Monday, September 12, 2011

Scary Times In the Middle East

It's a bad time for Israel to be stuck with a boneheaded president like Benjamin Netanyahu.   The neighbourhood is changing and Netanyahu's bad boy bully tactics have fallen out of vogue.  An editorial in today's Guardian speaks of an ominous alliance evolving between Turkey and Egypt that leaves Israel caught in the middle.

Monday's visit to Egypt by Turkey's prime minister, Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, will be watched like no other.  ...If post-revolutionary Egypt and an economically resurgent Turkey make common cause against their former common ally – and there is every indication that they will – Israel's isolation in the region will be profound.

The pace of events has surprised everyone. The pro-Palestinian sentiment of the thousands who thronged Tahrir Square was latent rather than explicit. Analysts then expected that major foreign policy changes would have to await domestic ones like elections and a new civilian government. Israel on the other hand found itself looking the wrong way, gearing up for protest on the West Bank and on its Syrian and Lebanese borders after the declaration of statehood at the UN later this month. No one expected the forces unleashed by the Arab spring to turn this suddenly on an Israeli flagpole in Cairo.

...Israel's old alliances were with regimes, usually despotic ones, not their people. Now that popular opinion is once again making itself felt in the region, Egypt will never again stand quiet – as it did when Israel launched its military campaign against Gaza in 2008 – if another war breaks out.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu now faces a real choice. He must realise that humiliating Turkey by refusing to apologise for the deaths on the Mavi Marmara was a colossal error. The strategic consequences for Israel of a hostile Turkish-Egyptian alliance could last years. They far outweigh the advantages of a tactical victory in the UN Palmer report, which lasted exactly days. Israel needs to repair relations with Turkey and do it quickly. The price of such a rapprochement will have gone up in the last week, but it is still worth paying. The Israeli premier's reaction on Saturday to events in Cairo was, by his standards, measured and moderate, so maybe even he now realises this.

The choice he faces is clear. He can either prepare for another war (Avigdor Lieberman's response to Turkey was to suggest that Israel arm the PKK) or he can accept that Israel can no longer impose its will on hostile and weaker neighbours. For one thing, the neighbours are growing stronger. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz put it more bluntly. In an editorial about the harassment of Israeli passengers on a Turkish Airlines flight in retaliation for similar treatment Israeli authorities meted out to Turkish passengers, it suggested that Israel needs humiliation in order to respect others. No one needs further humiliation, but respect of its neighbours is in short supply.

With our own born again bonehead at the wheel we can expect Canada to rally to Israel's side if only to extend moral support.   Washington will probably do the same.  The irony is that our support may be the very thing that Israel doesn't need if it serves only to reinforce Netanyahu's belligerance. 


Annie said...

I mentioned the other night to someone, that if something happens..we need another Mike Pearson...any suggestions?

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, Annie, absolutely. Readers of TDL have long known my endorsement of one, perhaps the only one of this day, Louise Arbour.

Annie said...

She is well know and highly intelligent..what will Harper do?
Where is Louise Arbour now?

sassy said...


Yes, Louise Arbour is all that (well known and highly intelligent) and is also well respected - so it will probably come as no surprise to you that Harper and his gang have no use for her.

Sad isn't it.

The Mound of Sound said...

Ms. Arbour went from chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to head the Humanitarian Affairs department of the UN to the head of the International Crisis Group where she is today. She is one of those truly rare types who heaps one enormous achievement atop so many others.

A couple of years ago I exchanged correspondence with Iggy in which I urged the LPC to bring LA into the fold. MI informed me there had been some approaches but none successful. I never was sure about that. It seems to me someone of Arbour's stature might have been problematical to Ignatieff's ambitions.

Whatever the case, Canada needs Louise Arbour's immense talents far more than the International Crisis Group. She's brilliant, astonishingly accomplished, poised, and a champion of principles who has never hesitated to speak truth to plainly hostile power.