Erdogan’s War of Words With Netanyahu Signifies Significant Geopolitical Change in The Middle East

The Erdogan-Netanyahu war of words intensifies 

The increasingly frequent war of words between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated in the aftermath of Israel’s parliament passing the Nation State Law which codifies in very plain language, the long standing reality that the position of Jews in Israel is legally elevated above that of all others.

In response to the Nation State Law, Erdogan said that,

“The spirit of Hitler, which led the world to a great catastrophe, has found its resurgence among some of Israel’s leaders”.

The Turkish President also stated,

“This law is evidence that, without doubt, Israel is the most Zionist, fascist, and racist state in the world. There is no difference between Hitler’s Aryan race obsession and Israel’s mentality that regards Jews as the sole owners of these holy lands”.

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Netanyahu responded by accusing Erdogan of running a “dark dictatorship” while further claiming that the Turkish President engages in the “killing Syrians and Kurds”.

Far from simply indicating a personal rivalry, these statements are further indications of an emerging trend wherein Turkey is aligning itself against Israel while simultaneously, Israel and its powerful supporters abroad are allying with historic adversaries of Turkey.

 

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From healthy relations to the ultimate strain 

Turkey was the first Muslim majority nation to recognise Israel and prior to recent decades, Ankara and Tel Aviv have had a generally healthy relationship. This dramatically changed in 2010 when Israeli commandos illegally boarded the MV Mavi Marmara in international waters. The MV Mavi Marmara was a privately chartered Turkish flagged ship carrying mostly Turkish activists on their way to Gaza in order to deliver much needed humanitarian supplies to besieged Palestinians. The gruesome raid killed ten Turks and resulted in the lowest ebb in Ankara-Tel Aviv relations until now.

 

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From petro-partnership to trans-Mediterranean gas wars 

In 2016, after six years of strained relations Turkey and Israel reconciled, primarily out of pragmatic motives. At the time, both Israel and Turkey hoped to jointly participate in a pipeline that would transport gas from northern Iraq through Turkey and into Israel.

However, since then, the plans for such Turkey to Israel East Mediterranean pipeline have stalled. Instead of working with Turkey on regional energy projects, Tel Aviv has pivoted closer to Turkey’s regional rival Egypt (which has said next to nothing about Palestine in recent days), while most importantly there is now talk of an EU sponsored East Mediterranean pipeline between Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.

According to the pro-Brussels New Europe,

“The EastMed gas pipeline would circumvent Turkey, which has increased tensions with Cyprus, Greece and Israel recently, providing a way to transport newly discovered gas supplies from the East Mediterranean to Europe. The talks in Nicosia in May follow a memorandum of understanding regarding the EastMed pipeline, which was signed in December.

According to the Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA), the EastMed will connect the recently discovered gas fields in the Levantine Basin, in the southeast Mediterranean, with mainland Greece and is projected to carry 8-14 billion cubic meters per year of natural gas to Greece and Europe.

According to DEPA, the approximately 1900 kilometer long pipeline (700 kilometers on-shore, 1200 off-shore) consists of the three following main sections, as well as compressor stations located in Cyprus and Crete: a pipeline from the fields to Cyprus, a pipeline connecting Cyprus to Crete, and a pipeline from Crete crossing mainland Greece up to the Ionian coast.

From there the EastMed can link up with the offshore Poseidon pipeline enabling the delivery of additional diversified sources from the Levantine to Italy and beyond. The EastMed pipeline is preliminarily designed to have exit points in Cyprus, Crete, and mainland Greece as well as the connection point with the Poseidon pipeline”.

The deal to create such a pipeline was sealed in December of 2017 while glowing reports from pro-EU media touted the deal as a means of allowing Europe to decrease its dependence on Russian gas while also offering Israel a chance to swap Turkey for EU partners. As Turkey’s long paralytic bid to join the EU is now de-facto over, both Europe and Israel’s cooperation over a new East Mediterranean gas pipeline has the effect of drawing Russia and Turkey into an even closer partnership than the one they are currently in.

At the moment the Turkstream pipeline designed to bring Russian gas into Europe via Turkey is a major joint project between Moscow and Ankara. Now, both the EU and Israel are looking to challenge this route with a pipeline of their own in a similar region. In reality, there is enough demand for gas in Europe and “srael to mean that both pipelines can coexist, but the geopolitical optics are clear enough. Tel Aviv has joined forces with the most anti-Ankara states in the EU in order to cut Turkey out of Israel’s future.

 

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Israel supporting Turkey’s main rivals 

Because Israel has taken clear moves away from Turkey and towards its hated Hellenic rivals, officials in Ankara who in the past may have been hesitant to sever ties with Tel Aviv because of economic considerations may now be much closer to doing so. Israel’s intensifying military cooperation with both Greece and Cyprus are a further sign that when it comes to Turkey, Tel Aviv is doing everything in its power to replace its once healthy Turkish partnership with that of countries with notoriously poor and always heated relations with Ankara.

Then there is the issue of Kurdish ethno-nationalism in both Syria and Iraq. Uniquely in the world, the United States and Israel are supporters of Kurdish separatism both in northern Syria and northern Iraq.  President Erdogan has already made it clear that this is one of several red lines that Israel can cross in respect of maintaining even semi-normal relations. During the attempted illegal Kurdish succession from Iraq in the autumn of 2017, Erdogan posed the following rhetorical statements to Kurdish secessionists in Iraq,

“Who will recognize your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel?…

…“You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you!”

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Traditional Anti-Turkish lobbies in the US team up with the American Jewish lobby

It is not only in the Middle East and Mediterranean where Israel has taken up common positions with Turkey’s adversaries. In the United States, the powerful Jewish lobby has joined forces with the comparatively smaller but still influential US based Hellenic and Armenian lobbies to protest the sale of US made F-35 jets to Ankara.  While the move ultimately failed, it demonstrated that unlike in the past where the US Jewish lobby did not try to antagonise Turkey, in 2018, it is willing to team up with lobbies whose primary objective is to promote grievances against Turkey.

Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that Gilad Erdan, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud faction has called for Tel Aviv to recognise the events of 1915 as an ‘Armenian Genocide’. If Israel were to officially to do this, it would represent a clear break between Tel Aviv and Ankara and quite possibly a point of no return. The more Turkey stands up for Palestine, the more voices like those of Erdan will become amplified in arguing for a move that is less about Armenia (a traditionally anti-Zionist nation) than about sending a clear message to Turkey that the partnership has run its course.

 

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Israel conspires to delay or cancel delivery of US made F-35 jets to Turkey 

Recent months have also seen the appearance of credible reports indicating that one of the main reasons that the US has been hesitant to deliver Turkey’s order for new F-35 fighter jets is because the Israeli regime has been putting pressure on Washington to either scrap the deal or otherwise deprive Turkey of the performance enchanting software upgrades to the fifth generation fighters. Put plainly, Israel wants its already delivered F-35s to have a technical advantage over those that were supposed to be delivered to Turkey in a clear sign that the historic good will between Tel Aviv and Ankara has hit rock bottom.

Sputnik has reported as follows:

“According to a top Israeli defence official, the Jewish state seeks to remain the only country in the region with F-35 jets to maintain its military’s qualitative edge. The discussions between Israel and the United States have also reportedly touched upon the jet’s performance-enhancing software; unnamed sources confirmed to Haaretz that the matter is ‘part of the negotiations,’ while Israel has denied having talks over the F-35 deal, under which Turkey is expected to obtain 100 stealth fighter jets”.

Far from being a revelation, these reports merely confirm recent trends in respect of  the dismal state of relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara, Washington and Ankara and a powerful new coalition of US based ethno-religious lobbies and Ankara. Far from merely influencing America’s dithering in respect of delivering the F-35s to Turkey, it would appear that Israel is directly meddling in the negotiations in an attempt to either have the deal scrapped or neutered. While many in the US are taking the opportunity to blame Turkey’s excellent relations with Russia for hesitation in respect of delivering the F-35s, in reality it would appear that the apprehension in Washington traces its roots back to Tel Aviv’s new hostile approach to Ankara.

 

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Pro-Zionist Arab states conspire with Israel against Turkey 

President Erdogan continues to publicly champion the Palestinian cause at a time when some of the largest and wealthiest Arab nations go mum on the central issue of Arab political identity in the 20th and 21st centuries. Instead of joining Turkey in support for Palestinian Arabs, it has been reported that officials in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have lobbied Tel Aviv to take a harsher line against Turkey.

Recently it was reported that officials in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and even politicians within Palestine made complaints to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu claiming he was “asleep at the wheel” regarding Turkey’s growing clout among Palestinians who are now often seen waving Turkish flags during the protracted Great March of Return. Following from the Arab grievances made to Israel regarding their own Turkophobia, it has emerged that Tel Aviv will take measures restricting the operations of the aid organisation Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) which currently helps Palestinians with basic necessities throughout occupied Palestine.

According to Sputnik,

“Among the possible measures are imposing a general restriction on TIKA’s activities and demanding that the agency obtain individual permits for its projects. At the same time, Israeli intelligence officials are said to believe that TIKA had hosted members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement and that some staff members had funneled funds and information to the Hamas movement”.

Given the resentment throughout certain Arab capitals about the fact that the central issue of post-colonial Arab identity is now being defended more loudly by a Turkish leader than virtually any Arab head of state, it is not only plausible that the confidential sources which spoke to Haaretz are telling the truth, but it is in fact likely that certain pro-Zionist Arab states are pushing Israel to become more outwardly hostile towards Turkey.

Apart from Turkey making Arab leaders look like fools by talking loudly about the Arab cause of Palestine at a time when many Arab states are only vaguely whispering about it, many Arab states, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia are keen to see Israel break what remains of its once healthy relationship with Turkey in order to force Israel into a more meaningful relationship with de-facto pro-Zionist Arab states by taking away one of Israel’s historic options for a regional partnership in the form of Turkey.

Moreover though, this development makes it clear that in the contemporary Middle East there is a clear geopolitical divide between a northern bloc of Middle East nations and southern bloc.

The northern bloc is comprised of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. These states often have disagreements, most notably in respect of Syria and Turkey who don’t even have formal relations. But nevertheless, all of these nations look to pursue their own version of geopolitical multi-polarity, each is either resentful (Syria, Iran) or sceptical (Turkey, Lebanon) of US hegemonic ambitions in the region and each has taken a firm position in favour of Palestine vis-a-vis its occupier.

In the southern bloc are the Arab allies of the United States and Israel whose only common denominator with the north is that they are also able to have excellent relations with both Russia and China – a fact which allows Russia to skilfully balance the security concerns of each side while China can do the same economically. In the southern bloc of the Middle East lies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and increasingly some of the leadership of Palestine. These countries are happy for the status quo of pushing for a US mediated peace in Palestine to drag on indefinitely (in spite of what some Palestinian leaders say), have no plans to seriously challenge the ambitions of their US ally and except for Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification drive, few have geopolitical (as opposed to economic) multipolar ambitions. In the case of some nations, Jordan for example, it appears Amman has few geopolitical ambitions if at all.

Ultimately, this is why Turkey frightens both the US and its allies in the southern bloc of the Middle East. While Iraq is militarily weak and majority Shi’a and while Syria is in the midst of a devastating conflict and is labelled by some as a “Shi’a government” (a misleading epithet but one that’s stuck in the minds of many), while Lebanon is both small, weak and politically complex and while Iran is neither Arab nor Sunni – Turkey in spite of not being an Arab state, is able under President Erdogan to speak more effectively to many Sunni Muslim Arabs (the majority of all Arabs) than both Sunni Arab states and Shi’a dominated states, whether Arab or Iranian.

 

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Turkey vows to continue its partnership with Iran – will stand up to US sanctions 

With pre-JCPOA style sanctions set to be implemented against Iran by Washington beginning this November, Turkey has made it clear that it opposes these sanctions and will continue its economic and growing security partnership with Iran irrespective of US threats of so-called second party sanctions against nations that continue to transact with Iran.

According to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

“We had a US delegation here and we […] explained to them that we believe that [such moves] are a mistake. We are not obliged to abide by any sanctions imposed by anyone”.

With Turkey now looking to collaborate with Iran on cross-border security issues, including those targeting the PKK and its Iranian branch PJAK, Ankara is remaining firm in its desire to pursue an independent partnership with Iran which now also includes working with Tehran in the Astana format alongside Russia in attempts to settle the Syrian conflict. It goes without saying that both Washington and Tel Aviv are not welcoming this fiercely independent attitude from Erdogan and his colleagues.

 

Turkey is now more influential in Palestine than any contemporary Arab state 

Turkey has a clear advantage in winning hearts and minds in Palestine and because of this, notably, Turkey has good relations with all of its fellow northern bloc partners except for Syria though this too may change throughout the future discussions within the format of the Astana peace process. Furthermore, Turkey’s wholesale improvement of ties with Iran has now been cemented by Ankara’s willingness to continue to purchase Iranian energy in spite of the threat of US sanctions.

This clearly angers Saudi Arabia and Jordan and in spite of historic good feeling between Tel Aviv and Ankara, it now seems that Saudi Arabia and other anti-Iranian Arab powers will use Turkey’s apparently unbreakable relations with Iran to paint Turkey as a menace according to the Israeli mindset that labels any country (with the exceptions of Russia and China) which does not dislike Iran as automatically suspect or even evil.

The regional balance of power has dramatically shifted. Turkey now leads a northern bloc of Middle Eastern policy makers while Ankara’s soft power reach goes well into the southern Middle East and into Muslim majority states in Africa, including Egypt’s rival Sudan.

While many still refuse to grasp Turkey’s dramatic shift from reliable NATO member to multipolar eastern looking independent and proud nation – the realities on the ground in the Middle East speak to a wider acknowledgement among regional powers of the new reality of Turkey’s vital role as the de-facto head of the northern bloc of Middle Eastern nations. While in private Iranian policy makers must at least partly realise this, Iran’s public rhetoric has yet to catch up to the trends of Turkey being not only Iran’s most meaningful partner but the leader of the region in more ways than one.

It is now blatantly obvious that in the wider Sunni sphere of Muslim majority nations, Turkey is a lone voice in championing justice for Palestine while some of the most influential Arab states are now encouraging their new ally Israel to take active measures which will prevent Turkey from helping besieged Palestinians to attain food, medicine and clean water. The new system of alliances in the Middle East is not just forming – it has essentially been solidified.

 

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Conclusion 

When it comes to Israel’s pivot to both energy and security partnerships with Turkey’s main regional rivals, the growing alliance between the US based Israel lobby and traditionally anti-Turkish lobbies in the US, American Congressmen sympathetic to the agitations of the new Israel/Kurdish/Hellenic and Armenian lobbies in the US, Arab states encouraging Israel to take a more anti-Turkish line and President Erdogan’s rising star in occupied Palestine – it becomes clear that the war of words between the leaders of Turkey and Israel is about far more than geopolitical shouting matches. Several very pressing issues underscore the new regional rivalry between Ankara and Tel Aviv.

 

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