April 13, 2024
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Kerry & Hagel Commit to Peace & Arms

The Middle East—John Kerry last week attempted to cement a positive relationship between Turkey and Israel, asking Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to make his planned visit to Gaza because it is unhelpful to the newly developing realities in the Middle East—which includes a necessary rapprochement with Israel and the Gulf States in the face of new threats from Iran and Syria. He also followed up on the pledge Erdogan made to U.S. President Barack Obama to normalize relations with Israel. A week later Secretary of Defense Hagel came to Israel bearing gifts, putting smiles on the faces of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Despite rumors to the contrary, Hagel is not expected to visit Turkey any time soon.

But all was not wine and roses. In a carefully worded diplomatic statement crafted for the sole purpose of winning back the hearts and minds of moderate Turkish citizens, and one that went viral, the U.S. Secretary of State said, “I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you,” Kerry said. “It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that.”

Republicans and tilted-to-the-right organizations in the United States, such as HonestReporting.com, Commentary, the National Council of Young Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition, immediately issued harsh statements concerning Kerry’s comment, as did members of right-leaning Israeli political parties. They accused Kerry of using moral equivalence to equate terrorists with terror victims. However, the feeding frenzy on the Internet was quickly squelched, as top Israeli officials stayed mum.

As one informed observer noted, “Attacking Kerry for his statement is counter-productive and can harm Israeli security. The U.S. has a vested interest in both countries—as stable democracies and strategic allies. They all share common concerns regarding the Iranian bomb and the disintegration of Syria. There are also concerns that Sarin gas will be transferred to Hezbollah, which is as much a threat to the Turks as it is to Israel. Kerry’s statement was delivered to benefit Israel’s security options—and to an extent, it did work.”

Celalettin Yavuz, deputy head of the Turkish Centre for International Relations and Strategic Analysis in Ankara, told Mifta.org, the Palestinian news outlet, that domestic issues sparked Erdogan’s trip. “He is trying to win points with the [Turks] by saying ‘I am going to Gaza despite what America and Israel say.’” Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is also unhappy about the trip, which is to take place next month, because he feels it empowers his rivals, Hamas.

At the same time, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent trip to Israel, confounded his critics, the members of the GOP who tried to block his appointment, by saying he had joined “Friends of HAMAS,” a non-existent organization, and accusing him of calling Israel an apartheid state, which he did not do. Instead, he reiterated his strong personal commitment to the peace process, Israel’s right to defend itself, and full American backing if needed.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was clear: “In the past four years, we’ve greatly enhanced the defense and security relationship between Israel and the United States, and I am absolutely confident that we will continue to further strengthen this under your stewardship of the American defense establishment.”

Politico, a right-oriented political blog with influence on Capitol Hill quoted a senior defense official who was in Israel with them. “In Hagel’s meetings with Israeli leaders—including Prime Minister Netanyahu—they repeatedly offered strong praise for President Obama. They believe he is strongly committed to Israel’s security and clearly understands how Israel views the security challenges in the Middle East.”

The arms deal consummated last week included anti-radar missiles and advanced radar systems, some of which President George W. Bush had withheld from the Israelis.  Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was blunt. “I want, Chuck, to express my personal appreciation for your friendship and for your solid and powerful support for our country. Toda raba.”

By Jeanette Friedman

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