctions against Iran.  China, in particular, sees that area as the most important source of oil and natural gas in the world, and would be willing to pay almost any price to gain influence in that area and access to its oil.

            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 its conflicts and interests in the Middle East and South Asia.  European Union countries would be facing a potential 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.

            While the above scenario may not be imminent or even likely, the reality is that Turkey has become so disillusioned by the U.S.’ inability to fulfill its role as the dominant  player in the Middle East that it has decided to forge its own path, independent of the U.S. and its NATO allies.  Turkey clearly sees U.S. Middle East policy as feckless and dominated by Israel and its U.S. lobby, and unlikely to change.  It no longer views the U.S. as a strong, reliable, trustworthy partner and ally, but as a weakened giant unable to control small allies like Israel even when its vital national security interests are under threat.   That view of the U.S., as a feeble, declining giant, unable or unwilling to defend its vital interests, may well increasingly be shared by many of our allies and potential adversaries.  If so, that is a dangerous trend indeed, and one that we need to stop.

            Clearly the U.S. desperately needs to reevaluate its foreign policy goals and relationships in the Middle East.  Faced with the loss of a Turkey, a foreign policy disaster of epic proportions, it needs to do so immediately.  President Obama should begin his post-election administration by conducting a major reevaluation of U.S. Middle East policy, beginning by appointing an independent, bi-partisan commission of distinguished elder statesmen and states women to review U.S. Middle East policy and the effect of Israel and its U.S. lobby on influencing that policy.  Continuing down a byzantine path of a U.S. Middle East policy influenced or even directed by Israel and its U.S. lobby is a recipe for further foreign policy disasters and a cataclysmic decline in U.S. influence in the world.  This is an outcome that even Israel and its lobby should fear.

This entry was posted in East Jerusalem, Israel, Israeli, Israeli settlements, lobby, Palestine, Palestinian, Settlements, Turkey, West Bank and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to LOSING TURKEY: How Israel and its U.S. Lobby Undermined our Relationship with Turkey and Reduced U.S. Influence in the Middle East

  1. Bandolero says:

    Hello Gil,

    thank you for your analysis. I have a a partly diffrent opinion, and as you said, you can’t comment on Mondo Weiss, but I’m intersted to hear your opinion about my comment, I’ll allow myself to crosspost my comments from Mondo Weiss here.

    That’s a funny one:
    “Its loss is a major blow to U.S. vital national security interests.”

    So the US is threatened now by an invasion of one or some of the neighbors of Turkey? US imperialism is on decline, that’s all.

    “The key, critical question is whether Israel ’s U.S. lobby’s actions forcing congressional and executive branch approval and support for Israel ’s brutal and illegal treatment of civilian noncombatants caused Turkey 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.”

    That’s not true. Some remarks, on how Turkey really changed course:

    All over the last decades Turkey emancipated from the NATO/CIA military dictatorship known as deep state, Gladio and the like. It was not just cast lead and the flotilla raid. Support for the islamic RP and later AKP built up slowly over the last decades. As Sibel Edmonds revealed, in the beginning it was even supported by the US to gain leverage in central asia by using Turkey as proxy for influencing turkish rooted people in these countries.

    When the US attacked Iraq, AKP emacipated from US influence. Turkish people didn’t like the invasion and AKP started and won the democratic battle to forbid the US to use it’s turkish base for the attack. Since these days, the horrors of brutal imperialistic became visible even more clear – and it’s all to benefit AKPs ideas of foreign policy. This policy ideas were designed by Ahmet Davutoglu years ago, and the core of the foreign policy is to have good relations with all neighbors, and if possible, to the whole world. Such foreign policy is nothing new for Turkey, the Ottoman empire based on these ideals, too, and it gave Turkey great leverage on the whole near east. As good as the ideal is, Turkey was at this time a protectorate of the US, whose foreign policy was mainly ran by the NATO/CIA regime of coup generals, and the AKP knew too well that a coup would occur if it left the US-Israel-alliance, which used Turkey as a bellingerent forward outpost for their own agenda.

    Another major factor was that EU promised the turks entry, but than denied it due to racist rightists in Europe – mainly in Germany and France -, but told Turkey it was denied for lack of civil government and democracy, demanding Turkey to fulfill these requirements in lengthy negotiations. This was a path to secure empowerment for the AKP, because dismantling the NATO/CIA military dictatorship and replace it with civil government and democracy was exactly what AKP wanted internally. It were the military rulers who had build up hope to get into EU for decades, and when dissolving the military dictatorship was neccessary for prgress in EU membership so they couldn’t confront it.

    But behind the doors, the AKP knew well, that Turkey will probably never be allowed to EU, because Europe is deeply racist. So the AKP looked for new international partners less racist and found at first: Russia. 2007 Turkey made public a joint gas pipeline project with Russia: south stream.

    As cast lead came, the time for the foreign policy outbreak of the AKP government was there. The US invasion into Iraq and the EU membership process had weakened the military regime, outraged the Turkish public and so Erdogan could risk to tell Peres some trueful words in Davos. The Turkish public hailed him for this, no matter how the CIA backed propaganda outlets tried to smear him. And consequently, Erdogan caled in Davutoglu to roll out the foreign policy idea of the AKP: zero problem with all neighbors. The military was to weak to stage a coup against it.

    That’s what we see now: Turkey relations with all neighbors improved significantly, including visa free partnerships with Syria and Lebanon, a free trade zone with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and best relations with Iran. Together with it’s friends Syria and Iran, Turkey will probably be able to persuade Iraq to join the axis of friendship, too. Turkey has enourmos lever on Iraq, because the main oil export pipeline from kurdish Iraq goes via Turkey.

    As AKPs president Gül has excellent relations to the Saudis, we wil perhaps even see Saudi Arabia lining up with Turkey in the near future, maybe, reconciliation between Hariri and Assad was already influenced by this relation. It’s good for all the countries in the region, if they cooperate together and trade goods instead of threats.

    The point, that Turkey has dropped down relations with US, is not true. Turkey is still committed to good US-relations. It just won’t let the relations be misused to make out of Turkey a cold war like forward outpost again, which has to have unfriendly relations with it’s neighbors. And it’s not bad for the US president neither: he can use Turkey as a lever against Israel and it’s lobby.

    All in all, just one small country has every reason to be worried, if it won’t change it’s behaviour and it’s politics: Israel. Looks like check mate. Israel just didn’t realize it yet.

    The main difference from my point of view:

    Gil blames Barack Obama’s devotion to the Israel lobby for having lost the imperialist lever on Turkey to use it as proxy for dominating the middle east, which he describes as against nationall security interests of the US.

    I described that Turkey emancipated itself from it’s US sponsored military dictatorship and I credit Barack Obama for having nothing serious done to prevent it. Question maybe, what could he have done to prevent Turkey going off the hook, but I think there were options, like covert action or using US influence in Europe to keep Turkey on Zionist route. I hail it as a win-win-situation for Turkey and the US. Turkey gets democracy and prosperacy and the US got in Turkey an asset able to fight Israeli dominance over the middle east and – in effect – also against Israeli domination over the US itself. I see this not as a threat, but a very positive development. It benefits the whole middle east region and finally the whole world, with one exception: Israel. Israel will sooner or later realize, that it must change it’s aggressive policies, or it will be completely fail in the region. The political-economic forces in the US wishing to get back closer to the Turkish-led mid-east-alliance will grow stronger over time and will eventually – especially if countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain will join the Turkish club in the future – become stronger than the political forces of the Israeli racists in the US. When it comes to this point, Israel can’t be longer the tail wagging the US dog and the US gets back it independency.

    • Citizen says:

      I agree that Turkey’s move towards greater independence, first from Israel, then from its enabler, the USA, which move just happened to gain lots of momenturm after Israel murdered those Turks, including the American one, on the boat to Gaza, is a good thing for both the US and more balance in the Middle East. More balance makes more peace, a good thing for everybody, a thing that tends to exclude imperialism, most especially Uncle Sam’s. This is a good geo-political strategy for both Turkey and the USA, and it is good generally for the Middle East as well. Obama’s choice to penalize Turkey, rather than support it under the present circumstances, is the worst move he could make.

      • irishmoses says:

        As I can now post on the Mondoweiss site, I am going to try to move this thread back to that site. I will limit my responses to the Mondoweiss site to avoid duplication of effort and confusion.

        Just briefly, on your post: my point was mainly that Obama, as well as Congress, feels compelled to give Israel unwavering and unquestioning support, mainly for reasons involving judgments about political survival. Unfortunately, not much thought seems to be given to the consequences of that singleminded support. My goal was to attempt to show that those consequences can be devastating to US interests.

    • irishmoses says:

      Bandolero,

      I CAN NOW POST ON MONDOWEISS AND A COUPLE OF MY RESPONSES ARE ON THE MONDOWEISS WEBSITE. I will reply to your detailed and informative comment back on the Mondoweiss site.

      Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  2. Citizen says:

    Very astute article. Just wonderful. I wish it could be printed out and hand delivered to the entire US Congress and White House. Gil, are you sure you cannot post on Mondoweiss? I’ve been following that web site for years and I’d guess Phil would love to have you post follow up there. Are you subscribed? It’s free.

    • irishmoses says:

      I CAN NOW POST ON MONDOWEISS AND A COUPLE OF MY RESPONSES ARE ON THE MONDOWEISS WEBSITE. I WAS NOT IMPLYING SOME SORT OF MONDOWEISS CONSPIRACY WHEN I SAID YESTERDAY THAT I WASN’T BEING “ALLOWED” TO POST TO MONDOWEISS; IT WAS JUST SOME SORT OF TECHNICAL GLITCH THAT PHIL FINALLY WORKED OUT.

      Thanks for your kind comments Citizen.

    • pabelmont says:

      Fabulous, absolutely. This article PLUS Egypt almost makes up for the degradation of PLO/PA (corrupt and at unnecessary war with Hamas) and of Hamas itself (as both contemplate Egypt). Poor Palestinians! Maybe this article will save them, singlehanded.

  3. MRW says:

    The Mondoweiss title implies that the change in the US alliance with Turkey is still current, still happening. Your title implies that it’s gone. I suspect the latter. There is no way that the treaties Turkey and China have signed can or will be undone.

    The joining of Turkey and China revisits the real age of enlightenment when those countries were one under Mongolian (Uighur) Genghis Khan. Interesting. Their respective peoples have a long history together.

    • irishmoses says:

      I am not sure whether its totally gone. I think both Israel and the US are very worried, as are the Europeans. The Turks have a brilliant foreign minister in Davutoglu who I think sees Turkey as having a very central role to play in the hottest area on the planet, conflict-wise, oil-wise, etc. I don’t think he really wants to pick a side but is willing to if the US trys to play hardball. Inviting the Chinese to replace Israel in the Anatolian Eagle Air Combat exercise was brilliant.

      The Uighar connection is fascinating as was China’s willingness to allow Davutoglu to stop first in China’s Uighar region during his recent trip to China.

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Karen says:

    Great read.

  5. irishmoses says:

    This piece (written by me) was posted on Mondoweiss.net today under a different title: “Alienated affection: Israel relationship is costing the U.S. its alliance with Turkey”. Unfortunately, I am not allowed, for some unknown reason, to post comments on Mondoweiss so I cannot respond to the many comments I’ve received on Mondoweiss about my article. I can however, respond on this site. So please feel free to post your comments here as well as on Mondoweiss and I will respond.
    Thanks, Gil Maguire “Irish Moses”.

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