Israel, Turkey and U.S. National Security

Two earlier posts on Israel (2/22/11) and Turkey (5/31/11) made the case to the best of my ability concerning the potential impact on U.S. national security of the policies of those two increasingly querulous and seemingly irreconcilable American allies.  In short, it seems that American leaders of all stripes are forever condemned to support or at best to ignore outrageous Israeli policies and actions because of the influence and power of a domestic constituency, while Turkey offers the best, and perhaps only, hope of ending Arab-Israeli enmity and demonstrating that Islam can peacefully co-exist with both democracy and the West.

Recent events have not advanced U.S. interests.  Following its review of the bloody Israeli interception on the high seas in May 2010 of a Turkish-flagged flotilla carrying non-military goods to Gaza, a UN panel has revealed its findings:  “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”  This judgment on the legality of the Israeli action, which requires further examination, was tempered only in part by the panel’s finding that the Israeli force acted in ways that were excessive, unreasonable, unacceptable, and abusive (terms used in the report).

Much has been written about the dispute as to whether the Israeli expression of “regret” meets the Turkish demand for an apology for the killing of Turks aboard the ship boarded by Israeli forces.  The Turks, in any case, say not. The panel’s report also includes the following indictment:  “At least one of those killed, Furkan Dogan, was shot at extremely close range.  Mr. Dogan sustained wounds to the face, back of the skull, back and left leg.  That suggests he may have been lying wounded when the fatal shot was delivered, as suggested by witness accounts to that effect…No evidence has been provided to establish that any of the deceased were armed with lethal weapons.”  Dogan, nineteen- years-old at the time of his slaughter, was an American citizen by birth.  Did the U.S. demand or receive an apology from the executioners?  If so, it was done on the sly, with both President Barack Obama and his sworn enemies in and out of Washington choosing cowardice and disgrace over honor and certain confrontation with the untouchable Israeli Lobby.

In the end, of course, these considerations pale next to fast-moving events on the ground (and in the water) that pose very real threats to American interests. Turkey has expelled the Israeli Ambassador and his deputy and announced that its warships may increase “surveillance” in the Eastern Mediterraneanand even accompany any future Gaza-bound vessel.  And, it has been reported that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, having just put military and economic relations with Israel on hold, will conclude a military and economic pact with Egypt when he visits Cairo next week – the first such visit in fifteen years. Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly may vote overwhelmingly in favor of recognition of a Palestinian State later this month, isolating the U.S. yet further and decreasing its influence in the Middle Eastand the broader Muslim world in general.

How will the prospect of the 2012 American elections affect Obama’s reaction to this situation, and how will the opposition respond – again, given the power of the Lobby?  Might Iran creep into the equation as American neo-cons and Israel’s champions trumpet a nuclear threat from that quarter?  Will Turkey’s surrender of its mediating role in the region strengthen European objections to its accession to the European Union?  Are U.S.- European relations themselves in play?

The State Department’s statement of September 6 is encouraging in that it indicates very real, albeit tardy and frantic, concern in Washington over the Israeli-Turkish dilemma.  American diplomats are reportedly working overtime to head off a final break between these two allies (and to forestall any UNGA vote), and we can only hope they will succeed.  National security is at stake.

By Alan Berlind.

3 thoughts on “Israel, Turkey and U.S. National Security

  1. Lilly September 27, 2011 / 8:47 PM

    There is a great book coming out featuring the views of some of the top experts on Israel, Turkey, and the U.S. that explores the relationship between these countries as well as a brief section on Iran’s role among these relationships. It is entitled “Troubled Triangle: The United States, Turkey, and Israel in the New Middle East.” More information at:

  2. fmkellogg September 16, 2011 / 11:53 AM

    The New York Times Editorial entitled “Israel and New York’s Ninth District,” from September 14, may be of interest to our readers of Mr. Berlind’s post here and earlier posts on the key issues of Israeli-Turkish relations and the role of the U.S. in bringing about a peace accord in the Middle East. Below is a brief excerpt from the piece:

    “There has already been a lot of theorizing about why a little-known Republican businessman, Bob Turner, won Tuesday’s special Congressional election in a traditionally Democratic New York City district. The grim economy appears to have been a big factor in his victory over Assemblyman David Weprin, and some voters also complained about Mr. Weprin’s principled vote in Albany to legalize gay marriage, which was anathema to many ultra-Orthodox Jewish voters.

    Some analysts — and eager Republican critics — are also claiming it was a repudiation of President Obama’s policies toward Israel. On Wednesday, an article on the Web site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that “in politics it is the perception that counts,” and that the Democratic loss “will be portrayed, as the outspoken former Mayor Ed Koch put it, ‘as a message to President Obama that he cannot throw Israel under a bus with impunity.’ ”

    Mr. Obama has done nothing of the sort; his support for Israel has never wavered. But we fear that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, will read the election as yet another reason to ignore the president’s advice and refuse to make any compromises with the Palestinians, no matter how essential for Israel’s own security.”

    For the full article, please visit the New York Times website at

  3. Aristotle September 14, 2011 / 9:48 PM

    Things appear to be getting hotter between Israel and Egypt and Turkey and there does not seem to be a path for a stable and long-term accommodation. The question is what role if any America and the EU nations might now play in an effort to move from confrontation to dialogue and cooperation. Mr. Berlind’s analysis is on the mark but what are the levers that might be used to get to fundamental solutions that all sides can live with? What is strange is that all parties are acting at the moment in ways that are not in their best long-term interests.

    Mr. Berlind believes American domestic politics have inhibit us in this process…clearly the settlements are both illegal and the cause of much anger that is counterproductive for Israel’s own security and peace in the region. There has go to be a deal in which with outside help, a package can be developed in which all sides lose some but gain much more in return. So what needs now to be done? To forestalls the break Berlind fears requires some hope on the part of all parties for a new path to peace and major benefits to all. So what can be done and how?

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