Friday, June 4, 2010

How to lose friends and generally anger people; Turkish Edition.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you must be aware that Israel managed screw up on the high seas. Mark the date on your calendars, the date of the MV Mavi Marmara incident. On that date the Israelis lost one of their best allies in the Muslim world. That is the date that Israel lost the Turks.

The non-descript passenger ferry MV Mavi Marmara has an excellent chance of joining such notable vessels as the Lusitania and the Maine. No, seriously, that incident on the high seas, which claimed nine lives, could very well turn out to be one of the events that the pivots of history turn on.

To give a little background we must drag you, kicking and screaming, to the turn of the last century. We go back to that time because this was the cauldron that formed modern Turkey. Modern Turkey came out of the wreckage of the World War I. At the end of that conflagration the previous nation state that occupied Anatolia, and much more, was a rotten, shattered shell of a government. The Ottoman Empire, as it was then known, had vaporized. The world war, and the centrifugal forces unleashed by that war, had shredded the empire into disparate parts. The victorious Western allies were seriously considering a complete partition of the whole affair. In the discussions of the victors, the Turks were to be allowed a small rump of Anatolia, if they behaved themselves. Dizzying dreams of grand colonial expanses danced in the minds of Brittan, and France. Others were also lining up to carve up the corpse of the former "sick man of Europe": the Kurds, the Greeks, and the Armenians. Two things prevented the utter ruin of the Turkish people; the hubris of their enemies and Kemal Mustafa, soon to be known as Atatürk. He reorganized the Turkish peoples and sent the Greeks and then the foreign European powers packing. Still, the near death experience of the Turkish people, and the Turkish nation, was burned into not just the memories of the following generations, but quite possible into their DNA.

It is that history that echoes into the present. Turkey is still very thin skinned and hypersensitive about any perceived slight to its national honor. This explains the super-sensitive reaction of the Turkish nation and its leaders about any mention about the Armenian unpleasantness that occurred after WWI. It also explains Turkish intransigence over the subject of Cyprus. Turkey is not going to let any power push it around, or insult its national honor.

Israel came rushing into this situation that others did not dare tread. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, never shy in these matters, not only stepped on delicate Turkish toes, but ostentatiously ground the insulted digits for extra effect. It began with a calculated insult to the Turkish Leader, via his Ambassador, and went downhill from there.

It matters very little what kind of cargo the flotilla lead by the MV Mavi Marmara carried. It matters little what kind of ulterior motives the sponsors of the flotilla may have had. Those talking points are moot. All that really matters is that the MV Mavi Marmara was flying the flag of the Turkish nation. An assault on that ship was an affront to the honor of the Turkish state. In olden days such attacks were considered acts of war. That ship was, by commonly accepted international law, Turkish territory. Those Israeli commandos might as well have stepped into the streets of Istanbul to perform their activities. They may as well have killed nine passers-by in Izmir as the nine they killed on that ship. As far as Maritime law is concerned, Israel either committed an act of war, or negligently allowed its military members to commit murder. Either way, Israel treated the flag of Turkey with same respect accorded a torn pillow case.

Apologists for Israel are ignoring this particular elephant in the room for obvious reason. The actions of the Israeli government, and its military, showed a deep contempt for national honor of Turkey. This was no tramp steamer flying a flag of convenience. This was no bucket of bolts flying the colors of Liberia or Panama. This was a ship that had an out-sized flag of Turkey draped over its sides. It had numerous civilian dignitaries and grand high political Pooh-Bahs on board. There are ways of handling this kind of ship and Israel ignored them.

If the real objective was to prevent the ship from unloading contraband, to enforce a legitimate embargo, then history provides a guide. The United States and former Soviet Union did this particular dance in the 1960's; it was called the Cuban Missile Crisis. In that history, at no time did the U.S. Navy ever attempt to board the merchant vessels of the Soviet Union. The U.S. Navy just used the superior speed and the threat of the superior fire-power of the U.S. vessels to cut off the Soviet Ships. Flashing forward to the here and now, this tactic of the Past would work in the present. If the Hamas ship truly had evil on their minds, they would have been forced to ram the Israeli ships. After an attempted or successful ramming by Hamas assets, an assault on the MV Mavi Marmara would make military, political and PR sense. Hamas would have looked like the aggressor. But that is not how it played out; not at all.

Israel was not thinking strategy or tactics. It was only thinking petulant pique. Bibi got his underwear caught up in a bunch and was out to show the Turks who was boss. He wanted to give the Turks a little pay-back for their les majesty. After all how dare their Ambassador get snippy with the all powerful Bibi? There can be no other real explanation for Israel's bone-headed operation on the high seas. Even by the narrowest concerns of naval tactics, the assault was a half-baked notion from the start. You do not assault any ship carrying 600 passengers by helicopter for any reason; not even if everyone on board are the most pacific of Buddhist monks. Video released by the Israelis shows what happens when one attempts a vertical envelopment on a vessel with so many people on it. Your commandoes are literally left hanging out, swinging in the breeze.

The pathetic image, of the armed Israeli commandoes being set upon by masses of irate, club wielding hostiles, was repeated more metaphorically in world diplomatic circles. There was no shortage of club wielding belligerents delivering body blows to the state of Israel in the scrum of high diplomacy. The unfortunate facts on the ground are that Israel deserved almost every vicious and underhanded blow delivered. Not only was the tactic suspect, the grander strategy was also dubious.

The siege of Gaza, the blocking off of material support of Hamas, was always a highly suspect undertaking. Far too many non-combatant civilians were being harmed by the strategy. The grinding cruelty of the strategy only served to further radicalize the Palestinians who being materially oppressed by the embargo. The embargo only served to strengthen the hand of Hamas. Remember Hamas is the legitimately elected government of the Gaza strip. It got into that position by its own efforts, and with the Draconian, counterproductive efforts of the Israelis. The attack on the MV Mavi Marmara was just another example of the obstinate and self-destructive behavior that the Israelis have indulged in since the capture of the West Bank in 1968.

Israeli has a serious problem, a problem stemming from its over-arching regional power. It is, for all intents and purposes, the regional hegemon of the Middle East. The U.S. through its program of unflinching support, and financial aid, has essentially sub-contracted the job of hegemon out to the nation of Israel. Israel has been given carte blanch to perform just about any act that crosses it mind, as long as it can somehow tangentially link it to its national security. Never mind if those actions in the long run actually damage Israel's long term security, or do major damage to the United States' interests; whatever Israel wants, she gets.

Thus in an attempt to support a blockade that should never had been contemplated in the first place, Israel attacks the Naval Vessels of one of the few friends she has in the region. Note how counterproductive that was just on the face of the matter. But it gets worse dear reader, much worse, for Israel. Turkey is a member state of NATO. If Turkey wanted to push the issue, they could go to Brussels and demand a joint response to the Israeli act. NATO is already frayed by the efforts in Bosnia, and more importantly Afghanistan, a demand for a response to the Israeli attack on the high seas could sunder the alliance.

Even without NATO Turkey has options; it has ways of truly rocking the Beltway boat. The tool for rattling Uncle Sam's cage is called Incirlik. Incirlik is a critical logistical base for our efforts in Iraq. Incirlik is also a critical link to U.S. power projection in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Turkey could really upend the whole apple cart by forcing the U.S. to leave this base. Turkey does not have to fire one shot in anger to push the reset button on U.S. foreign policy efforts in the Mid East. Israel's value to U.S. policy efforts would take a major hit if our continued support of the Jewish State caused the loss of Turkey from NATO, and or the loss of the Incirlik air base.

Will it come to this? Will the Turks force us to pick up our toys and go home? That possibility has become much more likely. Washington D.C., and more specifically the elites that run it, has got to do a major rethink of our policy viz Israel. The tail is wagging the dog in ways that is not good for either. Israeli hubris is writing a check that neither the Jewish State nor its U.S. partner can cover.

The Israelis just needlessly and ostentatiously insulted a strategic partner for no good reason. The Turks are hopping mad and have their scimitars waving above their heads. They have every justification for such feelings. If any other nation had trespassed on the flagged vessels of the Turkish nation in such a manner, a NATO flotilla lead by some very impressive hardware from the world's greatest navy would be steaming toward that nation's shores. The only reason a Carrier Task Force is not now saying "howdy," is because the Likudnick power base in the U.S.A. is preventing it. The NeoCon and AIPAC lobbies are burning up the midnight oil to scale back U.S. response to the Israeli outrage. It is a testament to their power that they have been able to short-circuit our long held, historical support of freedom on the high seas. The U.S. has fought wars in the 19th and 20th Centuries on just such principles. Odd that in the 21st century the NeoCon and Right-Wing noise machine are able erase that memory from the national conscious.

Be that as it may, the Turks are not about to go gently into that good night. They are going to enforce the idea of freedom of the seas, of the rule of law on high seas, and of their national honor. To do anything less would cause the populace to revolt. It is a new day in the nation that Atatürk built. That nation is no longer Israel's friend. Turkey may again be Israel's strategic partner, but the era of good feelings is over. At best, Turkey will become more neutral and much more pragmatic about Israel. At worst, the Islamic elements in Turkey will cause the nation to be (at least verbally) more in line with its Israeli-phobic neighbors. For Israel, no good will come of this assault. This is Dale Carnegie in reverse; this how to lose friends and dis-influence people.