By Zvi November
Barack Obama's March 20-22 visit to Israel, extensively covered by the media, was not very different from that of some Hollywood super star. Large numbers of pundits have related to this extravaganza. However, one of the more insightful analyses of the president's maneuvers was published in Friday's (March 29, 2013) "Makor Rishon". In an article that focuses on Netanyahu's telephone apology to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan [who hates Jews and Israel], Dr. Mordecai Kedar (a Middle East expert who teaches at Bar Ilan University) is quite certain that this apology for nine Turkish fatalities on board the Mavi Marmara blockade-running ship (May 2010) was Obama's idea and it was timed so that the media's reactions had to be delayed until Sunday, March 24th, after the Sabbath day of rest and Obama's departure.Kedar thinks that there are two possible explanations for this initiative; one ceremonial and the other strategic. This apology is leading to the resumption of official contacts between the two countries and sends a clear message to radical Islamic groups like Hamas that Turkish support can be modified as circumstances change. Furthermore, Turkey and Israel can now share intelligence regarding Syria' large chemical weapons stockpile which must not fall into terrorist hands and pose a threat to the West. Kedar also notes that imprisoned Kurdish PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has simultaneously declared a cease fire in the 30 year long Kurdish rebellion against Turkey in which about 40,000 people have lost their lives. Dr. Kedar assumes that Obama is behind these recent developments. Efforts to find some sort of modus Vivendi with the Kurds in eastern Turkey and Israel's apology both work in Erdogan's favor by increasing his popularity. Since the Turkish constitution does not permit Erdogan's re-election, he intends to call for a referendum to change the electoral system to a presidential one similar to the system in France. This move will enable him to continue to rule Turkey.Obama, it appears, is behind these positive (from a US point of view) developments. But Kedar goes on to discuss his second far more comprehensive scenario; the strategic interpretation. Obama (Kedar assumes) wants to decrease Iranian pressure on Saudi Arabia and all the other oil-rich Gulf states like Qatar [that is generously funding the free Syrian rebels] that generally cooperate with the US. It is quite possible that Iran will send a large force (through like-minded, compliant Iraq) into Syria to crush the jihadi fighters and thus save Bashar Assad, their ally. This move is likely to lead to a confrontation with Turkey and the US as well as NATO along with Israel in the background. This is why, Kedar guesses, Obama pressured Netanyahu to telephone Erdogan; to significantly reduce Turkey-Israel tensions.Kedar reminds his readers that a confrontation between Iran and Turkey also has a religious dimension. Iran leads the Shiites (and their Alawite brethren) while Turkey aspires to lead the entire Sunni Muslim world.Also, the Turks are apprehensive about Iran's atomic bomb project. A nuclear Iran would be even more threatening to the region. It could, for instance, affect the flow of oil produced in Iraqi Kurdistan and now piped to Turkish Mediterranean ports. (Turkey earns royalties for this service.)The US, Turkey and Israel all see Iran as a grave danger that may have to be confronted. Therefore, it is crucial that the Kurdish areas in eastern Turkey be quiescent. Furthermore, a military confrontation in this region will probably require the cooperation of three neighboring countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan). In light of this situation, Kedar believes that Obama does not want a relatively minor incident like the Mavi-Marmara episode to hinder Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-American cooperation. Similarly, Kurdish areas in eastern Turkey must remain tranquil as any attack on Iranian troops in Syria will emanate from local bases there. Secretary of State John Kerry is now in charge of implementing this grand strategy.At the close of his essay, Kedar frankly admits that this is all guess work on his part. It may just be his wishful thinking. On the other hand, this is what may really be going on behind closed doors.I am personally skeptical. I doubt that the Obama-Kerry team is capable of this sort of strategic activity. I would also remind readers that back in 2003 "friendly" ally Turkey refused to allow the US to use Turkish bases when the coalition invaded Iraq.
|US President Barack Obama |
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Zvi November, who grew up in New York, served as a Peace Corps' teacher in rural Philippines. He also taught at Hong Kong Int'l School. He earned his diploma from Univ. of Edinburgh, his MA from Syracuse Univ, both in anthropology. Now he is an activist in Israel's Media Watch and other civic bodies.