Friday, January 22, 2010

A Dog and Tail Tale

Washington lobbies' Israel-Turkey reality check

From Ian Williams
Passionate Detachment column Middle East International 22 January 2010

It might not be a change of the tide, but the ham-fisted Israeli foreign ministerial team has certainly revealed the shift in the currents of regional and international politics.
The petty triumph of calling in Ambassador Oğuz Çelikkol for a reprimand, as if he or the Turkish government controlled programming on Turkish TV, might have played well for the right in Israel, but the affair also said much about Ankara’s changing relationship with both Israel and the United States.

The brusque Turkish demand for an Israeli apology, following Ankara’s refusal to assist in the US invasion of Iraq or to countenance operations through its airspace to Iran, is the latest indication of a coming of age for Turkey and a new climate in global relations. The government in Ankara can base policies on popular support without worrying too much about uppity allies like the US, let alone Israel – or for that matter those parts of its own military with too much invested in those alliances.

For many years, Turkey needed Washington: as a military backstop against the Soviets, and indeed the Syrians and Iraqis, with whom there were old border issues. The US connection also helped to restrain the Greeks, for whom politics was, all too often, about how to annoy their eastern neighbour. A military relationship with Israel was strategically useful for Turkey when Syria or Iraq were a threat, but possibly more useful was the prospect of using the leverage of the Israel lobby in Washington.

In the peculiar Washington waltz of lobbies, Israel’s efforts on behalf of Turkey were countered by the Armenian expatriate lobby, the Greek lobby and a range of human rights organisations who generally took a dim view of Ankara’s policies. That was apparent when AIPAC had a clutch of Senators ‘unsign’ Bob Dole’s resolution on the 75th anniversary of the ‘Armenian Genocide’.

That was an earlier and possibly slightly more sophisticated version of Israel getting above itself than the current situation. It was because of this overreach that Dole became a firm and dedicated supporter of Bush and Baker’s campaign to stop Israel getting the $10 billion loan guarantees that Shamir wanted to resettle Russian immigrants – such as Lieberman and Ayalon.

On this occasion, who needs whom more? Turkey is a growing regional power, military and economic. It is on friendly terms with its neighbours and has gone some way to smooth over some of its more intractable problems – like teaming up with Russia to sign a peace treaty with Armenia. It has tried to broker peace between Syria and Israel – and finds the latter more at fault for the failure.

Turkey’s relationship with the EU is growing more important economically and politically than its ties to the US, whose shrinking superpower status has become more visible than ever. Neo-con overreach has made obvious the limitations of American military power, while the economic crisis has reduced US financial clout to its lowest ebb since 1945. Israel had some significance in its own right, but not nearly as much as it had as a means of influence in Washington. If Turkey does not have as much need of the US as before, it follows that there are fewer advantages to courting Israel than before.

Lieberman and Ayalon should be congratulated for their part in bursting the bubble. Not only is the US less important to Turkey and the Israel lobby less important than it was, but the two clowns have given a clear indication of why, with diehard exceptions like Joseph Lieberman, Israel supporters in Washington will no longer take their line verbatim from the Israeli government.

In real terms, the US has more to gain from a relationship with a regional power such as Turkey than with an Israel, for which support comes at such a heavy financial and diplomatic price across the world. Obama won’t rush to do an Erdoğan just yet, but even Washington lobbies can’t keep reality at bay forever.

No comments: