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Israel is on the verge of turning Turkey into an enemy

With many focused squarely on President Erdogan’s rhetoric, more attention must be paid to Israel’s actions which aroused the rhetoric.

During a rousing speech, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again blasted the Kurdish secession vote which took place in northern Iraq on the 25th of September.

Most prominently Erdogan said of the referendum during which Kurds waved both Kurdish and Israeli flags,

“This shows one thing, that this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together”.

Erodgan continued to repeat his threats of pending economic failure for Kurdish seized regions of Iraq in the aftermath of a promised Turkish embargo in addition to the current no-fly zone over the area which is supported by Baghdad.

He continued in a rhetorical address to Iraqi Kurds, with whom the Turkish government once had a positive relationship. Erdogan asked,

“Are you aware of what you are doing? Only Israel supports you. Wake up from this dream!”

Erdogan is correct when he notes the connection between the Israeli secret intelligence service, Mossad and Kurdish insurgents in Iraq.

Israeli scholar Ofra Bengio wrote the following on the subject,

“In 1966, Iraqi defense minister Abd al-Aziz al-Uqayli blamed the Kurds of Iraq for seeking to establish “a second Israel” in the Middle East. He also claimed that “the West and the East are supporting the rebels to create [khalq] a new Israeli state in the north of the homeland as they had done in 1948 when they created Israel. It is as if history is repeating itself. An Arab commentator had warned earlier that if such a thing should happen, “the Arabs will face within two decades their second nakba [catastrophe] after Palestine.” These contentions speak volumes regarding Iraq’s threat perceptions of the Kurds more than four decades after the establishment of the Iraqi state. They also conceptualize Israel as the ultimate evil in the region. Such accusations are echoed today by some Arab media, which claim that Kurdistan is following in the footsteps of “Yahudistan” (“Land of the Jews”). Seen from the Kurdish and Israeli perspectives, these linkages and parallels are intended to demonize and delegitimize both while also implying illegitimate relations between them. The intriguing questions are therefore what kind of relations exist between Israel and the Kurds?”

She continued, discussing how Israel came to gradually increase support for the Kurds in Iraq after the Ramadan Revolution of 8 February 1963, which brought the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party to power in Iraq for the first time,

“One of the early Kurdish interlocutors was activist Ismet Sherif Vanly. In his memoirs, Vanly revealed that in 1964, when the Kurdish revolution was in dire straits, he suggested to Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani that he contact Jerusalem for help. Upon Barzani’s agreement, Vanly went to Israel (with the help of the head of the Iranian intelligence) where he met Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, as well as Shimon Peres, head of the Labor party. Following that visit, the Israeli government sent a permanent representative to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Israelis also attempted to arrange meetings for Vanly with U.S. officials, but the latter refused. According to Vanly, Ibrahim Ahmad, who later would split from Barzani’s party, had at an earlier date made a secret visit to Israel. The revelation about Ahmad is important because, in later years, Ahmad’s faction leaked information about the secret relationship between the Barzanis and Israel in order to embarrass the Barzanis.

These ties, kept secret by both sides, reached their peak in the early years of the Baath in 1968-75. Barzani visited Israel secretly twice, in 1968 and 1973, meeting with high Israeli officials including the prime minister. Mustafa’s sons Masoud and Idris also visited Israel. For their part, various Israeli officials frequented the Kurdish region. Some conspiracy theories put the number of Israelis present at the time in Kurdistan in the thousands. In fact, they did not exceed three or four.

These ties brought benefits to both partners. Jerusalem obtained intelligence as well as support for a few thousand Jews fleeing Baath Iraq. The Kurds received security and humanitarian aid as well as links to the outside world, especially the United States. The first official acknowledgment that Jerusalem had provided aid to the Kurds dates to September 29, 1980, when Prime Minister Menachem Begin disclosed that Israel had supported the Kurds “during their uprising against the Iraqis in 1965–1975″ and that the United States was aware of the fact. Begin added that Israel had sent instructors and arms but not military units.

Israeli aid was initially limited to human-itarian assistance such as the construction of a field hospital in 1966. It expanded gradually, eventually to include the supply of small arms and ammunition. Later, it encompassed more sophisticated equipment such as antitank and antiaircraft weapons. It also included training Kurds in Israel and Kurdistan.

One reliable source claimed that all training of Kurds was provided by Israel. Rafael Eytan, who visited Kurdistan in 1969 before he became Israel’s chief of staff, stated that almost all of the Israeli trainers were paratroopers. Israelis also served as advisers. In fact, Eytan’s visit served the same purpose. But it should be stressed that Israelis were never involved directly in combat and had no command role whatsoever. They also helped in activities such as propaganda campaigns in Europe, courses for Kurdish medics, and with the creation of schoolbooks in Kurdish. These ties were abruptly stopped in March 1975 following the Algiers agreement between Iraq and Iran that put an end to the Kurdish rebellion. But discrete relations were resumed a few years later and have continued for most of the time ever since”.

What is crucial to understand is that in holding the referendum against the wishes of all regional powers except for Israel and against the wishes of all international powers including both Russia and the United States, the Iraqi Kurdish regime took the calculated gamble that the lone support of Israel would be more valuable than the multitude of enemies who would be and have been galvanised by the vote.

But more interestingly, the Israeli leadership, in putting themselves out in favour of Kurdish secession for the first time (prior to this, Israeli leaders either spoke about such matters covertly or with statements laced in innuendo), Israel  put its traditionally good relationship with Turkey on the line, just as the US has in Syria by supporting Kurdish militants there.

Except for the very public row over the illegal Israeli raid of a Turkish aid flotilla bringing aid to Gaza in 2010, Israel’s relationship with the Republic of Turkey has generally been positive. It could even be fair to say that Turkey has been Israel’s closet partner in the Middle East throughout this time and certainly this has been true since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 turned Iran from a partner into an adversary.

Erdogan, both as President and before that, as Prime Minster of Turkey, has had an on again/off again relationship with Tel Aviv. Prior to the Kurdish vote, the spats Erdogan  had with Israel have either been over the Israeli raid on the infamous Gaza Flotilla, something which is still viewed as an insult to Turkey by most parties in Ankara, or otherwise due to Erdogan’s occasional statements in favour of greater justice for Palestine.

In either case, both of these related spats are due to a matter of pride and geo-political stature, rather than an issue which directly effects Turkish security. Until now, Turkey’s relationship to the Palestine issue has been generally more remote than that of the Arab world and post-1979 Iran.

This may change however, but not because of anything happening in Palestine per se. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s support of Kurdish secessionism in Iraq, is from a Turkish perspective, the equivalent of a Turkish leader supporting the creation of a Hezbollah led Islamic Republic in southern Lebanon.

Furthermore, due to Israel’s longstanding relations with Iraqi Kurds, the analogy can be carried further. It would be as if Turkey supported Hezbollah with arms, funds and geo-political good will for decades before then calling for a new Hezbollah led state. One only needs to realise that Israel wants to essentially provoke a US led war on Iran due to Tehran’s relationship with Hezbollah, in order to know how seriously Turkey takes Israel’s stance on Iraqi Kurds, in this context.

Israel has grown accustomed to being at odds with the Arab world and Israel has exploited latent divisions in the Arab world so much so that Saudi Arabia will likely soon join Egypt and Jordan as two Arab countries that have open relations with Tel Aviv. Israel is also used to antagonising the Islamic Republic of Iran, but Israel is not used to having Turkey as an enemy, because such a thing has never occurred.

Unless Israel distances itself from Iraqi Kurds, both covertly and publicly, the world may be facing the spectre of the two most important non-Arab states in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran, both becoming adversaries to Israel.

In this sense, some individuals within the Israeli deep state may have seen Turkey’s growing relations with Iran as a threat. However, while it is not difficult to imagine some Israelis thinking like this, the logic behind such thinking is incredibly flawed to the point of being ignorant.

Like Russia, Turkey’s relationship with Iran is built on mutual economic benefits, geo-political realism, petro-politics and the need to intensify regional cooperation in preparation for the arrival of One Belt–One Road in the Middle East. Turkey is no more ideologically in-line with Iran than Russia is. Each country has a completely different state ideology and if anything, were Erdogan to fully bring Sunni Islamism to the front and centre of formerly secular Turkey, this will actually mean that Turkey will be even more ideologically different from Iran vis-a-vis a more religiously neutral Kemalist state.

Erdogan is ultimately not an ideologue, even though his language might often obscure such a fact. Erdogan is actually a pragmatist with a very loud and sometimes loose tongue. Erdogan is a man whose co-opting of Turkish civil society ought to read as a master text for leaders looking to consolidate their rule, gradually remove or placate opponents and remake civil institutions to work in one’s personal favour. Few could pull such a thing off and no Turkish leader since Ataturk has made such a profound mark on the Turkish state.

Likewise, Erdogan’s geo-politics is equally pragmatic. Erdogan has not distanced himself from NATO, the US and EU because of some desire to join ‘club Eurasia’. He has become part of ‘club Eurasia’ because he realised that this will be to Turkey’s economic benefit and that Russia and Iran are more easy to work with than the EU. The contest between an increasingly closed and economically retarded EU and China’s One Belt–One Road, which in any case will still give Turkey access to the EU through the backdoor, was not a matter of ideology, it was a matter of obvious self-interest.

Furthermore, even Erdogan’s decision to quietly shift from a position of ‘Assad must go’ to working in the Astana group and tacitly conceding that the Ba’ath party will remain in power in Damascus is a totally  pragmatic move.

Erdogan switched teams in order to join the winning side in respect of Syria. He thought he’d be able to get a piece of the Syrian pie by calling for regime change and now that he’s sensed that no regime change will occur, he’s increasingly linking himself with Russia and Iran as a ‘master peacemaker’ even though in this respect, Russia is doing most of the heavy lifting.

Here too Erodgan in exiting from the US camp over Syria , he has likewise exited the Israeli camp, though not for ideological reasons.

In this sense, Israel has acted purely on emotion with the Kurds. If Turkey cuts off access to northern Iraq, in cooperation with Baghdad, the oil that Kurds wanted to illegally sell through Israel, will never be able to see the light of day. Furthermore, in assuming Turkey’s President to be far more ideologically driven than he is, Israel has exposed its own ideological flaws and its own latent desires for illegal territorial expansion, as outlined in the 1982 Yinon Plan. Israel has not only exposed its ambition but moreover, Israel has exposed the fact that its greed has got the better of geo-strategic clarity.

With the world focused on Erdogan’s rhetoric towards Israel, people ought to focus more on Israel’s actions towards Turkey. These are actions of hostility and while Israel might not admit this, Turkey has already stated it for the world to see. By so publicly opposing Turkey at a time when Turkey’s geo-political re-orientation has given Ankara a new boost of confidence, Israel is picking a fight it will ultimately loose unless concessions and retractions are made soon.

Israel has just picked up a new enemy in the Middle East and it is the one with the Middle East’s largest and along with Iran, its  most capable armed forces.

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