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06-03-2010, 06:03 AM
Turkey: ‘Mideast peace unlikely unless US alters relations with Israel’



02-06-2010
By YONCA POYRAZ DOÐAN
ÝSTANBUL, (Today's Zaman):

US President Barack Obama has been confronted with a major question on US relations with the Israeli leadership after a deadly Israeli commando raid on aid ships bound for Gaza has come at a time when Washington has been trying to broker peace with the Palestinians and improve the image of the US in the Arab world.

The White House said in a written statement that the US “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” in the storming of the aid ship, a Turkish flagged vessel. A spokesman said US officials were “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.”

Depending on how the White House finally reacts, the bloody incident could also further confound once rock-solid relations between the United States and Turkey, where most of the nine dead were apparently from.

So far, Obama has only voiced “deep regret” over the Israeli raid, and the White House said he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed by phone to reschedule Tuesday’s White House talks “at the first opportunity” as Netanyahu was rushing home from Canada.

“The moment that you qualify the bloody Israeli attack as a ‘tragedy,’ no matter how hard you work ‘to understand the circumstances’ you won’t get results,” wrote Cengiz Çandar, a columnist with the Radikal daily based in Ýstanbul.

Çandar added that “Israel’s recklessness” has been “a natural result of being spoiled under the unconditional American security umbrella” that has lasted for years.

According to Çandar, the United States has to choose between its “two regional allies,” Turkey and Israel, and Turkey should be in a position to “push the United States” in that direction.

However, the Obama administration has not yet changed its rock solid commitment to support Israel’s security and future.

Alon Ben Meir, who wrote recently for the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organizations (USAK), argued that the US has gone above and beyond to prove to Israel its commitment when it comes to national security, which should dispel any of the concerns about the nature of the current US-Israeli relationship.

“Nonetheless, this does not mean that the US will or should back down from pressuring Israel to make necessary concessions for peace, as this is directly related to Israel’s ultimate security needs and American strategic interests,” he wrote.

He added that as Israel continues its campaign to get widespread support against Iran’s nuclear agenda, “Obama must make one thing clear: if the US is to confront Iran with sanctions or a military threat, both which will require international cooperation, there must be significant progress, if not a full agreement, on the Arab-Israeli track. With the war in Afghanistan and continued instability in Iraq, the United States simply cannot and will not confront Iran, especially militarily, before it can secure a real calm on the Israeli-Palestinian track.”

Obama took office declaring Israeli-Palestinian peace a top agenda item, demanding that Israel stop the construction of West Bank settlements and end the expansion of Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians envision as a state of their own as part of a peace treaty.

Benjamin Netanyahu said no and his government later announced a major east Jerusalem project as Vice President Joe Biden was visiting to reassure Israel of US support.

After a deep chill, Obama said he recognized that neither side was ready for peace talks. Even so, Netanyahu and the Palestinians subsequently agreed to open indirect negotiations with US special envoy George Mitchell. The fate of that small move forward is uncertain.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the raid as a “sinful massacre” but signaled he would keep going with the indirect talks. Abbas told senior officials of his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that there is no need to quit since the Palestinians are talking to the US and not to Israel, according to his adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh.

Difficult US-Turkish relations are bound to be seriously set back if Obama does not condemn the Israeli raid. That carries the possibility of major problems inside NATO, where Turkey is the only Muslim member. And it will further complicate US efforts against the Iranian nuclear program.

Turkey had just reached an agreement to take Iranian enriched uranium in return for a smaller, purer batch of nuclear fuel for Iran’s research reactor that produces medical isotopes. The US, Russia and France had proposed the deal late last year, with Russia to serve as receiver of the Iranian fuel and France to provide the material for the research reactor. Iran said no to that proposal.

The day after the Iranian deal with Turkey, the US announced it was moving ahead with harsher sanctions in the UN. Washington was at pains to thank Turkey for its efforts, but declared them insufficient. Turkey is deeply opposed to sanctions on its eastern neighbor.

At the United Nations, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu urged the Security Council to condemn Israel’s raid and set up a formal inquiry to hold those responsible for it accountable.

“This is terrible for Israel-Turkey relations,” Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I am really saddened by it.”

Tan, who served as ambassador to Israel from 2007 through 2009, said Israel’s actions demand condemnation from every country because the flotilla attack took place in international waters and involved civilians on a humanitarian mission. But he said the Obama administration’s initial statement was wanting. “We would have expected a much stronger reaction than this,” he also said.

A May 31 analysis, “Israel: Consequences of the Flotilla Raid,” by STRATFOR, which is a global intelligence company founded in 1996 in Texas, stated that American-Israeli relations have cooled considerably. “In recent months, Israel has attempted to rewrite regional relations to firm up its embattled position at home, where coalition rivalries have reached a fever pitch, and abroad, where Israeli policies on the Palestinians and Iran have been blunted by the United States. Israel’s efforts have annoyed a Washington hoping to calm troubled waters. Taking military action against a civilian convoy -- regardless of justification -- is something that works directly against American policies,” the analysis stated.

The US has been at pains to keep Turkey’s place as a valued NATO member and democratic buffer against Iran and Arab dictatorships. Now it would seem that Obama has to choose. But the US leader is likely to think twice before joining the global censure of Israel ahead of mid-term congressional elections in November unless he senses a new mood among Americans coming to view Israel as a liability, rather than a trusted ally.

“The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now see a shift in US public opinion that will open the way to a new US-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel,” wrote George Friedman, chief executive officer at STRATFOR.

Even if this scenario fails to materialize, the fiasco at sea may force the United States to pay more attention to the plight of Gaza and the rift between its Hamas Islamist rulers and President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement in the West Bank.

“For years, many in the international community have been complicit in a policy that aimed at isolating Gaza in the hope of weakening Hamas,” stated the International Crisis Group.

It noted that the United States, the European Union and their UN and Russian “Quartet” partners had urged an easing of the siege.