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The second thing we learn from Ashton’s anti-Israel mania is that when we engage in foreign policy, we need to base our judgments about our ability to influence the behavior of our foreign counterparts on a sober-minded assessment of two separate things: our interlocutor’s ideology and his interests. In Ashton’s case, both parameters make clear that there is no way to win her over to Israel’s side. She is ideologically opposed to Israel. And the citizens of Europe are becoming more and more hostile to Israel and to Jews.
These twin parameters for judging foreign leaders and representatives came to mind on Wednesday with the publication of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s critical report on the government’s handling of the Turkish-government supported, pro-Hamas flotilla in May 2010. Perhaps the most remarkable revelation in the report is that up until a week before the flotilla set sail, led by the infamous Mavi Marmara, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was under the impression that he had reached a deal with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Netanyahu believed that through third parties, including the US government and then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, he had convinced Erdogan to cancel the flotilla. He had a deal.
The fact that Netanyahu thought he had a deal with Erdogan is startling and unnerving. It means that Netanyahu was willing to ignore the basic facts of Erdogan’s nature and the way that Erdogan perceives his interests, in favor of a fiction.
By May 2010 it was abundantly clear that Erdogan was not a friend of Israel. He had been in power for eight years. He had already ended Turkey’s strategic alliance with Israel. In 2006, Erdogan was the first major international leader and NATO member to host Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh. His embrace of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood made clear that he was Israel’s enemy. It is a simple fact that you cannot be allied with Israel and with the Muslim Brotherhood at the same time. The same year he allowed Iran to use Turkish territory to transfer weaponry to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
In 2008, Erdogan openly sided with Hamas against Israel in Operation Cast Lead. In 2009, he called President Shimon Peres a murderer to his face.
By the time the flotilla was organized, Erdogan had used Turkey’s position as a NATO member to effectively end the US-led alliance’s cooperative relationship with Israel, by refusing to participate in military exercises with Israel.
THE NATURE OF the flotilla organizers was also known in the months ahead of its departure for Gaza. The IHH’s ties to al-Qaida had been documented. Netanyahu’s staff knew that the IHH was so extreme that the previous Turkish government had barred its operatives from participating in humanitarian relief efforts after the devastating 1999 earthquake. They feared the group would use its relief efforts to radicalize the local population.
In and of itself, the fact that Erdogan was openly supporting IHH’s leading role in the flotilla told Israel everything it needed to know about the Turkish leader’s intentions. And yet, up until a week before the flotilla set sail, Netanyahu was operating under the impression that he had struck a deal with Erdogan.
It is likely that Netanyahu was led to believe that a deal had been crafted by the Americans.
Obama is not the only American leader that has been seduced into believing that Erdogan and his Islamist AKP Party are trustworthy strategic partners for the US. Many key members of Congress share this delusional view.
According to a senior congressional source, Turkey’s success in winning over the US Congress is the result of a massive Turkish lobbying effort. Through two or three front groups, the Turkish government has become one of the most active lobbying bodies in Washington. It brings US lawmakers and their aides on luxury trips to Turkey and hosts glittering, glamorous receptions and parties in Washington on a regular basis. And these efforts have paid off.
Turkey’s bellicosity towards Israel as well as Greece and Cyprus has caused it no harm in Washington. Its request to purchase a hundred F-35 Joint Strike Fighters faced little serious opposition. The US continues to bow to its demands to disinvite Israel from international forum after international forum – most recently the upcoming US-hosted counter-terrorism summit in Istanbul.
Certainly Turkey’s strategic transformation under Erdogan’s leadership from a pro-Western democracy into an anti-Western Islamist police state has dire implications for American national interests. And the Americans would be well-served to look beyond the silken invitations to Turkish formal events at five-star hotels and see what is actually happening in the sole Muslim NATO member-state. But whether the US comes to its senses or not is its business.
Israel had no business buying into the fiction in 2010 that Erdogan could be reasoned with.
True, today no one in Israel operates under that delusion anymore. But the basic phenomenon of our leaders failing to distinguish between what they want to happen and what can happen continues to exist.
Ours is a dangerous world and an even more dangerous neighborhood. Everywhere we look we see cauldrons of radicalism and sophisticated weaponry waiting to explode. The threat environment Israel faces today is unprecedented.
At this time we cannot afford to be seduced by our dreams that things were different than they are. They are what they are.
We do have options in this contest. To maximize those options we need to ground our actions and assessments in clear-headed analyses and judgments of the people we are faced with. Their actions will be determined by their beliefs and their perception of their interests – not by our pretty face.
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