By Patricia H. Kushlis
It’s not quite roasted chestnut season in the Eastern Mediterranean but it’s getting closer to the time when city streets are filled with the distinctive aroma that spells autumn wafting from vendors’ glowing charcoal grills. Nevertheless, over the past week the Obama administration has had to pull Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s chestnuts out of the fire not once but twice so that the volatile region doesn’t burst into flames once again.
First the US President had to intervene with enraged Turks who were threatening to send an armed naval flotilla to accompany Turkish aid ships running Israel’s blockade of Gaza in retaliation for the Netanyahu government’s refusal to apologize for killing eight Turks and one Turkish American in an excessive and uncalled for use of force summer 2010.
Israeli oil and gas exploration in disputed waters? Another red flag for Turks
Israel’s agreement with the Cypriots to begin oil and gas exploration off the coast of Lebanon in disputed waters didn’t help matters with the Erdogan government either. Turks are quite protective of that undersea shelf.
Then the Israeli Foreign Minister’s inept attempt at sending a warning shot by publicly threatening that Israel might play footsy with Armenian-Americans and Kurds – two of Turkey’s vulnerabilities – is another part of the equation.
This suggestion was certain not only to raise Turkish government hackles but, if it were to happen, would likely backfire on the Israelis who continue to do an excellent job of alienating even the best of friends. In this case however, if the threat were to be realized it would far more likely close the gap between the feuding Turkish military and AK, the country’s mildly Islamic ruling party, in joint defense of the Turkish nation.
As I’ve written on WhirledView before, and will doubtedless do so again, it is a really bad idea to provoke the Turks – especially unnecessarily as in this case. Turks are slow to boil but when they do – watch out.
Netanyahu and his Moldovan ex-night club bouncer turned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did everything they could to throw petrol on Turkish coals in a fit of small time pique rather than thinking strategically as to what would be best for Israel in the long term– as Turkish foreign policy makers traditionally do with respect to Turkey.
Why should the Obama administration have to play mediator - twice in the past few days?
Meanwhile, why should President Obama have had to play mediator on behalf of the Israeli Government with its once-upon-time best ally in the Muslim world? What would it have taken - what would it take - for Netanyahu to apologize for murders that should never have happened?
Exactly who profits most from this little spat? Iran, per chance? Republican candidates via ELU, an ultra- wealthy right-wing Jewish pressure group in the US that is closely aligned with the GOP – unlike most Jewish American voters?
Then following Obama’s intercession with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan – in response to yet another yelp for help from Netanyahu – the US President had to call the Egyptians to ask their assistance in safely evacuating Israeli diplomats and staff from the besieged Israeli Embassy in Cairo when it was overrun by Ultras – an unruly mob of Egyptian soccer players - after Friday prayers.
The Ultras were furious over trigger-happy Israeli forces’ unpremeditated killing of eight Egyptian policemen in the Sinai in mid-August. This was not about religion – the Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood stayed away. It was foremost about run-away raw emotional Egyptian nationalism. But the Israelis need not have provoked it in the first place if they had looked before they shot.
A Saudi not so subtle warning
Meanwhile the Saudis sent a not-so-veiled warning via an oped in The New York Times on September 12 to the US not to veto the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of statehood. Sadly, the administration had already promised our right wing Congress that it would use the veto on Israel’s behalf. Maybe Obama’s promise should be rethought in the light of basic US national security interests in the Middle East – not in knee-jerk response to pressure from the right-wing Jewish lobby that isn’t going to support the administration or the Democrats in the 2012 elections anyway.
Cool it in Tel Aviv, please
And maybe the Israelis should cool it, take a step back – indeed several steps back – from a raft of needlessly confrontational policies and consider cooperating with a restart of the now moribund peace process. As The New York Times' Thomas Friedman has been warning them for the past several years, time is not on Israel’s side. Sadly, opportunities for a peaceful settlement have been wasted in the vain pursuit of an unsustainable Greater Israel dream enforced by bullets, not ballots.
A bad "hasbara" week too
Even on the cultural side of things, Israel had a bad “hasbara” week when a group of some 30 “counter-concert” demonstrators interrupted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s 75th anniversary concert in London four times forcing the BBC to stop the concert’s live broadcast – the first time in history a live BBC concert has been replaced by something out of the can.
No, the counter-concert performers weren’t Palestinian nationalists or Islamic militants, they included professional British musicians upset with the fruitlessness of Israel’s “shoot itself in the foot” policies. Who knows, several could have been Jews themselves distressed with the Israeli right-wing government’s political bungling that could unnecessarily put the long term longevity of the State of Israel at jeopardy.
It's the Policy, Stupid
But face it this is one of those times when no amount of good feeling generated by wonderfully talented cultural groups like the IPO and others representing the Israeli nation abroad will improve the country's image.
Israel has too much to lose to be playing such self-defeating games. The map of the Middle East has changed – and not in Israel’s favor. Moreover, America should not be continuously called upon to pull any country’s chestnuts out of the fire especially when the country placed the chestnuts there to begin with. As Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal elquently warned – the US has significant other interests and allies in the Middle East that it needs to attend to as The Arab Spring turns to fall. That time is now.