Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Macho Tragedy in the Middle East

It was, in the end, a macho tragedy in the Middle East. An over-macho action by the region's superpower is having the unintended effect of inciting counter-macho reactions. The aftermath of Israel's sending soldiers of the elite naval commando unit Shayetet 13 against the dodgy, rag-tag international aid flotilla and its crudely armed passengers is at present reverberating through the region roughly. Even within israel there is significant criticism leveled at the government. "Some 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside Israel's Ministry of Defense late Monday," writes Tel Aviv-based journalist Mya Guarnieri in Huffington Post. Proportional force? Hardly.

What, pray tell, was Binyamin Netanyahu and his "group of seven" thinking when he authorized that botched handling -- "fiasco" -- of a Turkey-sponsored aid flotilla in international waters bound for Gaza? Was Israel actually seeking a rare condemnation from the United Nations Security Council? If so, the Prime Minister succeeded perfectly.

But of course he didn't. Netanyahu is a rational -- if positively choleric -- man of the right; the Prime Minister has since apologized for the loss of life. Parallel to that, however, Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak, perhaps the only future alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu's excesses come the next election, is defending the flotilla incident. What is one to think?

What, more importantly, are the immediate consequences for the region? One must look to Turkey. It is astonishing -- breathtaking, really -- to observe how quickly Turkey has veered from an aspiring European player to established key power in the Middle East power. Of course, the fact that the Europe zone itself as a monetary union may not even survive a decade from now has to sweeten the pains of Turkey's unanswered knocks on their stately door since 1987.

Turkey, clearly, is at an important historical crossroads. That is why Israel, which has had a largely friendly relationship with Turkey until Israel's Gaza incursion at the end of 2008, made a terrible mistake using such disproportionate forcve against the turkish-registered flotilla. OpenDemocracy sums it up that which began the tensions between Israel and Turkey:

A few days before the first Israeli air assault on Hamas strongholds in Gaza on 27 December 2008, a meeting in Ankara was held between Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert. The visit appeared to focus on reviewing progress in the previously secret talks between Israel and Syria that had been ongoing for more than a year under Turkey's mediation.

Turkey's active role in this dispute between two bitter regional rivals is part of a wider and radical shift in its diplomatic posture. For decades, Turkish governments had opted to stay out of the Arab-Israel conflict. The arrival in power of the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice & Development Party / AKP) in November 2002 was the spark for a dramatic change in Turkey's traditional stance toward the region. Turkey's foreign minister Ali Babacan has indicated that the Turkish side is content with progress being made in the Syria-Israel discussions, though these were suspended in the first days of the Israeli attacks. This reflects the way that Gaza conflict has imposed domestic strains on Turkey's relationship with Israel whose effect is yet to be seen.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has faced a political backlash from Israel's operation, which he condemned. But his meeting with Ehud Olmert became a contested topic; opposition leaders in Turkey accused the Turkish prime minister of having cut a secret deal with his Israeli counterpart over the forthcoming assault.

The accusation - immediately denied by Erdogan - drew on comments made by the Israeli ambassador to Ankara, Gabby Levy, which suggested that Olmert might have mentioned to Erdogan the possibility of an operation against Hamas. It is hard to confirm this, and indeed it must be borne in mind that the two leaders spoke through translators and that something may have been lost (or gained) in translation. In any case, Erdogan has in the past bitterly criticised Israel's targeted killings of Hamas leaders - as he was of Israel's Gaza attacks - and it is hard to believe that he would have consented to any operation against the Palestinians.

There you have it. And with that, and this recent flotilla incident, the Israeli-Turkish relationship is now probably lost for at least a generation. The memories of joint military exercises between the two nations are now a thing of the past. A macho tragedy. Another result of Israel's hyper-thumotic, ill-conceived attack is that Egypt, under pressure internally, has opened its border with Gaza, letting aid in. From TheGuardian: "Earlier, putting aside his hostility to Hamas, which has links to his political opponent, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, ordered that the crossing be opened until further notice. The move is being seen as a response to increasing Arab anger at what is perceived as Egyptian complicity in the blockade."

As important as the Al Gore-Tipper breakup is (Averted Gaze), the Israeli-Turkish relationship, internationally, has far greater consequences. If the Turkey-Brazil-Iran "deal" on nuclear power was a presentiment of the great global shift, the "Whoa-There-Rising-Powers" pushback was the old order reasserting itself to Turkish dismay. In a surreal moment that could have been scripted by Fellini, Turkey, not happy with the U.S. response, is considering bringing up the matter with NATO. From AP:

In a sign of the sensitivity of the raid on U.S.-Turkish relations, the State Department closed coverage of the meeting to the press. It had previously scheduled a photo opportunity, a venue in which reporters probably would have tried to ask questions.

Before they met, however, Davutoglu was perfectly open about the message he would convey to Clinton.

"I have to be frank: I am not very happy with this statement from Washington yesterday," Davutoglu said. "We expect a clear condemnation."

He said that Turkey, a NATO member, would bring up the issue soon at the security alliance's council.

"Citizens of member states were attacked by a country that is not a member of NATO," he said. "I think you can make some conclusions out of this statement."

A macho tragedy, to be sure. Behind the biochemical alpha-male musk lie planetary laws. Forces, according to Newton, are always produced in pairs, with opposite directions and equal magnitudes. And therein lies the tragedy. Of what I like to call "the macho tragic," I have written:

I find this macho Tragic for several reasons. For one, Baroquely macho behavior -- even in the most burly-assed mullet-wearing roughneck -- always suggests an almost touching insecurity ... Second, the sheer lack of self-consciousness as to how that machismo is perceived (the opposite intended effect) is sheer comedy. Third and finally, overmacho punkenheadedness almost always brings about an opposite and equal reaction, a countermacho. It is positively Newtonian how The Macho Tragic is unto itself a law of reciprocal shithead.

My profantity notwithstanding, you get the point. And with that rare condemnation by the UN Security Council, Netanyahu has isolated Israel. From AFP: "Britain, France, Russia and China -- four of the five veto-wielding Security Council members -- urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Even the United States, traditionally Israel's strongest ally, hinted that the blockade -- in place since 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory -- should at least be eased." Netanyahu's overemphasis on "security" has, ironically, placed the state of Israel in an astonishingly insecure position vis-a-vis, well, everyone in the region.

And therein lies the tragedy.

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