September 15, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for January 24, 2012


1) What the Diehl?

Lately Jackson Diehl has been one of the better analysts of the Middle East. His most recent, Turkey's government is the new normal in the Middle East, unfortunately, was disappointing. Diehl started off by blasting former Republican presidential candidate, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Perry responded: “Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists . . .”

Islamic terrorists? This, mind you, is about a government that has just stationed an advanced radar on its territory that could be used to track and shoot down missiles from Iran; that joined the NATO operation against Moammar Gaddafi in Libya; that has become the host of the opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad; and that, having repeatedly won free democratic elections, amended Turkey’s constitution to expand rights for women, ethnic minorities and unions.

The reality is that, like it or not, “Islamist-oriented” governments are about to become the new normal in a region dominated for decades by secular autocrats and pro-American generals. So the crude bias about Muslim movements that is baked into the worldview of many U.S. conservatives — that they are inevitably fundamentalist, anti-democratic, anti-Israel and anti-American, if not explicitly “terrorist” — has become a serious liability. If heeded, it will make it impossible for this administration and future ones to navigate the region’s new politics and preserve crucial alliances.

Left out, of course, is that Turkey aided the IHH, an international terrorist organization with the Mavi Marmara, which led to a clash with Israel. Here's how the The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center describes the relationship between the government of Turkey and the IHH. (.pdf)

1) In the political-strategic realm, the Erdogan regime collaborates closely with IHH.Their collaboration is based on a common Islamic worldview, the concept that IHH can be used as a tool to implement Turkish foreign policy and IHH's readiness to serve the current government's strategy of turning Turkey into an influential regional power, including at the expense of its relations with Israel. That strategy was manifested by the political and practical support received by Hamas (the transfer of funds and other aid to Hamas, support for convoys and flotillas, and hosting Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood activities on Turkish soil.

2) In the realm of internal Turkish politics, IHH is a socio-political powerbase for the AKP, Turkey's ruling party and, according to several reports, helped it get elected. Their close relations have led to the AKP's appointing senior members of IHH to government positions, (about a quarter of the IHH senior leadership holds or held positions or were candidates for AKP positions!). The AKP gave the flotilla propaganda and moral support and the Turkish media also reported that AKP parliament members intended to board the Mavi Marmara. However their participation was

canceled at the last minute.

3) On the personal level, IHH leader Bülent Yildirim maintains close relations with the heads of the Turkish regime and is warmly supported by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. According to statements from passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara, corroborated by ITIC information, the flotilla set out with Erdogan's full knowledge and agreement, despite the fact that it was clear Israel would not allow the flotilla to reach the Gaza Strip.

Perhaps Perry overstated the case a bit, but he wasn't far off. The problem is that just because Islamists are the "new normal" doesn't make that development a good thing. It's one thing saying that the government needs to deal with a new reality; it's another to do as President Obama did and embrace that reality as a positive development.

Yesterday Robert Satloff and Eric Trager outlined How the U.S. Should Handle the Islamist Rise in Egypt.

Yet Washington has assets to preserve its equities in Egypt. At $1.2 billion, U.S. military assistance is essentially the procurement budget for the Egyptian armed forces. While the Islamists may want the military out of politics, they also don't want to be accused of materially weakening the country. Direct U.S. economic support is much smaller, at $250 million, but America has a substantial voice in international financial institutions to which Egypt almost surely will turn for help. In the coming period, when Egypt's Islamist politicians will test just how far the U.S. will bend to accommodate a new political reality, the U.S. should be willing to use both these tools to advance its interests.

Washington's message to Cairo's emerging leaders should be that U.S. support — both direct and indirect — is conditional on their cooperation in maintaining peace with Israel and preserving political pluralism and religious and minority rights. America should determine its relationship based on what Egypt's new rulers actually do on these issues, not the cooing sounds that their English-language spokesmen offer visiting American journalists, diplomats and politicians.

It isn't clear that this will work, but Satloff and Trager tell the administration to take a skeptical approach to the Islamists. That's a far cry from what Obama has done as he (if Turkey is any guide) embraced them uncritically.

2) The continuing Palestinian diplomatic war against Israel

In his op-ed in the New York Times last year, The long overdue Palestinian state, Mahmoud Abbas clearly expressed his intent for dealing with Israel.

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Abbas's attempt to get support for statehood from the UN fizzled. However his effort to use the UN to wage diplomatic war against Israel is continuing. Jonathan Schanzer and David Barnett write in The Palestinian Campaign to Delegitimize Israel:

Specifically, Abbas is threatening to form a political union with rival faction Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Palestinians view unity as a necessary step toward independence, so his rhetoric has been very popular on the "Palestinian street." But the likelihood of a merger is unlikely. Rather, the PLO is using the prospect of a government partially constituted by unrepentant terrorists to pressure Israel into making concessions.

The message is simple: If the Israelis don't give the PLO what it wants, it could join hands with Hamas, which repeatedly refuses to renounce "armed resistance," making it virtually impossible for Israel to achieve the peace that it craves.


With all of these moving parts, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture: Palestinian leaders seem to have no interest in talking to Israel this year. Instead, they may be gearing up for a full-scale diplomatic campaign to delegitimize it.

What's astonishing is that Abbas is carrying out a campaign – that he publicly outlined in a prestigious American newspaper – to avoid negotiations with Israel and it has elicited no outrage. Netanyahu is still the obstacle to peace and to the Secretary of Defense, both sides won't come to the "damn table."

Abbas's refusal to negotiate is exacerbated by his embrace of Hamas, which is a rejection of the PLO's disavowal of terror, a premise of the very peace negotiations that are now "stalled." Peace won't come to the Middle East as long as Abbas's obstructionism is tolerated and encouraged.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.