2 Years on and what about Israel


    It has been years that things looked very bleak for Israel in the Middle East. Hamas was gaining power, Hezbollah has engaged in conflict and was since training and  re-arming for the next one, Syria supporting movement of weapons to Hezbollah, Egypt not doing much to stop the weapons into Gaza and Jordan slaying its policies at every turn. At the same time in the outer ring, Iran was continuing its nuclear weapon program and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Turkey was becoming more religious and alienating itself from Israel, while supporting Hamas and finally the negotiations with Fatah were at a deadlock.

    However, then something unexpected happened and parts of the Middle East started burning. Changing the game completely.

    Looking back 2 years many things have happened that despite the chaos make more sense. For example, there has always been a tear between Shia and Sunni Muslims. This difference, which  is religious based, goes back many years and a great deal of blood has been spilled over it. However, it was always odd to see the cooperation between Sunni and Shia when it came to fighting Israel. As ambivalent as they made themselves seem, the Palestinians have always been a majority of Sunnis and therefore for Shia Iran to support them was unusual to say the least. Like gravity versus inertia, there was always a force pulling them down, however, it was almost invisible once the much stronger force pushing them together was at play.

    Another odd example was the rule of the minority of Alawaites in Syria, which was secular, yet supporting Hezbolla and at the same time hosting the Hamas leadership, both ultra religious groups of Shia and Sunni respectively. What is still peculiar in respect to the Syrian-Iranian relationship is that Alalwaite and Shia have very little in common, apart from the fact that they are grossly outnumbered by Sunnis in the world. In fact, many of the Alwaites traditions would seem foreign as well as sinful to Shia, who choose to look beyond the differences as well as Iran an ultra religious regime allied with a secular state.

    However, as they say a leopard cannot change its spots and it was only a matter of time until a catalyst ended this pretence.

    Since the uprising two very important things happened. The first one was the pressure that was created with the fierce fighting and extremely high number of casualties, which forced all groups to declare their allies. While the Palestinians would have liked to stay on the fence in regards to the conflict, they could not ignore the harassment and number of dead Palestinians at the hand of the Assad regime and as a result chose their natural Sunni side. On the other hand, Hezbollah has stayed loyal to its Iranian patron and has since openly declared its involvement in the fighting.

    The second byproduct was the pushing the Palestinian issue off the table. As far as the Arab world was concerned, once the glue that kept them all together was no longer effective, there was no reason to continue to support it. The Palestinian have been sidelined, as the regimes fight to keep control and stabilize their countries. Who still cares about the descendants of the 300,000  refugees that fled Israel over 60 years ago and  are now settled in neighbouring countries, when there are now over a million displaced Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan? Or When a country as big as Egypt is on the brink of bankruptcy and the streets are still riddled with anti government demonstrations. This change in attitude has manifested itself in many forms, for example Egypt, run by the Hamas’ mother group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is currently imposing more restrictions on Hamas than Mubarak ever did. Destroying the smuggling tunnels, stopping weapon shipments, restricting border movement and applying pressure for them to avoid a conflict with Israel. The Syrians on the other hand have expelled Hamas’ headquarters from Damascus and Iran just recently stop supporting Hamas with weapons and reduced their financially aid.

    As far as the Western media, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably always gain some media attention, especially by the professionals dedicated to keep it in the headlines, in comparison in scale to what is happening around, it has shrunk and in some ways almost disappeared. Not only is it hard for the media outlets to favor such a relatively tiny and controlled conflict in comparison to the turmoil around, but the politics have blatantly conflicted with the usual narrative, making it a very long stretch to relate the events from the surrounding countries back to Israel. For example, Assad complaining that it is Israeli intervention that is pushing the rebels doesn’t sit well with the fact that Hamas, Israel’s sworn enemy has chosen the rebels side. There are other inconsistencies such as the Iranian role and change of heart about Hamas, which all point back to the same conclusion that it is a Muslim sectarian war.

    A new villain that has not come well from local uprisings has been Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. On a few occasion he has already exposed his propensity for drama and uncontrolled anger, which is not necessarily followed through, like in the case of the Flotilla, after which he exclaimed that every flotilla travelling to Gaza would be escorted by Turkish war vessels, which never took place. While this was easy for the media to ignore, it was less easy for people to question the toughness towards Israel killing the 7 people onboard the flotilla in to say the least dubious circumstances, as opposed to the acceptance of Syria shooting down a Turkish plane killing two fighter pilots or regularly shooting into Turkish border towns. However, the recent events have landed him in the most negative exposure after his bad handling of the demonstration in Gezi park for the people opposing turning the public green space into a shopping mall. The casualties and evidence of police brutality against the Turkish people have earned him some very bad publicity.

    So while the region is burning and some taboos have been broken, such as rockets fired on Israeli territory from the Syrian side for the first time in decades and Egypt seriously considering renegotiating the peace treaty terms, the threats on Israel have reduced. While the terror attacks might grow and Israeli lives might be disrupted, apart from the Iranian nuclear program, Israel has little threat to its existence by its crumbling neighbours. In fact in the latest developments, the rebels have managed to injure Hezbollah in a way that Israel never could and Hamas’ weapon arsenal and money stocks are depleting, which would ultimately make it more focussed internally and less of a trouble for Israel.

    However, one must remember that this is the Middle East and not only is nothing forever, but things don’t necessarily have to make sense either.

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Not The Usual Mess In The Middle East


    The recent events in the Middle East at a glance looks like one big mess. One could think that not much in the region  makes any sense anymore. It seems that everyone is fighting everyone and historic alliances have suddenly been broken. Moreover any involvement or prediction by the West, such as the positive effects on Arab countries establishing free democractic regimes have proved to be completely wrong.

    However, if one looks at the events and the background, one could see that it was up until now that things did not make sense and now there is finally a more logical explanation to some of the oddities that were prevalent before.

    The most extreme example would be the alliance between Sunni Hamas, Shia Hezbollah, Shia Iran and Alawaite Syria. The alliance that makes sense is Shia Iran with the Shia group Hezbollah, they share the same values and sect of Islam and Iran has helped set up Hezbollah and has been its main sponsor ever since. It is perhaps slightly less obvious that the Syrian Alawaite regime is also part of this alliance. However, despite the different roots and other fundamental differences the Shias consider that sect to belong to the same stream and therefore sees it as an ally opposing the Sunni sect.

    While those alliances, even if not perfectly, could somehow be explained, what really hasn’t made sense so far has been the alliance between the Sunni group Hamas and the other Shia players. Despite the media’s obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is naive to think that the animosity towards Israel surpasses the age-long Shia-Sunni divide. Considering the longevity (since ancient times), number of people(1.5 billion Muslims with 10%-20% being Shia) and the religious background (fundamental difference in belief). One could be forgiven for thinking that hating Israel is no more than an excuse to rally the Muslim world around a common cause. After all, before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Shias saw themselves as a natural ally to the Jewish state of Israel, in its struggle against the threat of Sunni Muslims.

    In order to understand how this “small-scale” conflict could bring together two major players, it is important to look at the relations between countries in the Middle East leading up to the time.

    Before the Western intervention in the Middle East, the region was divided to tribes.There was no division of “countries”, rather everyone was Arab and there was a belonging to a tribe and/or a group of people. For example the Hashemite’s, which make up Jordan today, the Assyrians, which make up Syria…etc. After World War I, the Western intervention divided the region up and created the basis of the countries today. However, while creating countries, they bundled together some of the groups (Druze, Sunnis, Shia, Kurdish, Christian…etc.) and they did not create democracies. The intervention has left the region with countries with dictators. Over the years there have been “free elections”, however, they have not been real, as control was passed down in the family and even in cases, n which the countries went through the motions of “voting”, it cannot be considered a democracy without the other institutions such as freedom of speech, free press, separation of law and government…etc. .

    While in the West dictators are viewed as a wholly negative feature, in the Middle East there was one noticeable benefit. Since the countries that were formed were not always homogenous, the dictator had the job of keeping the people united. This of course was done via oppression of the masses, however it provided stability to those countries (many would argue it still not worth the price of oppression, however one might look at Iraq and Syria and perhaps not feel quite as strongly about it anymore).

    In many ways the “Arab Spring”  has let the cat out of the bag. The wall of fear between the rulers and the people has been broken, which made the dictators’ job of keeping the stability nearly impossible. The individuals have realized their power and conditions have been so bad that they often feel like they have nothing else to lose and are now couragously fighting for what they believe (in some cases the fighting has been kidnapped by Jihhadist groups, but this is again a matter of convinient alliances to reach a goal). A catalyst for the uprisings has of course been social media and other technical advances, which have contributed to the exposure of the masses to the outside world as well as provided a safer platform to organize and communicate.

    The tensions between the sects have been felt and somewhat exposed in the wikileaks reports. While the authenticity and sincerity in the cables should always be questioned, it was surprising to read statements such as Asad calling Hamas an unwanted guest in his country, or the eagerness the Sunni Arab nations showed in wanting the Iranian nuclear facilities to be bombed. However the events in the Arab world, namely the Arab uprisings since then have confirmed these reports, as Hamas is no longer wanted in Syria and the Sunni countries have increased their oil production to allow the West to execute the sanctions on Iran.

    In the last couple of years the situation in the Middle East changed so much that the false pretence has been broken down and the real dirty politics have come out. The Shia – Sunni conflict is in full swing and  affecting many countries. Ironically all the ethnic groups that were able to play nicely for all these years under an oppressive dictator and sympathize with, what they called, human rights violations of the Palestinians, are now mercilessly slaughtering each other not sparing women and children and seeing millions being displaced. Even Turkey that once declared a zero conflict policy is now bombing Syria as well as trying to manage the internal Kurdish conflict, involving also occasionally bombing areas in North Iraq.

    The group probably worse off from this turn of events is the Palestinians. On the one hand their plight has been pushed aside as a minor issue in light of everything else that is taking place. On the other hand, while the more pragmatic Fatah is losing its place at the top*, Hamas is gaining prestige. The visit to Gaza by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thaniof, the Emir of Qatar just shows how little the Arab countries are interested in a long viable solution in the Middle East and how much this is about alliances and politics (It is almost laughable how a minute after Syria and Iran favour the more radical groups in Gaza over Hamas, Qatar moves in and offers Hamas money and support).

    With the re-election of president Obama it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold. Whereas in his first term Obama was testing the waters and making some junior mistakes as to how to handle Iran and the various revolutions, this time around things might look a little different and every foreign policy decision would no doubt, ripple across the Middle East changing the dynamics between countries and temporary allies.

    It has been said before never to attempt to predict the future in the Middle East. That statement is perhaps more true now than ever.

 

 

 

* Fatah losing its place is one of the worst things for the Palestinians as it seems that as an act of desperation Abbas will be insisting on getting a UN General Assembly recognition for a Palestinian state, probably in order to leave his mark on history, before he is ousted. While a recognition will do nothing for the Palestinians, other than give them the ability to fight Israel legally in various UN organizations. It will mean an immediate economic collapse as the US will cease any aid and banish their representatives from Washington, as well as Israel potentially withdrawing the Oslo agreements, in which they collect tax money for them, as well allow workers into Israel.

There is still venom in the West’s sting


    It is becoming increasingly popular to speculate that the West’s and in particular the US’s Golden Age is coming to an end. After years of dominating the financial system, giving the West disproportioned power over the rest of the world, the situation might be changing. This power has often attracted much criticism as it set the scene for imperialism as well as the ability to influence global events to fit with the Western view of the world.

    The surge in power for the West started centuries ago and could be explained by understanding the relationship between religion, government system and how that contributes to individual innovation (Brilliantly explained in Niall Ferguson’s book Civilization). The current narrative, however, is that while the Western countries are now sinking in debt, they are looking for countries such as China, Brazil, Russia and India to bail them out, ultimately handing over a great deal of power.

    This change in power, understandably, has a deep effect on the Middle East, since typically in politics, as some powers are rising and some declining, there is a consequential change in alliances and ideology.  A very direct effect of the current alignment could be seen for example with the result of the elections in Egypt. If not understanding the relationship, it would seem very odd that the Al-Nour (extreme Salafi Muslim party) and Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’ sponsor party from which it branched out) are calling to respect the peace agreement with Israel, while Hamas itself is calling to occupy all of Israel and rejects its existence (one would expect the movements to be aligned or the more extreme Salafis to oppose Israel at least as much as Hamas). It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that had the US not been supporting Egypt financially and influencing the Middle East, a war between Israel and Egypt would have broken out shortly after the election or toppling of the army rule.

    Considering the US and West’s power over the Middle East, this shift in power should be very concerning for Westerners, since a financial shift could change reality very quickly. For example a shortage of oil supply or increase in price could break the already fragile economy, which is still very much reliant on the combustion engine for mobility (and existence).

    One of the intriguing questions is how did this situation occur and how could the timing be explained. No doubt, plenty of books will be written about the topic offering different explanations as well as discussing the shortcomings and periodicity of the capitalist financial system. However, a simpler explanation would be the evolvement of the political systems in moving away from communism and towards capitalism and the time it takes them to readjust. The changing technology is also a major factor in the time and depth of this changes taking place (setting up a call center in India these days is arguably easier than it was to establish a new trading route for goods).

    Regarding the timing, there is no surprise that while the new economies have suddenly opened their trade routes and technology made their integration easier, many of the funding from the Western companies, were diverted to the countries that could offer comparable services cheaper. The result was Western companies increasing profit, while developing countries showing a massive growth to their economies. Ironically, the capitalist push to increase profits and stay competitive is what led to the banking systems taking irresponsible risks, which ultimately led to the economic crisis in the West. As a result the West is now going to those previously weaker economies, looking for funding.

    This shift of power is very apparent in politics as suddenly China, Russia and Brazil are rearing more economic power than ever before and affecting real outcomes. For example China and Russia have been voting against any actions to be taken as a response to the killings of protestors by the Syrian government, or against tougher sanctions against Iran. Turkey, which also showed great growth and economic stability in 2010, also defied the West and moved its ideology and investment towards the East. It should be noted, that this move coincided with some criticism by the Turkish government of the German handling of the Turkish population as well as the falling out with Israel (an event unimaginable, when Turkey had a dependent and weaker economy).

    However, despite the grim outlook for the Western world, at times one must balance the headlines in the media with the facts on the ground, in order to fully grasp the situation. 

    Despite being an oil rich country and the economic crisis in the West, tough sanctions on Iran are starting to bite and the Iranian economy is showing signs of collapse by the rapidly growing inflation and consequential an even higher unemployment rate (Iran does not release official statistics). Some argue that the sanctions are inefficient and liken the situation to North Korea, who continued its nuclear weapon program, despite the sanctions, however, this comparison ignores the big middle class in Iran (which didn’t exist in the same way in N. Korea), who are motivated to protect their financial assets.  The Iranians also do not have the same isolation from the Western world as the North Koreans.

    Perhaps not directly or wholly related, but since taking a hard-line in politics, Turkey has also seen a massive decrease in its currency (60% decrease against the dollar from 2007 to 2011, taking into account that the dollar has taken a tumble in those years as well). There are many reasons for this change, however no doubt that decrease in investment and tourists has had an impact. Also, since 2005 Turkey’s external debt (i.e. total public and private debt owed to non-residents and repayable in foreign currency, goods, or services), has been rising rapidly from $16 billion in 2005 to $270 billion in 2011. While Turkey is still considered an emerging economy with a forecast to grow, it is obvious that its economy is tied with the rest of the world and it has to acknowledge that and act accordingly both economically and politically.

    Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and other countries around the world are in a similar situation, in which while they have more prospect for growth, their markets are, dominantly, the Western world. This situation is not likely to change, until there is enough critical mass and infrastructure from countries completely independent of the Western world to trade amongst themselves. There are speculations that this is already taking place, however, it will take time until “new” countries on the scene match the innovation and knowledge of the Western world (political change in those countries almost certainly has to happen first).

So, while the West is losing ground and the reality for its citizens is almost certain to change somewhat, one mustn’t jump to conclusions or lament fate prematurely, after all, the US had the same fear in the 80’s when Japan was gaining ground.

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.