Shalit’s Release and Other Symptoms


    When astrophysicists investigate the stars they rarely get to witness an event. Sometimes the events are too slow or two fast, but often they do not possess the right tools to give them a clear vision of the object. Despite the limitations, the worlds’ scientists have still made far reaching discoveries. The method they employ is looking at the effect on the other objects. For example by investigating the path of visible surrounding stars they can estimate where gravity is applied and therefore can determine whether there is  star hidden from view or an event such as a supernova has taken place that distorted the expected alignment.

    The Middle East is not so different in this respect. Many of the events are not witnessed, since there is no free press and certainly no access to private meetings between the leaders. Therefore, to decipher what is going on behind the false facade, one must look at the events around and extrapolate the root cause.

    Perhaps the most significant event to take place this week was the agreement of Hamas to release the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the release of some 1000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Shalit has been in Hamas’ custody for over five years and talks have never progressed to the stage of release. There have been many reports about the negotiations and the involved parties, such as the German negotiator, however always resulting in a breakdown and both sides blaming the other.

    So what has changed this time? Certainly not the negotiation terms, but it seems that everything else that is happening around. Israel published a strong stance on not releasing any prisoners who have been convicted for murder of Israelis. This was most likely a negotiation tactic, as Hamas would not be able to politically afford releasing Shalit without getting in return some of their prisoners, who have been convicted for life, however Israel did not release prominent figures such as Baragouti and Saadat, who could become key people back in Gaza or the West Bank. Hamas, no doubt, was pushing very hard to release those prisoners, but decided to give up this claim. There has also been a dispute on how many prisoners would be banished from the Palestinian territories, reportedly this was a major dispute in the last round of talks, it is apparent now that Israel conceded slightly, but not gave away that demand.

    The events of the negotiation are directly related to Asad’s rule. Since the Arab Spring reached Syria, Asad’s status has been grossly undermined. The two major factors that are contributing to him staying in power are the fact that most of his generals are still in support of him, unlike in Egypt or Libya, where the close generals turned on their leader, which marked the end, and that Russia and China have been protecting him from any veto in the UN, which would result in a possible NATO attack or more likely sanctions imposed on the regime globally (rather than just US and EU currently).

    Asad’s undermining has consequently damaged Hamas’ status, which he supports heavily. Hamas’ leadership sits in Syria and enjoys freedom of movement as well as an open route used to coordinate support from Iran. The price Hamas pays for Asad’s patronage is unequivocally supporting his regime. This support has already backfired, when Hamas organized for Palestinian refugees to flood the Israeli border in order to create a distraction from the internal Syrian conflict. This unfortunately for Hamas and Asad led to many Palestinian deaths, which in return caused an uprising and subsequently violence between Syria’s army and the Palestinians. So much so, that Hamas in Gaza openly criticized Asad, a gesture that was not well received by its strategic ally Iran.

    Had things stayed as they are Hamas would have probably still been playing the stalling game in regards to Shalit’s release, since time actually was on their side. In Israel the government was under increasing pressure to release Shalit with various gestures aimed to remind the politicians that he is still in captivity. This pressure played straight into Hamas’ hands, who were seen by the Arab world as defiant to Israel, while playing psychological warfare on the Israeli public, by publicizing paintings of Shalit in captivity and often making reference to the government’s reluctance to progress the deal. However, this week Hamas has decided to end this episode and play their most powerful card in the pack. A very likely reason could be that Hamas is seeing the end of their operation in Damascus and are now seeking to boost their support and legitimacy before they find a different regime that would allow them to operate from its territory. If this assumption turns out to be true, then it is definitely a sign of Asad’s regime volatility and vote of no confidence from the Hamas’s leadership.

    Although less in the limelight, but also significant was the reported tensions within the Lebanese coalition, mainly between Hezbollah and Jumblatt, as reported by local Lebanese newspapers. Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), which is secular and mainly representing the Druzes ethnicity in Lebanon. The party’s ideology is in great conflict with the religious Syrian supported party Hezbollah, which is why it was a shock to learn that Jumblatt lent his support to Hezbollah, when they voted Saad Hariri’s government out of power, after his insistence of supporting the UN’s investigation of the assassination of his father (STL).

    Jumblatt starting to make demands on Hezbollah is a clear indication of his belief that their position has been significantly damaged. Other than the pending UN investigation, which will no doubt have some consequences in the international community and internally, the most likely reason would be a weakening of the Syrian government, who currently supplies them with arms, which has made them effectively stronger than Lebanon’s national army.

    These symptoms both show a significant shift away from Asad’s rule and it is leaving less and less doubt that Asad’s time is limited. One of his officers, Colonel Riyad El-Asad, has already started an opposition army and it seems that it is only a matter time until senior officers would follow suit. What is not surprising is that Asad keeps fighting and will do so until the end. Considering he is of the Alawaite faction, which is a clear minority in a predominantly Sunni country, means that the Alawaites are likely to lose their status for a long period of time (nothing is forever in the Middle East) and the tactics used by his father, to violently crush down on any attempt of revolt, cannot be done internally and quietly as in the past, since now every person with a phone can easily upload uncensored images to the web.

    Perhaps only a frivolous man would put a timeline on Asad’s fate, but a reasonable one would predict his demise. The next steps to watch out for is for more allies distancing themselves from Asad and more army personnel defecting or turning against him, but until that happens, we will keep getting reports about tenths of opposition demonstrators being killed almost on a daily basis.

What’s So Bad About A UN Recognition Of Palestine


    The columnist community of the written media have been dealing excessively with the Palestinian bid for recognition in the UN. Many of them, as a the reputable magazine  The Economist support the application and believe that the expected US veto in the Security Council is the wrong move.

    In Israel, too, some prominent left wing Israelis support the recognition of Palestinian state, however, despite the similarities in some reasoning there are some core differences to ones stated in The Economist. At the heart of the justifications in The Economist is the claim that there is already a Palestinian country de facto, after all both statements of Netanyahu and Obama call for a two state solution, so why oppose and risk the inevitable violence following a failed Palestinian statehood application? The Israeli supporters on the other hand, claim that with the advantages of having a UN recognized State come responsibilities, which may consequently stop the violence by Hamas in Gaza as well as bring the return of the kidnapped soldier Shalit held by Hamas.

Other diplomats around Europe would also like to see the solution come to an end, especially now with the emergence of the Arab Spring, as in their opinion brokering a deal in the Middle East could put Europe back in the center, as well as impede the extremist Muslim movement at home.

    The Palestinians on their part though are not united behind the decision. Hamas is opposed to the move, mainly because of being excluded from the process and probably the uncertainty that would be created, if the recognition is successful. Hamas are also very aware of the political price they would have to pay if after everything that the people of Gaza have been through as a result of their extreme policies, it is the moderate Fatah government in the West Bank that accomplishes this historic achievement.

While the media is already reporting which countries have announced support to the application, which countries are still dithering and which oppose the move, the content of the proposal has not yet been exposed. The expected solution formula is most probably the talked about proposal, in which there would be two states based on the 1967 border lines with agreed land swaps. However one of the elements of the negotiations is to agree the finer details of the land swaps. It is not known at this point what land swaps are in the proposal if any, however it is safe to assume that the Abbas is not going to draw something that would put Palestinian in a disadvantage and likely to assume that the Palestinians would benefit more from his output than the Israelis. The border is merely one topic of dispute, as the negotiations between the countries are also around Jerusalem, the water supplies, the right to return of the refugees around the world, the accepted Palestinian army configuration in the new Palestinian state, as well as other logistic and security issues that Israel would demand to be adequately addressed.

    Needless to say the automatic majority achieved by the Palestinians before providing any content, already shows the downside of the UN decision system, as the expectation would be at least that every country would read the proposal carefully and consider whether it would have a good influence on the Palestinians and the region or not.

    The Israeli government is very much opposed to the proposal. The reasons are numerous from the uncertainty the move brings to the obvious impact of having to deal with a UN recognized Palestinian state. The Palestinians are already enjoying wide support by the different voting blocks in the UN comprised mainly of African and Arab countries, this situation may get worse for Israel, if the Palestinians are allowed to sit on committees and claim to be heard in places like the Hague’s International Court. Whether the court would proves to be fair or biased, like the different committees in the UN, is to be seen, however it is almost certain that the Israeli government would have to spend significant effort in defending itself for actions it sees as necessary security measures.

    Another aspect troubling the Israeli government in this application is the apparent loss in the political arena. To understand this concept one has to look at the negotiations as a process rather than the immediate future. Up until 1967 Israel’s biggest problems have been external, they fought the Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis Jordanians…etc. However, since 1967 the problems have become mainly internal. The Palestinian settlement dispute was transferred from a Jordanian and Egyptian problem to an Israeli one and with the lack of any official army to surrender, despite military superiority, Israel has been fighting a losing battle. Israel has been continuously giving up land and slowly withdrawing as its public is weary of fighting and a greater divide is created, in which, some people turn to the left, wishing to get on with their lives and hope for the other side to do the same, once their declared goals are achieved, while others turn to the right, as they want to see more force and determination in bringing this conflict to an end.

    The Palestinians on the other hand are playing a different and much slower game. It is embedded in every Palestinian child that a Palestinian state will be achieved however long it takes (this fact is entirely visible through various surveys done or studies conducted looking at the culture in schools, mosques and TV).  From a Palestinian point of view, a state could be achieved by an overtime demographic change, military means or simple small scale terrorism causing erosion to Israel. While Israel can control the flames of the conflict to a degree, they cannot reach closure and (despite various claims) ethnic cleansing is not an option at their disposal. Therefore, the only means of pressure Israel can apply on the Palestinians is by a gradual increase of settlements, which is eating into their land, if they stall. In the same way that terrorist activity is counter-productive to a peace process, but is seen as a mean to apply pressure, Settlements are also a mean to apply pressure albeit a more humane one that could be easily reversed (this is one of the reasons as to why Netanyahu rejected an additional freeze of building settlements, worrying that it might become a given expectation).

   Judging on the way the UN is operating Israel’s concerns are probably valid, as the UN various committees have shown so much biased and corrupt voting that more UN intervention in the region could only be bad news for Israel.

    In trying to understand the conflict and the possible resolution it would probably make sense to turn back to the words of Golda Meir former Prime Minister of Israel, as she reflected on her time in power in September 1974:

I asked this question multiple times like a parrot and no one has answered [about] when they say that if we move to the 67 lines things will be OK. Gentlemen, where were we situated in 67? Did we not stand behind the 67 [border] lines? Why then was there a war. After 56 the “Kadesh Operation” following torments of 4.5 months in the UN, we behaved like good boys. We evacuated Sinai, we evacuated Sharam El Sheik, Gaza, everything, so? What happened? Why was there a war on the 67 borders? So this formula of peace in exchange for land, it sounds pretty, I think people that say it surely believe in it, but it is not true. This isn’t what it is about. It is very possible that we will still need to fight in the future, since I don’t believe that you can buy peace with territories. You can buy peace when the Arabs, or the Arab leaders will reach the conclusion that we cannot be terminated and they need to live with us

The statement above supports the theory that it is not the land swaps that would create peace, nor is it the recognition of a Palestinian state. True peace would come only when both sides come to truly accept each other. Unfortunately until there is a change of mindset in the Middle East by all countries about having a Jewish State in the region, or countries like Iran actively promoting hatred against Israel on political as well religious grounds the chances of anything moving in a positive direction are depressingly slim.

Turkey the New Regional Bully


    Many of us have had a chance at school to see a bully fighting. Most of the fights of a bully are pretty short lived, as most people would prefer not to stand up and either avoid them all together or take a token beating and hope that it would be the end of it. However every now and then there is something a little different in the form of a victim that does not play by the rules. Sometimes the victim refuses to give up and it seems that the beatings are ineffective, as they keep getting back up and would not submit or show the expected respect towards the bully. In the latter example, most of the bystanders wonder why the victim is not doing the smart thing and playing by the rules, rather than potentially harming themselves even more. Currently the same playground behaviour could be seen on a country level with Turkey playing the part of the bully and Israel the victim.

    There are plenty of theories behind Turkey’s new foreign policy. One theory claims that the PM Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Davutoglu are strict Muslims and believe that their policy towards Israel and Syria is a result of being good Muslims, reaching out for their fellow Sunnis.  Another theory is that in order for the government to gain domestic support, they use the lowest common denominator, which is sympathy to the Palestinians by invoking anti-Israel feelings and focusing on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Another theory is that Turkey has realized that they are not going to be part of the exclusive EU club and have turned their attention to regional dominance.

    As often in politics the answer is not simple and not one dimensional as some of the mainstream media often like to portray, in order to make their message easy to understand. In fact, reality lays somewhere between all the theories.

    When the crisis between Turkey and Israel increased in the beginning of 2011, some Israeli Media speculated that this is merely the AKP’s election strategy to collect votes and the attitude towards Israel would gradually improve following the imminent victory (AKP needed not just to win the election, rather gather a great enough majority to push some constitutional changes). Needless to say, this turned out to be a wrong assumption, as the relationship is deteriorating at its fastest pace following the AKP’s victory.

    The second theory regarding the EU turning away from Turkey is not an invalid point, as it is factually true. However with the Euro suffering a financial crisis, Turkey could be only grateful for not getting into this sick bed previously, where their investment would go towards stabilizing the PIGS countries’ economies (especially hated Greece) as well as other countries bound to go into crisis. So in reality, not entering the EU could be spun to the public as a victory of good economics and clever forecasting and the advantage of seeing the EU when it is at a low point, could be leveraged to join under even better conditions.

    The third theory implies that Turkey is trying to become a regional leader. Once again the theory consist of true facts, however the actions in the political arena are not fully supportive of the theory. It is true that Israel bashing is an easy target to gain acceptance in the Middle East and because of Muslim doctrine, any country with a Muslim community would always find followers that disagree with the concept of a Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East. However any country wishing to truly become a regional leader, must maintain a relationship with the West and currently this relationship goes through Israel as well as the USA. Iran is a perfect example of a country with a powerful army, influence in many Middle East countries, but that has been blacklisted by the West and therefore finding it difficult to turn its influence to official state relations and become a policy maker in the region.

    So what is behind Turkey’s changes of policy?

    Since winning the elections the AKP has had a disastrous result to their foreign policy. The leading guide for the Turkish policy has been making friends with all their regional neighbours. Turkey declared that it seeks to have all the countries onside, avoiding any conflict. However, reality could not be further from this aspiration. Despite a very lenient attitude towards Iran regarding the nuclear program in early 2010, which enraged the USA as well as Saudi Arabia and UAE, Turkey and Iran are not seeing eye to eye over the response to the crisis in Syria and Iran as a result has given Turkey the cold shoulder.

    Syria, which was the cause of the conflict between Iran and Turkey has also changed its tune very quickly about Turkey. Despite the new Turkish closeness, after snubbing Israel, it completely ignored Turkey’s requests to reform and cease the violence and even made things worse by the impact of the refugees on Turkey. In the last week, Turkey’s foreign minister referred to Asad publicly as a liar, who cannot be trusted. This left Turkey without a military ally and made it realize that it did not have as much as influence as it may have thought.

    However, Iran and Syria were not the only disasters to Turkey’s policy, the long running dispute with Greece over North Cypress has not improved, rather reignited over Greece’s oil exploration in waters, which Turkey does not recognize as Greek. The situation has become so volatile that Turkey has threatened to send war ships over to territorial waters, once Cypress starts searching for natural resources. 

    During Erodgan’s reign the claim of genocide to the Armenian people by the Ottoman empire during WW1 has been brought up again, just adding more to the government headache and causing potential tension for the roughly 50, 000 Armenian citizens in Turkey.

    Domestically Turkey has not done too well either, while Erdogan tried to reach out to the Kurds in the country, or at least declared reaching out as his policy, it was still illegal for some Kurdish candidates to run for office, which amongst other reasons caused the conflict to intensify manifesting itself by repeated attacks by the Kurds militant groups on the Turkish army and resulting in Turkey bombing the Kurdish posts in Turkey as well as North Iraq and there doesn’t seem to be an end to this uprising.

    Besides quarrelling with nearly all of its neighbours, Turkey has just recently threatened to freeze its relationship with the EU, if it goes ahead to appoint Cypress as the temporary president of the EU. There is still not much detail on the way in which the relationship would be frozen, however, losing more European tourists as well as trade suffering would not be well received in Turkey.

    In Turkey, the opposition has also increased the pressure, claiming that the AKP’s foreign policy is a complete disaster and the country is slowly becoming isolated despite its goal to get along with everyone. The current government knows that in order to stay in the ring until things get better, it needs to fight back and restore its dominance. The one powerful punch it could give, in order to restore its dignity amongst the Arab world and its home voters was to demand an apology from Israel and show that it still calls the shots in the Middle East. However, despite all chances and everything Israel has to lose, it refused to capitulate. And if that wasn’t enough, the Palmer report has mainly sided with Israel claiming their blockade of Gaza is legal and that they have the right to intercept any ship trying to break it.

    Since Israel’s refusal Turkey has lost complete control, which is the part where the bully understands that the game has changed and he does not have the upper hand. Turkey has since kicked out the Israeli ambassador, declared the UN report (commissioned by the Secretary General) as wrong and irrelevant. It added that the next flotilla would be escorted by Turkish warships, which is just short of declaring war on a NATO partner country. After little impact, Turkey also declared that it intends to cut government and military trade with Israel, as well as support the Palestinians cause in the UN, take Israel to the Human Rights Court in the Hague over its conduct during the flotilla and plan an official visit to Gaza.

    Sadly for the Turkish government, so far its threats have failed to make a real impact on Israel and get the desired result, which would be a change of the Israeli government to a more leftist one. Israel has been embroiled in its own “Spring”, which saw continuous demonstration and 400,000 people go out to the street to demand economic reform. As a result, the Israeli media has dedicated most of its coverage to the protests and the protesters themselves vowed not to let external influences quiet their voice, some going as far as blaming Netanyahu as playing up the crisis with Turkey to create a distraction.

    The question that remains is how far the Turkish government would go to reach its goal of making Israel submit and whether it would succeed in doing so before it gets labelled as unreasonable and dangerous.

The Palmer Report


    The Palmer report is finally out after weeks of delay allowing the Israelis to reach an agreement with the Turks, who insisted that Israel apologizes for the killing of their civilians in the Flotilla in 2010 and compensates the families financially.

    Unlike previous reports such as the Goldstone report, the Palmer report was conducted under the sponsorship of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, rather than the Human Rights Council, which has been accused by Israel, the US and even Goldstone himself amongst others of bias against Israel. This very important fact enabled Israel to cooperate fully rather than to confiscate it under the claim that it has no mandate.

    The report itself is a 105 pages document, which bases its findings on the two independent investigations done by Turkey and Israel, as well as examining independent evidence. As expected the two investigations varied significantly on some fundamental points. For example the Turkish government claims that the blockade on Gaza is illegal, because it does not follow the naval agreement protocol as well as, the fact that Gaza does not qualify as an international conflict. The Israelis on the other hand, claim that it is an international conflict between two governments and that it has followed the correct protocol in enforcing the blockade.

    Other points of dispute are: the validity of Israel to board the ships in order to stop them, whether this was a humanitarian mission or publicity stunt as well as whether the ships changed their course to Egypt after the Israeli navy warnings. Both reports included their interpretation of the events and one could see that both reports were written with an agenda.

    Israel in general should be quite pleased with the report, as it clearly determines that the blockade over Gaza is a defence measure and therefore legal. The report also examines the timelines and events and determines that there is no reason to believe that the naval blockade is tied together with the land restriction of transferring goods and furthermore, does not appear to be a collective punishment measure, as it corresponds with security events, rather than political moves. Basing their facts on communication prior to the boats leaving and throughout the journey, the report determines that there is no reason to believe that publicity was not a main goal of IHH and accordingly that the boats did or would change their destination to Egypt.

    Turkey on the other hand did not come off the report lightly. The report did recognize that the government advised the IHH people not to risk themselves by travelling to Gaza and trying to break the blockade, however the report found that they did not do enough to stop them.

    While it was determined that Israel had the right to defend the blockade, Israel was criticized harshly for the planning of the operation. One of the main points was Israel’s failure to reassess the situation after the military’s speed boats sailing alongside the Mavi Marmara were attacked by projectiles. The panel examining the facts believed that more could have been done to stop the ship from continuing prior to boarding it with soldiers. The other main criticism was that once the soldiers were on board there was excess violence used., since some of the dead were injured from shots from close range as well as in their back.

    The conclusion of the report is that this encounter should have never happened in the first place. It blamed the IHH of being reckless in trying to break the blockade as well as for organized violence and intentions of publicity rather than practicality of supplying aid into Gaza. For example the report argued that the Mavi Marmara was too big for the Gaza port, which meant that had it reached Gaza, the goods would have had to be offloaded onto smaller boats out at sea, this would be much less practical than delivering the goods by land via Egypt. Another conclusion was that Israel did use excess force and should therefore express regret and pay financial compensation to the families of the dead.

    While this report is probably the least damning report about Israel to come out of the UN in the last 30 years, there is still a sense amongst Israelis that it was watered down, in order not to vilify Turkey as well as leave an opening for a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation. For example the report does not recognize that during battle there is always room for errors and uncertainty, which does not fall under anyone’s responsibility, nor did they consider that some of the dead were shot in the back or from close range as a result of the intense combat. It is not unreasonable to believe that one soldier seeing a fellow soldier attacked and in danger next to him, would shoot the attackers to prevent harm to the soldier, this shot is more likely to be to the back rather than the front and it is not any less valid or necessary if it is taken from close range.

    However despite the watering down that may or may have not been applied, the report had not managed to make things better between Turkey and Israel. The Israeli government after long considerations of the impact of a cold relationship with Turkey, decided not to apologize to the Turkish government and not to compensate the families of the dead. Israel did, express regret about the deaths, but was adamant about its right to protect itself and enforce the blockade. Furthermore, the report was only due to come out on the 2nd of September, however, it was leaked to the media a day earlier and as a result Turkey has called a press conference, in which it accused Israel of leaking the report and declared a list of measures it would take against Israel. Some of these measures include downgrading the diplomatic relationship between the countries, stopping the military cooperation, supporting the Palestinian state vote in the UN and aiding Turkish citizens wishing to sue Israel in the international court of law. It must be said that most of these actions, while not official, were already happening in practice since the Flotilla in 2010.

    Interestingly, despite the report being produced by the UN, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu has already said that he does not recognize the report’s conclusions as valid. These statements, while harsh, are probably a comforting point to Israel, since it seems that Turkey is not being reasonable and had Israel apologized as requested, it would have made little difference to the already deteriorating relationship. It will also be interesting to see the choices Turkey makes, as it seems like its position in the Middle East is quickly being compromised with Syria’s regime being toppled, shortly after tightening their relationship, the Kurdish community carrying out more daring operations and as a result reprisals from the Turkish army killing hundreds drawing some criticism and Iran suffering economic difficulties, as China is slowly moving to the US’s side and reducing its trade with it.

UN – Is it really the best we’ve got?


    Most of us in the Western world have learnt in school that the UN is an impartial global organization, where all countries get representation, which was formed after World War II for the purpose of providing a framework for talks between countries to ultimately prevent international conflicts.

   Grasping the work of the UN is not an easy task, as it is a convoluted organization made up from many offices, committees and specialized bodies. The major building blocks are the different departments most known are probably the General Assembly, Security Council and International Court of Justice (in the Hague). However it also includes the Secretariat, Economic and Social Council and Specialised Institutions. Under these departments operate numerous bodies, for example the Human Rights Council (HRC), World Food Program (WFP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and over ten more. In a similar way, there are councils under the other departments, such as the Military Staff Committee under the Security Council …etc. Working along the different parts of the UN are specialized bodies such as the famous International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and many more.

    It is not unreasonable to assume that anyone not working in the UN or studying the UN is unlikely to understand all the different bodies and where they are in the hierarchy. Since the mainstream media has to avoid reporting too much information or topics which lack interest, the result is scarce reporting on the UN. However despite the little reporting most understand the basic function of the UN, which is that different country delegations vote on decisions whether a topic should be researched and later whether it should be addressed and how. For example, the UN General Assembly could vote to deploy the World Food Programme on a hunger stricken country and later vote again to increase the budget, based on the WFP findings.

    The funding for the UN is made by its members and currently most of the budget comes from the US (22%), followed by Japan (12.5%), Germany (8%), UK (6%) …etc. The amount paid to the UN does not give the members any more power as all votes are equal, however there are 5 countries that wield the veto power in the Security Council (US, UK, Russia, France and China), which is an extremely powerful tool, as the recognition of countries and military actions are decided within that council.

    While the members of the UN are not elected in the same way as our local politicians and therefore do not have to campaign to the public and gather votes, unfortunately, it still relies on voting as a way of operating. As a consequence alliances and dirty politics to secure votes is still very much part of the game. It creates strange alliances not dissimilar to local politics, for example like the UK’s Liberal Democrats from the far left, who have joined power with right wing conservatives to gain a majority on votes in the coalition, despite Labour being the Liberal Democrats natural partner. Similar behaviour could be viewed in the UN, where different countries have created a voting coalition against a common “opponent”.

    While there is nothing illegal about the voting alliances, there is a lot to say about the morality, which is expected to be held at the UN and the consequential diversion from its goal. One of the most noticeable examples is the Human Rights Council, who managed to condemn the violence in Syria only on the 23rd of August, after over 1000 civilians were killed by the army. Strangely, China, Russia, Cuba and Ecuador still voted against the decision, while other countries insisted on the watering down of the condemnation, before agreeing to vote in favour. A look at the trading agreements and investment between the countries in question, may help to explain the dubious decision to vote against condemnation.

    Just as the UN various bodies are not immune from perversion of justice, accordingly they employ research bodies that follow their politics and do not always adhere to the highest professionalism. A famous case is Richard Falk and his bias against US and Israel politics, which despite outrages statements has not suffered any consequences. In the Op-Ed, in which Richard Goldstone has retracted some of the allegations made against Israel, he clearly stated that the research done was not thorough and contradicted facts that later became available through by other independant means.

    Another example of self-interest voting results in the repeated vilification of Israel in the UN. While Israel is a democracy defending itself with a relatively low number of deaths and numerous evidence of taking measures to protect civilian lives, it is routinely criticized in the UN. There is no argument that Israel should be criticized for mistakes and taken to court for deliberate wrongdoing, however, it is perplexing that so much emphasis is put on Israel, when there are so many tyrannies and conflicts around the world with a significantly higher death toll (refer to the table on this page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_military_conflicts).

    Other than the notoriously biased HRC there are plenty more examples of double standards in the UN and a deeper examination would reveal a clear pattern of a Communist-Arab block that repeatedly votes against Israel and the US, while protecting its members, often dictatorships allowing very little freedom. This alliance makes any vote doomed from the start, as the contents plays a small part, what matters is who is in the voting panel and who would benefit from the outcome.

    However despite the troubling politics, the UN is also responsible for a great deal of positive impact around the world through its organization such as the World Food Programme, UNICEF and others. The UN has funded many laudable ventures helping nations in need, as well as maintaining or preventing conflict.

    It is very important therefore to maintain the UN for all its good, but at the same time scrutinize it, as one should scrutinize any political body. The organization UN Watch (unwatch.org) has been extremely good at not letting some hypocrisy or controversy go unnoticed. However the difficulty of addressing or bettering the situation remains, since the delegates are not elected and little can be done to remove them.

    Only time will tell, whether the UN will make itself irrelevant by making unacceptable decisions prompting its funders to pull their money away and consequently its power would be diminished, or whether the changing of the world economics would bring new funders to the tables, which would ultimately change the tone of the UN accordingly. The third option of course is that delegates serving in different bodies, would vote based on the values the committees demand them to uphold and leave their country politics behind, however this looks like the most unlikely scenario.

Turkey and Syria – A Short Lived Alliance


    There are a few major events happening in the Middle East, which are to shape the region politically and economically for the foreseeable future. The first event is the revolution in Egypt, which despite the removal and humiliation of Mubarak has not been completely put out. The second event is the revolution in Libya, which is currently unfolding as rebels assisted by the ally forces are drawing closer to toppling Gaddafi. The third and perhaps most interesting development is the Turkey – Syria relationship, in light of the violent depression of the Syrian revolution.

    The mainstream media has, as usual, focused on the death toll and key developments in the conflict as they unfold. However there is a much more interesting story behind the developments, which has a more serious impact on the West and was started in 2009.

    Following ‘Cast Lead’ operation in Gaza at the end of December 2008, Turkey’s government expressed its indignation at the operation and their dismay at the stealth move by Israel, while they were mediating the negotiations between Israel and Syria. One of the most famous public displays was Erdogan storming off the stage in a conference in Davos after accusing Israeli President Shimon Peres of killing civilians.

    The Davos display was followed by a few more public criticism of Israel, however at the time, many interpreters explained the situation as the AKPs winning strategy for the elections as well as an attempt to establish their status as political leaders in the region, especially after getting nowhere with their application to join the EU. Israel, which still has diplomatic ties with Turkey, saw this as a hurdle in the relationship, partly due to Erdogan’s Islamic nature and partly due to a power game between Turkey, the EU and the US, however other signals such as the fact that Turkey did not withdraw their ambassador to Israel or demand that Israel do the same, gave Israel assurance that things are still at hand.

    The biggest turning point in the equation wasn’t when Turkey cancelled the regular military drill it holds with Israel, rather, when they decided to hold the drill with Syria. Israel could not ignore this move, as Turkey has been a partner in economic trade but more important a recipient of advanced Israeli military capabilities. Israel was involved in updating the Turkish air fleet as well as providing them with advance tank arming technologies, rockets and surveillance equipment. Transferring these capabilities to countries Israel is in conflict with, would put Israel in a great disadvantage and Israel couldn’t ignore this risk and the impact in its potential future conflicts.

    In 2010 by the time the first flotilla incident happened, in which a group of ships sailed to Israel from Turkey with the blessing of the Turkish government to break the naval blockade on Gaza, it was obvious that the relationship between the two countries was in fast decline and was not about to improve. One of the ships in the flotilla was the Mavi Marmara, which later proved to contain a group of men prepared for violence, ending in the death of 9 Turkish citizens as a result of resistance to the Israeli commando takeover.

    Turkey’s change in foreign policy broke two unofficial core rules. The first rule is the move away from the West, despite being mainly Muslim Turkey has always managed to stay secular and West-facing . The second rule was to openly criticize Israel over the treatment of the Palestinian, indirectly opening the door to criticism about its own treatment of ethnic groups such as the Kurds. Considering the two norms in place and their repercussions on Turkey, it is reasonable to believe that this shift in behaviour is not a reflection of one man ideals or a different management style, rather a government’s new foreign policy strategy.

    Part of the new foreign policy was also to take a more lenient line towards Iran and establish closer ties to Syria. So far the latter part has already blown up in Turkey’s face, as Syria was also infected by the Arab Spring and the only way Asad could protect his throne is by violently killing the demonstrators in the hope that the rebel leaders would be removed from the equation and the rest would prefer not to risk their lives. Under the bloody circumstances, Turkey could not be seen to support the killing of so many civilians (over 1500 civilians have already been killed a number that far exceeds for example the number of civilians killed in the 3 weeks Gaza war). Nor does Turkey see kindly the thousands of Syrians fleeing into its borders, which is causing a humanitarian crisis or even worse inflaming Turkey’s own ethnic groups seeking a change of government. There have also been reports about Turkey making it very clear to Asad that cross-border operations, targeting the opposition forming on the Turkish side, would not be tolerated and could prompt military retaliation. The worst part, however, has been the Turkish realization that they still have limited influence in the region and with the EU sanctions on Syria, they may need to change their economic strategy.

    The other part of the changed foreign policy was the leniency towards Iran, this has already damaged the Turkish American relationship, however, not enough to have a major impact yet. Turkey should not ignore this development though, as all the intelligence reports are indicating that Iran is using the turmoil in the Middle East to quietly get on with their nuclear plan, hence the increased rate of dead nuclear scientists bodies turning up in the Iranian morgue. Apparently Iran is not far from making the nuclear breakthrough (increasing the uranium enhancing rate, essentially creating enough raw material for a nuclear bomb). There is no doubt that if Iran achieves its purpose, this development would become common knowledge shortly after and cause a complete shift of power and alliance in the region and possibly the world.

    Turkey’s government has been playing a very dangerous game, turning its back on old friends and agreements and seeking new ones, which do not have the best reputation. One gamble has already proved wrong and another doesn’t look too promising either. The question is whether the government would be able to find ways to sustain the economic growth, which would secure it another win and prevent a coup. No doubt the Turkish government should be following every toppled regime in the Middle East and recalculating their strategy accordingly.

Arab Spring and its Effect on Israel


    When the events of the Arab Spring are studied in the future, it is likely that they would be regarded as a turning point  the Middle East and North Africa, which would have reshaped the power balance and possibly transformed the entire ruling system.  However the transformation happening now is painful and only time can tell whether the impact is going to be positive or not.

    Currently the three most affected countries are no doubt Egypt, Libya and Syria. All three countries were in a similar position as they were ruled by a military dictator, who assumed power after a coup or revolution and intended to leave the reigns on the country within the family. The most notable difference however between Egypt and the other two is that unlike Mubarak who was sacrificed by generals from his inner circle, Asad and Gaddafi are still supported by the army rule and are willing to fight to the death.

    In Gaddafi’s case, perhaps the movement of the international community to close down on him and by that limiting his options of a solution deemed acceptable to him, along with his insanity and unwilligness to give up are the major factors to this bloody conflict continuing and there would probably be no change until a dramatic development such as his death or ousting by his military leadership.

    Whereas Asad of Syria’s case is completely different, as he belongs to the Alawi minority, which has ruled the country by fear. His father Hafez is known to have destroyed rebellions with violence, killing anyone who thought to raise their head a little too high. Therefore, once the fear factor is gone, there is no future for Asad or his ruling minority, in accordance with that, all estimates indicate that he will fight to the death.

    There is no doubt that things will never be the same. It is anyone’s guess what will come next and the West is again watching nervously from the side, hoping for a democratic secular regime and battling with the question of how much intervention should be made if any, as well as weighing the consequences of an intervention on the global foreign relations with countries such as China, Russia and other regimes in the Middle East.

    However while the regimes are being challenged and changed, all countries have been thrown into chaos naturally opening a gap for fundamentalist groups to gather power as well as operate freely. Currently the hardest hit by these changes is no doubt Israel. While supporting the notion of democracy in the Middle East following the logic that freedom and democracy might take away the negative perception of Israel deliberately perpetuated by the regimes for their own gain, Israel is watching very closely what is happening around its borders.

    Since the revolution in Egypt most of the army has been deployed to deal with the threats in the revolution and Egypt has completely abandoned Mubarak’s policy of securing the border between Egypt and Gaza, reducing smuggling and keeping the peace in the Sinai Peninsula. As a result of this neglect, militants have moved into Sinai, which has now become a terrorist eco-system with fighters executing terror attacks and paying for the services of the local Beduin community, who are expert trackers assisting in smuggling arms and people across the borders. One of the results of this cooperation and lawlessness is the repeated explosion of the gas pipe providing gas from Egypt to Israel based on the agreements signed by the Mubarak regime.

    Another big event, which surprisingly did not hit the front pages of the Western media was a large scale terror attack on Israel killing 8 people and wounding over 30. This attack was a well coordinated operation involving shooting at buses, detonating roadside bombs and shooting anti-tank missiles at civilian vehicles. Most estimates claim that the terrorist came from across the border with the help of the local Beduins, although the sponsorship is Gaza based.

    The conflict in Libya has also created a vacuum of rule, which has led to availability of arms being smuggled outside the border. The combination of the available arms with the lawlessness and proximity of Sinai and Gaza has proved to be a lethal mix for Israel. It is estimated that the Hamas and other smaller militant groups in Gaza increased their arsenal from several hundreds of rockets and missiles to thousands also including a large number of long range rockets (40 km), which could hit the center of Israel, making the next conflict inevitably bloodier for civilians.

   As stated before, what happens next is anyone’s guess, however it is obvious that Israel will have to take some action to ensure that it prevents any further terror attack and especially a well organized one as seen on Thursday. The actions available for Israel are to continue building the fence along the Egyptian border, which it has been very slow to do as well as deploy forces along the border to deal quicker with any developments on that front. There is no doubt that according to the words of Israeli security minister Barak, there will also be some anti terror action in Gaza, however due to the abundance of arms, Israel would have to plan well how to either target to reduce the arsenal or ensure there is no escalation of the conflict.

     While all this is going on in the Southern border, Israel has to keep a watchful eye up North to monitor the developments of the Syrian rgime breakdown and the consequence it has on Hezbollah and Iran.