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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dramatic Change in the Middle East- Turkey, Russia, and Israel

Coup and Purge in Turkey - On July 15, segments of the Turkish military engaged in behavior some of which resembled those that one might see in a coup. Much of the behavior of the military also resembled those that one might see from a military exercise and many soldiers who were arrested for having taken part in the coup were under the impression that they were taking part in such an exercise.

There are many reasons to question whether or not this really was a "coup," though none individually is conclusive evidence that it was not a legitimate coup. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of them:

  • 1. In any coup, the leader of the nation must be killed, arrested, or at least forced into exile. That didn't happen. There was an opportunity for those engaged in the "coup" to shoot down President Erdogan's plane while the coup was in progress, but they did not.
  • 2. Firing on the President's house makes some sense in a coup, attacking the symbol of the authority you seek to remove. Instead, coup participants fired on the People's house, parliament. That action can do nothing but anger the people as a whole and strengthen the President. Makes no sense.
  • 3. For any coup to be successful, the army, the ground forces of the nation, must be under the control of the coup plotters. Soldiers, not tanks or planes, are necessary to control the population. If anything is a potential smoking gun, this is it. No sane coup plotter would even consider trying to take over a country without control over a substantial portion, if not overwhelming portion, of the Army. Tanks and planes can't enter buildings.
  • 4. Failed coups generally result in the deaths of coup participants. Firing on hostile civilians, much less military forces would be normative. In a large nation like Turkey, one could have expected hundreds of dead and thousands of injured across the country at a minimum. Inexperienced soldiers being threatened by hostile civilians could have easily killed dozens just protecting themselves.
  • 5. In any coup, control of messaging is essential and preventing the leader to be ousted from rallying support from the populace, even more so. This didn't happen effectively at all.
  • 6. A coup requires effective timing and coordination in addition to an extreme level of trust. There is no chance at all that the leader of a coup attempt in Turkey could possibly deny involvement, because the leader of a coup would have to personally recruit and coordinate efforts. On the other hand, a military exercise or fake "coup" could easily involve authority figures manipulating lesser officials into action.
  • 7. After a failed coup, leaders usually flee to another nation in order to save themselves.
  • 8. You don't launch a coup having lost the last election 52-48. You wait for the next election.
  • 9. Any "pro-democracy" coup in which the military doesn't expect to slaughter significant numbers of civilians in order to obtain and maintain control, necessarily requires support from a large percentage of civilian leaders.
  • 10. The response to a failed coup is an investigation that begins with soldiers and might spread slowly beyond the military. Turkey's immediate and extensive purge of many thousands of Gulenist leaders, including judges at all levels of the judiciary, deans of schools, huge numbers of teachers and even soccer referees, is the best argument that this "coup" was orchestrated in order to enact the purge that has followed, rather than the purge being a response to a real coup.
The question is "What is the long term intent of the purge?" That we will address in the weeks ahead.
Meanwhile there have been other dramatic changes in Turkish policy in recent weeks, some even before the coup.

Turkey and Israel agreed on rapprochement. Israel sent Turkey a relatively small cash sum in exchange for a renewal of trade and full diplomatic relations. Those are the public terms, but behind the scenes developments seem to have been much more substantial judging by changes in behavior.

The day after it agreed to rapprochement with Israel (June 27), President Erdogan sent a letter to President Putin offering regrets for the November downing of a Russian aircraft and seeking to reestablish relations with Russia. In the intervening weeks, it appears that Turkey has practically abandoned Hamas, after being one of its primary advocates for years. That was almost certainly a concession in negotiations between Israel and Turkey, which brings up what Israel actually offered.

Israel likely offered to aid in reconciliation with Russia. That would explain the immediate and rapid development of that reconciliation in late June. Turkey not only needed help to avoid that relationship worsening, but it needed to seek a major concession from Russia, namely, as we found out today, the ability to launch a ground offensive within Syrian borders against Islamic State forces and Syrian Kurdish forces.

If you had said that Turkey would invade Syrian territory at any point before now, it would have seemed insane. The Assad regime is a Russian ally and having NATO forces operating on the soil of a close Russian ally would have been difficult to conceive. But not at this point because relations between Russia, Turkey, the US and the Kurds are now different. Israel and the US must have agreed to not support the Kurds in Syria against Turkey. Today, Vice President Biden announced that "Washington made clear to pro-Kurdish forces in Syria that they must not cross west of the Euphrates River" or lose US support. It is likely that Israel is also part of that agreement.

Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt have reached out to Vladimir Putin in response to an overture that Russia might help to moderate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israeli relations with Russia are now substantially strong with Putin and Netanyahu pledging to continue "intensive" contacts. Russia not only gets Israeli intelligence help and cooperation in combating Islamist elements in Syria, Chechnya,  and in Russia proper, but also in regard to strengthening relations with Former Soviet Union FSU nations. Beginning with the Russian aliyah of the 1990s, Israel now has over one million citizens who were born in the Soviet Union, a high percentage of whom are from Russia as such, and extensive economic and social ties with Russia and other FSU nations.

To put this into perspective, there are about the same number of Russians in the Crimea, which Russia considers to be part of its territory, roughly 1.2 million, as there are today in Israel with about 900,000 Israeli Jews of Russian origin and 300,000 more Israelis of Russian origin who are not Jewish. Israel now even has a Russian born, Russian speaking, Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. This all enables a level of economic, social, and security relationships between Israel and Russia that could not have existed in previous decades. Add in common concerns about political Islamist terrorism and instability in the Muslim world, especially in Syria, for both of which Israel is an essential strategic ally, and you have a Russia desirous of a stronger relationship with Israel than ever before. And this comes at a time when the United States has shown a desire to be much less present and directly influential in regional affairs.

Nothing like a situation in which Russia seeks a good resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Israeli side because doing so furthers Russian interests. It is also the case that Russia is Israel's best friend in keeping Iran in check.

There is dramatic change happening. Few seem to be taking note. It is a new world out there.