US-Israel-Turkey exercises could be a blessing in disguise

Developing Just Leadership

Mahmoud Ahmed Shaikh

Shawwal 19, 1418 1998-02-16

Occupied Arab World

by Mahmoud Ahmed Shaikh (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 24, Shawwal, 1418)

The joint military exercises held in the Eastern Mediterranean by the US, Israel and Turkey last month are an ominous development, which Muslims must treat, and resist, as grave strategic threat to their security. But this unnatural alliance between a leading Muslim country and Islam’s two foremost adverasaries - a product of desperation, up to a point - may yet serve, if effectively exploited, as an eye-opener to ordinary Muslims, who will now see who their real enemy is.

Arrogant actions and policies that fly in the face of Muslim sensitivities have a way of rebounding on their instigators, providing much-needed powerful boost to Islamic movements. For an example of this, look no further than Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, whose relentless arrogance towards Palestinians has halted the implementation of the Oslo sellout and has lined up Palestinian grass-roots support behind Hamas.

Netanyahu’s smooth predecessor, Shimon Peres, was of course equally determined to disinherit the Palestinians but he courted Arab dictators, including PLO leader Yasir Arafat, who helped him to present the Oslo accord as an opportunity for Palestinian emancipation. If Peres had not lost the 1996 Israeli elections, Palestine could have been sold down the line irretrievably by now with the backing of Arab regimes, and Israel would have become a political and economic partner of Middle East countries. (The recent Doha Middle East Economic conference would not have been boycott because Israel was invited).

In that sense, Netanyahu, whose arrogance has scuppered the US-led conspiracy, may be reasonably regarded as a God-send to Muslims. (Incidentally, the name ‘Netanyahu’ means ‘God’s gift’ in Hebrew. The prime minister’s grandfather, Nathan Mileikowsky, changed his name to Netanyahu when he arrived in Tel Aviv from Lithuania in 1930, deciding to speak only Hebrew from then onwards. Bibi’s arrogance runs in the family, which has always regarded itself as a ‘gift from God,’ as one commentator recently described it).

Turkey’s decision to engage in military exercises with a country led, and isolated, by such an offensive and arrogant character can safely be attributed to the desperation of a secular elite, whose raison d’etre, namely the westernization of Turkish society and its acceptance as a European country, has visibly failed.

Not only has the European Union rebuffed its long-standing application for membership but it has also invited the Greek Cypriots to join, shutting out the Turkish Cypriots. The US, Turkey’s Nato ally, has also deserted it since the collapse of communism, siding with its traditional Greek rival over the Cyprus and Aegean sea issues. The electoral success of the Refah party in recent years has also demonstrated that the traditional respect for Islam in Turkey has not been rooted out by Kemalist secular policies. The judicial dissolution of Refah and the banning of its leaders from political activity is also a sign of desperation.

The idea of normal relations between Turkey and Israel is acceptable to a large number of Turks, with downright opposition confined to Islamic activists. After all, Egypt and Jordan have diplomatic relations with Israel. It was the start of the ‘Oslo process’ which provided cover for the Turkish generals to develop relations with Tel Aviv.

But when the new ties culminated in a military pact in 1996, many Turks began to believe that Ankara was going ‘too far too quickly.’ The sight of Turkish warships and aircraft, engaged in joint military exercises with their US and ISraeli counter-parts is bound to be offensive to many more, who will have seen that the pact has deeper roots and purposes than hitherto admitted.

When Ankara announced on December 11 that the four-day exercises would be held on January 5, the Israeli defence minister could not contain his jubilation, making clear the real strategic aims of the exercises in an ill-advised comment. ‘When Turkey and Israel lock hands they will form a powerful fist,’ he said - alerting Iran, Iraq and Syria, Turkey’s immediate neighbours, that the manoeuvres have regional dimension which makes them direct targets.

After Mordechai’s gaffe, and in an attempt to play down the sensitive nature of the exercises, officials of the three countries insisted that the real purpose was to enhance the ability of the three to stage efficient rescue missions at sea.

Egypt and Jordan were also invited to attend as observers - no doubt to add credibility to the claim that the exercises were not directed against any country, Arab or Muslim. Egypt turned down the invitation but Jordan send a contingent. Ironically, it was Egypt which accepted the invitation to join the US-led war against Iraq in 1991 and Jordan which declined.

When the exercises, code-named Reliant Mermaid, were held Jordan hastened to defend them as harmless. Admiral Husain Khassawneh of the Royal Jordanian Navy, who attended as an observer, said there was no threat to other Arab countries. ‘It is a pure search and rescue operation,’ he said. Colonel Husnu Dag, a representative of the Turkish general staff, said the sea manoeuvre was necessary because dense sea traffic in the eastern Mediterranean ‘creates the need to respond to civilian emergencies.’ But in an indirect allusion to the security aspect of the exercises, he added that ‘Reliant Mermaid will promote peace and stability in the region.’

Israeli defence minister Mordechai was more direct though denying that the exercises were directed against any particular country. ‘Those exercises serve Israel’s ability to defend itself against any threat which may occur in the region.’ But Muslim countries in the region were not taken in by the denials and criticised the manoeuvres as a hostile act which posed a serious military threat. Syria Iraq, Iran and Egypt all issued statements attacking them. Leading ulama and military analysts in those countries also joined the attack.

The Mufti of Syria, Shaikh Ahmad Kaftaru, for instance, said it was forbidded in Islam to co-operate with Israel asking ‘why doesn’t Turkey carry out exercises with Syria in the Miditerranian Sea or with Iran in the Caspian?’

The exercises are certainly an ominous development and form part of a US-led plot or stategy to encircle Islam. As such the new anti-Islamic alliance has great propaganda possibilities which can be used to galvanise Muslims. Unfortunately the initial criticism has already evaporated because many of the Muslim countries making it are US proxies. But Islamic movements are under no constraints to keep the issue alive.

Muslimedia: February 16-28, 1998

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