A veteran Turkish journalist smiled last week when he read the commentary in Israel after General Avi Mizrahi's verbal counterassault against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the counter-counterassault by the Turkish government and army over Israel's inflicting of civilian casualties during Operation Cast Lead.
In the Israeli debate, the analyst in Istanbul said, two important points were overlooked. The first is Erdogan's predilection for sudden and embarrassing bursts of anger. In Davos, Shimon Peres just happened to be his next victim; Nicolas Sarkozy or Barack Obama could have found themselves in the same situation. As proof, one can point to the restraint shown by President Abdullah Gul, the former foreign minister, who, like his senior partner in the ruling party Erdogan, is well versed in the nuances of his country's relationship with Israel.
More critical is the waning of Israel's political and military might as perceived by foreigners, particularly countries like Turkey. For years Israel was considered a country that could deliver the goods in Washington, yet in the last decade Turkey has been moving into a different position - a country needed in Washington, more so than the other way around. At the same time, Israel is perceived as too weak to influence the administration and Congress to improve relations with Turkey.
America's chilly relationship with Ankara, despite Turkey's importance to the NATO alliance and its cooperation in the air embargo against Saddam Hussein (though there was no such cooperation in 2003, when the Turks refused to allow the Americans to outflank Saddam from Iraq's northwest border with Turkey) did not stem from Washington's sympathy with the Armenians or Kurds. It stemmed from the influence of the Greek lobby. Here is a partial list of politicians and senior officials of Greek extraction: former vice president Spiro Agnew, former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, Senator Paul Sarbanes, former prominent congressmen Paul Tsongas and John Brademas, and former CIA chief George Tenet. The full list of their colleagues of Turkish origin: not one.
Turkey tried to counterbalance the Greek advantage using its defense ally, Israel, directly, and AIPAC, indirectly. The image and prestige of both these players have absorbed severe blows in recent years in the eyes of the White House and Capitol Hill.
In the Gaza affair, one should also take into account two serious lapses by Israel's defense establishment: marginalizing the role of the Civil Administration and the refusal to allow journalists to accompany the forces fighting in urban territory. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi could not agree on a candidate to head the Civil Administration, which coordinates Israel's activities in the territories. Barak could have named a civilian to the job, without asking Ashkenazi, but instead, the job of coordinating Israel's activities in the territories was left without a permanent head ever since Yosef Mishlav vacated the post. Barak and Ashkenazi also allowed the previous and successful head of the coordination and liaison administrative office in Gaza, Colonel Nir Peres, to leave without lining up a worthy successor, when the Gaza operation was in the offing.
Liaison officers were left behind and not embedded with the battalion and brigade commanders, which would have enabled them to warn, even in the heat of battle, against targeting sensitive buildings not known to be of military value. Marking the buildings on a map in command headquarters far from the battlefield did not suffice. The Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence pointed to the targets that needed to be hit, but there was no one to point out which targets were off limits.
As usual in Israel, the ban on embedding reporters with the forces yielded a tactical success for the unfettered ground operation, yet it failed to stem the erosion of Israel's political standing at the end of the offensive. Had reliable journalists, both foreign and Israeli, instead been able to document the booby-trapped streets before the army took steps to protect its soldiers, this would have made Israel's operational needs understandable and helped dull the criticism evoked by the destruction in Gaza.
The fairy tale of Israel's control over the global levers of power, in the spirit of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has repeatedly cracked in the face of the realities of the 21st century. Against the backdrop of the rising political influence of Muslim minorities in Europe, which threatens to create a European equivalent to the Jews' political strength in America, perhaps it would behoove Israel to stop denying the situation and start embracing it, in the hope that someone will start believing in Israel once again.
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