Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkey Threatens to Attack Israel; Media Stays Mum

This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.” He also lambasted Syrian President Bashar Assad for failing to launch retaliatory strikes against Israel himself and charged that Assad must have “made a secret deal with Israel.”

Granted, Turkey isn’t really going to attack Israel, nor is Assad likely to do so in response to Davutoglu’s taunts–which is why most Western media outlets, even had they noticed the story, would have dismissed it as non-newsworthy. But they’d be wrong. The failure to report this constant drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement–not just in Turkey, but also in other countries–may be the biggest single reason why so many Americans, including senior policy-makers, consistently misread the Middle East.

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This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.” He also lambasted Syrian President Bashar Assad for failing to launch retaliatory strikes against Israel himself and charged that Assad must have “made a secret deal with Israel.”

Granted, Turkey isn’t really going to attack Israel, nor is Assad likely to do so in response to Davutoglu’s taunts–which is why most Western media outlets, even had they noticed the story, would have dismissed it as non-newsworthy. But they’d be wrong. The failure to report this constant drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement–not just in Turkey, but also in other countries–may be the biggest single reason why so many Americans, including senior policy-makers, consistently misread the Middle East.

Consider, for instance, what Davutoglu actually told his countrymen via the press briefing quoted in Hurriyet. First, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that attacks other Muslim countries for no good reason: He didn’t bother mentioning that the reported target was a convoy ferrying sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization openly dedicated to Israel’s eradication. Second, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that makes secret deals with Assad, a leader who has slaughtered over 60,000 of his own citizens.  Nor is this unusual: Officials from the ruling AKP party produce a constant stream of anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) incitement. Indeed, as we know from WikiLeaks, even former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey concluded that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “simply hates Israel.”

Ignorance of this incitement has real consequences for U.S. policy. For instance, the Obama administration wasted copious amounts of time, energy and diplomatic capital in trying to effect a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation after Israel’s botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in May 2010. In reality, Erdogan never wanted a reconciliation; for him, the flotilla was a golden opportunity to downgrade ties with a country he loathed. Hence he rejected every Israel offer of apology and compensation; he also rejected the conclusions of the UN inquiry Washington orchestrated in an attempt to satisfy him. To anyone aware of the nonstop anti-Israel incitement Erdogan and his colleagues had been spouting for years, this outcome would have been predictable. But because American officials weren’t, they wasted valuable diplomatic resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Far more important, however, is that many U.S. policymakers still consider Turkey a reliable ally with common interests–and are then dismayed when it doesn’t act accordingly. For instance, Washington recently asked Turkey to intervene on its behalf should Syria use chemical weapons; Turkey agreed to accept the U.S.-donated equipment but refused to actually promise to take action.

Yet in fact, America has very little in common with a country that threatens to attack Cyprus (as well as Israel), extols a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, propagates the “Jews control the media” stereotype, and so forth. And most Americans would probably recognize this, if they knew the facts. But they don’t, and never will–because the media has decided that such details aren’t newsworthy.

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The Iranian Stall Continues

You knew this was coming:

Facing increasing momentum behind a U.S.-backed bid for new sanctions against it, Iran is launching a broad diplomatic offensive aimed at persuading as many U.N. Security Council members as possible to oppose tougher punishment for its nuclear program.

Iran wants to focus on reviving stalled talks about a nuclear fuel swap to build trust on all sides, according to politicians and diplomats in Tehran. But leaders of Western nations say that unless Iran alters its conditions for the deal, they will refuse to discuss it again. Under the arrangement, aimed at breaking an impasse over Iran’s uranium-enrichment efforts, Tehran would exchange the bulk of its low-enriched uranium for more highly enriched fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Mind you, the sanctions at issue are not the sort of crippling ones that might actually influence the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, but the Iranians’ diplomatic offensive will no doubt spur some more compromises and more watering down of the already thin-gruel sanctions under contemplation. And we can hear the knees already buckling: “Brazil and Turkey already have said they are wary of imposing additional punishment on Tehran. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, visiting Iran on Tuesday, announced that his country is ready to mediate on the uranium swap proposal and other nuclear issues.”

This is the endless loop of “engagement” and the problem with signaling to the Iranians that there is no downside to perpetually stalling. Had we adhered to any previous deadlines or talked up, rather than down, the potential for a U.S. military strike, we might be in a better position. But for now, as Gates noted, we have few options. And the Iranians seem to have endless time.

You knew this was coming:

Facing increasing momentum behind a U.S.-backed bid for new sanctions against it, Iran is launching a broad diplomatic offensive aimed at persuading as many U.N. Security Council members as possible to oppose tougher punishment for its nuclear program.

Iran wants to focus on reviving stalled talks about a nuclear fuel swap to build trust on all sides, according to politicians and diplomats in Tehran. But leaders of Western nations say that unless Iran alters its conditions for the deal, they will refuse to discuss it again. Under the arrangement, aimed at breaking an impasse over Iran’s uranium-enrichment efforts, Tehran would exchange the bulk of its low-enriched uranium for more highly enriched fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Mind you, the sanctions at issue are not the sort of crippling ones that might actually influence the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, but the Iranians’ diplomatic offensive will no doubt spur some more compromises and more watering down of the already thin-gruel sanctions under contemplation. And we can hear the knees already buckling: “Brazil and Turkey already have said they are wary of imposing additional punishment on Tehran. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, visiting Iran on Tuesday, announced that his country is ready to mediate on the uranium swap proposal and other nuclear issues.”

This is the endless loop of “engagement” and the problem with signaling to the Iranians that there is no downside to perpetually stalling. Had we adhered to any previous deadlines or talked up, rather than down, the potential for a U.S. military strike, we might be in a better position. But for now, as Gates noted, we have few options. And the Iranians seem to have endless time.

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Procrastination on Iran

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

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