Syria: Bringing Former Friends Back Together

June 21, 2012 § 3 Comments

Michael Herzog and Soner Cagaptay have an op-ed in today’s New York Times on Israel-Turkey relations in which they argue that the situation in Syria can provide the impetus for the two countries to reconcile. I was reluctant to comment on it since I have an op-ed of my own coming out soon on steps that need to be taken for Israel and Turkey to make up, but I think their piece has some flaws that I can’t help but point out. I am no stranger to the Syria argument, having pointed out before that it would be to both states’ benefit to cooperate on Syria. Herzog and Cagaptay take this idea a few steps too far, however, by essentially arguing that the mess in Syria can be the primary force that will move Jerusalem and Ankara back together.

The first problem with this is that while Israeli and Turkish cooperation would be nice, Syria presents a very different set of problems for each. Turkey is facing a serious refugee crisis with Syrians fleeing across the Turkish border, the prospect of revitalized PKK terrorism if Assad provides the PKK with a safe haven inside Syria, and reputational and credibility problems following early Turkish threats to establish buffer zones inside of Syria that are clearly nowhere close to materializing. In contrast, Israel is facing the possibility of Assad and the Syrian army stirring up trouble with Israel in an effort to distract from the massacres being carried out by Assad’s forces, Hizballah shooting volleys of missiles into northern Israel in response to alleged “Israeli meddling” in the conflict, and the inclusion of Islamist elements dangerously hostile to Israel in the Syrian opposition. So yes, in a wider sense, both Israel and Turkey are facing problems because of the brewing Syrian civil war, but that does not mean that cooperation between the two is such a no-brainer that it will get them to reconcile. For instance, would Israel help install the Syrian National Council in Damascus in order to stem the flow of refugees into Turkey if it means that it now faces Islamist governments on its southern and northern borders? Does Israel have anywhere near the level of interest in driving the PKK out of Syria as Turkey does? Yes, both countries want a resolution of some sort, but it is entirely unclear that they would agree on what that should be.

Second, Herzog and Cagaptay argue that any Israeli involvement in Syria has to be secret:

Any Israeli contribution would, of course, have to be invisible in order not to create a sense that Israel was behind the Syrian uprising. This makes Turkish-Israeli cooperation against Mr. Assad even more valuable, for it would allow Israel to provide untraceable assets to support Turkey’s efforts to undermine the Assad government.

Well, doesn’t that contradict the premise of the entire argument? Israel and Turkey are very publicly at odds, and any reconciliation is going to have to be a public one as a result. Much of the benefit of reconciling, and this is particularly true for Israel, is a public relations one, so some sort of secret rapprochement that nobody knows about outside of the respective countries’ militaries and intelligence services does not do much good. The notion that Israel would agree to help out Turkey but do so in an untraceable way is not a point that bolsters the argument that cooperation on Syria is going to lead to a reconciliation. It might be an important confidence building measure, but if you are claiming that the Syria mess is going to push Israel and Turkey to repair their relationship, you had better come up with something more than covert intelligence assistance.

Then there are a bunch of smaller problems in the piece. The authors assert that “A Turkish-Israeli dialogue on Syria could bolster Israel’s interest in regime change and enlist Israel to generate American support,” but I hardly think that Israel voicing its approval of a Turkish plan to get the U.S. involved is going to sway the administration’s impulse to stay out of things. They also argue that Shaul Mofaz’s inclusion in the cabinet dampens the influence of Avigdor Lieberman and his strident criticisms of Turkey, but Lieberman is hardly the only politician to have a hard line on a flotilla apology and there is no evidence that Mofaz is itching to pursue normalized ties. There is no discussion in the piece of the larger structural incentives that might push Israel and Turkey to reconcile, since the Syria issue has not been enough up until this point. In sum, I don’t think that Herzog and Cagaptay are wrong to identify Syria as a problem for both Israel and Turkey, but the overall argument flies right over so many important details that to me their op-ed fails to convince.

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§ 3 Responses to Syria: Bringing Former Friends Back Together

  • Nalliah Thayabharan says:

    The current Syrian adventure is a re-run of “OPERATION AJAX” carried out against Iran; planned by KERMIT ROOSEVELT in 1953. Only Syria and North Korea do not have a central bank – a branch of the Federal Reserve. Zionists owned Bank of England gave “PROUD” Americans the First Bank of America AND the Second Bank of the United States, even the FEDERAL RESERVE, the Zionists owned private bank that’s been running UNITED STATES OF AMERICA for the last 100 years. USA & UK are Colonies of the Zionists owned Banks.

  • […] parties struggling with how to respond, and the new situation is a good illustration of why, as I wrote a month ago, Syria was never going to be the issue that forced a Turkish-Israeli rapprochement (despite the […]

  • Nalliah Thayabharan says:

    The Korean Peninsula is so hot and tense; it’s the most heavily-militarized part of the world. Even though none of the countries want a full-scale war, any small incident in the Korean Peninsula could lead to both sides stepping on the escalation ladder. The need now is to reduce tensions, and the onus for that is not on North Korea which is not threatening the United States, it’s the United States that should stop carrying out war games simulating the invasion and bombing of North Korea and lift sanctions.

    North Korean leadership realizes that the overwhelming power of the United States nuclear machine with 3,000 operational and 7,000 nuclear weapons overall would, turn their country into a charcoal briquette and the United States’ strategy with the right-wing government in South Korea in pressuring China, North Korea’s traditional ally, to go along with the program since China fears that there’s growing danger of an actual war in the Pacific to isolate North Korea. North Korea has carried out a nuclear test, the third responding to the major massive United States military exercises that are conducted in a way to stage a mock invasion and bombing of North Korea which was indeed invaded. Twenty years ago after the demise of the Soviet Union the United States strategic command reoriented hydrogen bombs away from the Soviet Union and targeting North Korea. And that’s when the North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and began building its own nuclear capacity.

    The economic sanctions by United States are having a very big impact and are now basically depriving North Korea of access to international banking. United States hopes if it can break China, it will do it to North Korea what it did to Iraq as a precursor to regime change. China is pursuing an appeasement foreign policy with the United States after the Barack Obama announced the pivot of Asia. The United States is militarizing its presence in the Pacific; China is very worried that the Korean Peninsula could become a spark causing a larger conflagration right on its own boundaries. So China is upset with North Korea, but North Korea isn’t listening to China, North Korean leadership is not thinking mainly about China but it is thinking how it can avoid being collapsed, either by economic sanctions, or military pressure, or combination of both.

    United States needs to stop threatening North Korea and needs to sign a peace treaty, which it refuses to do, and actually end the Korean War, rather than just armistice, which was on July 26, 1953, 60 years ago. United States needs to lift the sanctions, and need to normalize relations. That almost happened in the last eight days of the Bill Clinton administration, it was the beginning of a thaw, the United States could go by that road, but it seems that the Barack Obama is acting a lot like George W. Bush.

    Last month North Korea said the lesson of the Libyan and the Iraq invasion when the United States either invaded or bombed governments that were targeted, that both of those governments had agreed to disarm, had abandoned any weapons of mass destruction, and the North Korean interpretation of that is, if you disarm, the United States will not say, “Thank you, let’s have peace”, but the United States will say, “Thank you, now we can prepare more aggressively for an invasion or a bombing campaign.” North Korea is determined not to let that happen, and that’s how they view the development of their nuclear arsenal – it’s strictly defensive, it’s not a threat.

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