Archive for ‘Mediterranean-Caucasus’

April 3, 2012

Israel Should Mark April 24th as Armenian Memorial Day

by Gedalyah Reback
Armenian school girls hold signs as they demonstrate in front of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in October, 2007.

Armenian school girls hold signs as they demonstrate in front of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in October, 2007.

Last May, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin pledged he would recognize the Armenian Genocideon the floor of the parliament. Rivlin is a careful and moderate member of the Likud Party, but he’s been hawkish about the issue. Since 2008, the Knesset has been debating (in closed committee) whether or not to officially recognize the genocide. Last year, they opened the discussions to the public. Why such difficulty recognizing the genocide that Hitler supposedly used as a model for the Holocaust? One so important to World War I and the direction of the Middle East in the 20th century? Quite simply, it would piss off Turkey.

Turkey still refuses to recognize the magnitude or viciousness of the slaughter, arguing the numbers of those killed and the circumstances – battle as opposed to systematic murder.

Armenia's Colors and Coat of Arms

Armenia's Colors and Coat of Arms

But Turkey’s on the outs with Israel. So, here we go. He should have the opportunity to bring up the issue again after the current Passover break. With Shaul Mofaz looking to make an impact, he should be able to bring Kadima on board. The coalition should support it. Last year, in a committee vote of 20-0, the issue was referred to the Education Committee for further review. Last December, when France passed a bill criminalizing Armenian Genocide denial, Rivlin came out again in favor of Israel’s official recognition of the disaster.

While Israel’s ally Azerbaijan doesn’t recognize it either, Azerbaijan would have little to gain from protesting Israeli recognition. The recognition will also deepen Israel’s relationship with Christian countries like Greece and Cyprus. Turkey loses credibility whenever it speaks about the diplomatic consequences of countries’ official recognition of the crime. Without leverage on Israel, the Jewish voice on the matter will weigh heavy against Turkey in the court of international opinion. Whatever problems Israel has diplomatically, its authority on genocide issues and its intimate connection to the Holocaust make the Jewish point of view extremely important to advocates of genocide prevention and recognition (see Armenia, Rwanda, Darfur).

Rivlin will have his chance soon. So will the entire Knesset. it’s a disgrace it has taken so long. Perhaps this year there will be something different.

The Breadth of the Armenian Genocide

The Breadth of the Armenian Genocide

Further Reading: Turkey loses its genocide-denying pals in the Israel lobby

April 1, 2012

Outside Arabia: Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel’s Strategy

by Gedalyah Reback

Month to month, there is some report about Turkey’s distaste for Israeli policy or the Jewish state getting cozy with one of Turkey’s immediate neighbors. Today was Israel’s latest military exercise with Greece. The exercise involves the United States Navy and is actually the replacement for the NATO-affiliated exercises Israel once joined that had a central presence by Turkey. Israel doesn’t have to go far to find some way to exploit the divide between Greece and Turkey.

There isn’t the sort of tension that led to Greek revolutions against the Ottoman Empire of the past, but the diplomatic differences are still there. Issues revolve around Turkey’s ally Northern Cyprus, and Greece’s ally (the southern) Republic of Cyprus.

But the more important story this week was about Azerbaijan. Israel’s government has gone out of its way the last 15 years to create a strong relationship with Iran’s secular neighbor. The article speculated Israel could use Azerbaijan either to stage rescue missions and “clean-up” crews for the aftermath of a strike on Iran, or even use it to launch the operation itself. Despite the heavy political implications and exposure to Azerbaijan’s security, the story’s reporting does broaden our general perspective of how versatile Israel’s strategy is.

There are a bunch of other countries that Israel has interest in. It doesn’t have to involve Iran. But these stories and more in the pipeline should wake up anyone studying the country. There’s slightly more to Israel’s military and foreign interests than just the United States, Iran and the Palestinians.

June 9, 2010

The Cyprus Model? (NYTimes Blog, "Evaluations")

by Gedalyah Reback

by Ross Douthat for the New York Times

The Cyprus Model?
June 8, 2010, 3:33 pm

David Frum argues that the relative stability of a politically-divided Cyprus, half Turkish and half Greek, offers a model for Israel and Palestine:

Despite the fuzzy legal status of the North — despite lingering angry feelings between Greeks and Turks — peace has in fact settled upon Cyprus.

There has been no major violence on the island since the mid-1970s. The economy on both sides of the line has grown handsomely in recent years. Barriers between the two sides — including physical barriers — have begun to open. Greek Cyprus belongs to the European Union and uses the euro; Turkish Cyprus does not. Greek Cyprus has a seat at the UN; Turkish Cyprus does not.

But if Turkish Cyprus does not have a legal existence as a country, it nonetheless exercises the functions of sovereignty. Turkish Cyprus keeps the peace on its side of the line: It tolerates no terrorist groups and shoots no rockets.

And over time, the two sides have approached closer and closer to mutual acceptance. Younger Cypriots seem increasingly bored by the ancient dispute. … Will the two sides ever ratify a formal peace? Who knows? And how much does it matter?

Frum’s column deserves to be read alongside my colleague Tom Friedman’s piece last week on the slow-but-steady institutional progress being made by Mahmoud Abbas’s quasi-government in the West Bank. Both make a plausible case for what might be called post-peace process optimism: The hope that if Israelis and Palestinians stop investing all of their energy into the dream of a final settlement — what Aaron David Miller provocatively calls “the false religion of Mideast peace” — they might be able to make a kind of organic progress, à la Cyprus, toward a world where a formal peace treaty is almost beside the point.

But to return to yesterday’s point, the Cyprus model depends on a much cleaner separation — indeed, a U.N.-monitored buffer zone — between the warring parties than seems imaginable in the Holy Land at the moment. And this, again, is the case for Israeli disentanglement from its occupied territories: So long as the current intertwinement endures, any incremental progress toward peace, prosperity and stability will remain a hostage to the politics of occupation. Just ask Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s impressive prime minister, whose technocratic élan has helped midwife an economic revival in the West Bank — but who still feels the need, as Slate’s Michael Weiss points out, to play the rabble-rouser on the settlement issue:

If Fayyad’s stock has gone down in Israel, it’s because of his emergence as the public face of the settlement-boycott movement in the West Bank—a policy that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls “economic and political warfare” and settlers call “economic terrorism.” Fayyad has attended protests, which now average 40 per week, as well as various “bonfire” ceremonies, where settlement-made goods are incinerated. The Palestinian Authority has said that by the end of the year, all West Bankers employed in settlement industries must find alternative means of income. His most provocative measure so far was organizing the failed attempt to prevent Israel’s entry into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, because he says it is keeping a single ledger for domestic and settlement accounts. Only the former, he insists, should make it eligible for inclusion.

Israeli admirers say that Fayyad is merely doing what any politician in the region has to do: indulging in the theatrics of “resistance” in order to maintain credibility with the people. Many Palestinians wonder at Fayyad’s true political motives; the settlement-boycott movement began at the grass-roots level and, depending on whom you talk to, the Palestinian Authority has either hijacked it in order to claim credit for the idea or infiltrated it in order to tame its more radical exponents and forestall a worst-case scenario: the outbreak of a third intifada. As one of Fayyad’s own officials recently told The Economist, that dreaded contingency is all too real, particularly beyond the well-patrolled cities of the West Bank.

When a Palestinian leader can govern, and state-build, without looking over his shoulder for an intifada, I’ll believe that Israel and Palestine are on their way to a Cyprus-style detente. Maybe Ariel Sharon may have had a plan to make that possible, but I’m pretty sure the current Israeli leadership doesn’t.

June 5, 2010

For Many, it’s about Much More than Just a Blockade

by Gedalyah Reback

The best step to ending the blockade is the invasion and overthrow of Hamas once and for all. That is not a guaranteed result of any invasion, and any invasion as necessary as it is would never get the support it deserves. Israel has not been given a choice vis a vis its war with Hamas. There is no buffer zone the country can make to protect Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod from rocket attacks from the strip – all those cities are within range from any position in the Strip.

Occupying the strip would be the next best option, but would put the country in a further diplomatic bind. International peacekeepers have failed to prevent the rearmament of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and remain as useful as they were in the prelude to the Six Day War in 1967, when the President of Egypt Gamal Nasser demanded the UN force there abandon their positions so Egypt could establish a springboard position for invasion of Israel from within the Sinai.

What form of self-defense is legitimate here? Israel is being pushed against a wall when even its limited use of military power is considered illegitimate. The diplomatic pressure on the Israelis to end wars as soon as they begin – such as accusations of disproportionate use of force before evidence of such even presents itself – compels a mentality that Israel would have to use even heavier firepower in greater quantities in order to deter future attacks on Israelis – symmetric or asymmetric. In other words, rather than a careful campaign that can focus on tactical targets, Israel is given a time limit that encourages sloppiness and increases the likelihood of mistakes.

Israel has long faced irrational international pressure over its combat efforts – the Soviet Union cut off relations with Israel after the Six Day War, and the UN censured Israel’s use of force on that occasion (in the face of public threats by Arab leaders to annihilate the country) as well as following the Entebbe Raid in 1976.

The accusation that Israel’s siege mentality is unjustified, as has been repeated ad nauseum over the past week, is itself baseless. Israel has responded with heavy military operations in response to great threats to its citizens, and has consistently pocketed several victories – Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, I would argue the deterrence factor following the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and the near-total lack of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead.

Yet, with every military operation, come some amount of diplomatic fallout be it based on propaganda or political considerations. The IDF was exonerated after an investigation of a massacre in Jenin – the casualty numbers cited by accusers were inflated 10 times the correct count and all casualties were combatants. Israel was accused of targeting civilians in 2006, when in fact Hezbollah has never been forthcoming about how many “combatants” died during the war. And of course, last year Turkey decided to consider its political opening in the Middle East by publicly using every opportunity possible to attack Israeli policies in order to earn favorable public opinion (never mind Turkey’s own stated policies of military occupation of the Kurds).

European pressure to immediately accuse Israel of war crimes before such evidence of them having occurred is available – notably the idea of disproportionate force – has diluted European credibility in Israel to absurd lows. The term was even used incorrectly on several occasions, as if using air power against inaccurate rockets was illegal. Any enemy target is legitimate in war. But European politicians’ description deliberately misleads, as if it required a state to act in self-defense in a tit-for-tat and any expanded campaign against hostile targets that went beyond, say, merely eliminating rocket launchers.

This combination of factors has forced Israel into a siege mentality. Perhaps my own perspective of the situation is worth a psychological analysis, but these are undeniable facts relating to Israel’s defense policies over the last 10 years – since the rebuff at Camp David.

This has become an issue about more than just the international community’s demands to compel Israeli withdrawals from hostile territory. More and more, the right wing in Israel is seeing its narrative reaffirmed as to the unfair treatment Israel’s defense policies have gotten. It is encouraging further self-reliance. feeding into the present cycle of military action and diplomatic fallout.

What this is leading to is not a breaking point for the Palestinians – as claimed by Mahmoud Abbas, or a breaking point for Turkey – which took its own initiative to downgrade ties with Israel and upgrade with Iran on its own. Israel feels that it has to further increase its military prowess. This is the mentality in the country, not necessarily the strategy that military brass will outline if any fundamental changes are to some to national defense strategy.

Israel will be wise to fix its reputation by changing many domestic policies and its attitude within the West Bank and vis a vis Gaza, as well as its diplomatic situation. But expect Israel to start preparing to move harder and faster than it ever has before. More and more, Israel will be forced to act in the dark, which means a jolt to Israel’s intelligence strategy and secret operations. Most of all, it will prepare itself to go beyond limited military confrontations in order to fully eliminate threats that put Israel in these diplomatic binds in the first place.

June 2, 2010

Once and for All, Israel Must Increase its Soft Power

by Gedalyah Reback

“Disproportionate power, sometimes called ‘hegemony’, has been associated with leadership, but appeals to values and ideology also matter, even for a hegemony . . .”

These are the recent words of American political scientist Joseph S Nye, in an article entitled “Recovering American Leadership.” He is widely credited with having pioneered the conceptual theories of “soft power,” which contrasts with the ability to economically or militarily exert influence over other political entities, i.e. “hard power.”

Israel has built up an incredible military strength out of necessity, surviving numerous attempts to jeopardize the existence of the country and the ability for it to sustain itself. In so doing, it has developed a perhaps unmatchable sense of self-reliance when it comes to military conflict, showing a willingness to battle with several state and non-state actors at once without the help of allies.

The last ten years has coupled this attitude with a general sense of anger and isolationism in Israeli society. Israelis and their supporters the worldover have more and more lost faith in a workable agreement with any Palestinian political faction, and a willingness to rely on more aggressive military campaigns to intimidate rivals Hamas and Hezbollah from attacking Israelis and their interests.

These efforts have worked. But analysts near universally say those efforts only result in a temporary payoff. The war in 2006 certainly prevented Hezbollah from attacking Israel during Operation Cast Lead. Operation Cast Lead itself led to the quietest year for Israeli security since the inception of the state. But the price of these operations is building a bigger tinderbox with each future war.

These efforts rely entirely on hard power – military onslaughts and economic sanctions. The failure by Israel’s leadership to cultivate soft power has enabled simple PR stunts to isolate the country diplomatically, be it under the Likud-led right wing coalition of Benyamin Netanyahu, or the Kadima-led center-left alliance of Ehud Olmert.

Israel has yet to reconcile itself with the changing winds in the Middle East, namely the undeniably growing influence of Islamist parties. The myth that they are universally opposed to reconciling themselves with the existence of the State of Israel has to be undermined.

Israel’s policy toward Islam is seemingly non-existent. More often than not, the country’s leadership relies on the Western prejudices toward Muslims to cultivate support for the country’s policies against Hamas and Hezbollah. This is a risky attitude, because it fails to detail the precise reasons the country finds itself in conflict with these entities and prevents policymakers from drawing distinctions between these Islamist groups and other Muslim political actors.

Israel’s relationship with Turkey had long been based on military pragmatism. Given Turkey’s recent realization ties with Israel were an obstacle to cultivating its own soft power over its neighbors – political mediation and trade cooperation for example – that foundation is obviously floundering. Turks, especially those who affiliate with the views of the AKP, see no reason to maintain any ties with Israel, especially given the strength of Turkey’s own armed forces.

Israel will itself have to invest in positioning itself like Turkey has. Without a natural bond with neighboring countries like the same religion, it will have to be based on values and pursuit of certain mores. It would entail emphasizing what values Jews would hold common with Muslims.

Islam itself is in a state of crisis. While religious violence is a symptom of it, the greatest problem the religion faces is the quality of its educational structures. The stability and credibility of many major religious figures is lower than it has been in generations, and the standards implemented for resolving religious disputes and questions are criticized as simplistic by many Muslim theologians and academics.

With that leaves an opening for giving a little while getting a little. It is in the interests of Israel to couple any political outreach to Palestinians, or Jewish outreach to Israeli Arabs, with a growth in Islamic institutions in Israel that host the most respected and moderate scholars in the Islamic world, giving them much more presence and labeling Israel as a country where the freedom of Islamic thought actually does exist in contrast to the countries around it.

But all this carries minimal benefit to the country and would have to be conjoined with several other efforts directly aiming to increase Israel’s softpower on a global scale.

The deteriorating relations between Israel and the diaspora is scandalous. The tremendous resources of the Jewish community and its disproportionate involvement in charitable, investment-worthy causes worldwide should be utilized as a conduit for Israeli involvement in humanitarian projects, global political campaigns and efforts to help the third world that will cultivate a stronger diplomatic and economic card in developing nations.

Given most of the Jewish resources linked with innumerable amounts of aid efforts are heavily rooted in the American Jewish community, Israel has to renew its efforts to reach out to that community and address its needs. What is viewed as idealism is in reality a matter of national interest not beyond the political capabilities of the state. The government here has to turn its Ministry for Diaspora Affairs into something serious, aimed at helping every major movement in American Judaism and pushing their leaders to form more cohesive streams of Jewish religion and culture in the country.

Without the influences of language and religion, Israel will lose its pull with the Jewish communities of the United States and Europe in the next generation. On the other hand, the demand for a stronger education system within the Jewish communities of the world leaves a wide opening that Israel has to fill. Students in Jewish schools should not only be able to manage a prayerbook, but also communicate freely with Israelis or read modern Hebrew newspapers. Recent generations of American Jews have shown how the crippled education structure has left a void in tangible support for the Jewish state.

Financial power is a necessity that needs more expansion rather than development.
The Jewish communities of the world carry disproportionate weight in the economies of developed countries. These resources need to be sought after, and encouraged to open up new bases of operation, if not completely shifting major business headquarters, to Israel’s major cities.

The obvious need to increase the number of immigrants relates to the matter of human resources. Israel can challenge its competitors in the region with its rapidly growing population and ability to affect economic development in neighboring states. Be they Jewish or not, people who are distinctly Israeli should be more often crossing borders to conduct trade, consulting and planning foreign investments.

But most importantly comes the need for more political influence in neighboring countries. For too long, Israel has been afraid to engage friendly politicians publicly for fear of resprisals against those allies. With the tremendous abuse of minority groups in most of Israel’s immediate neighbors, it is in the interest of the country to be seen as refuge and redeemer for those groups. Tens of thousands of non-Muslim refugees from Iraq and non-Arab victims from Darfur have been left broken by the last decade’s conflicts. Israel should make its business the be the regional advocate for abused minorities, identifying with their respective plights as long disposessed victims of oppressive, majoritarian societies. What restrictions currently exist on refugee intake have to be eased and a center for support be developed in the country, with a path open to integration into Israel’s society.

Whatever value crisis the State of Israel is currently having with the strong liberal tendencies of the world’s Jews sees alleviation in a massive campaign to not only reshape Israel’s image for image’s sake, but to actually alter Israel’s attitude toward the world around it and simultaneously increase the quality and breadth of the country’s power. Self-reliance cannot be allowed to consolidate itself in the form of isolationism. The tenaciousness of the country to resist the world’s own disproportionate political demands was ensnared this week in a situation that should not have been so difficult to explain to the world. The country’s existence may not be on the verge of destruction, but the ability of it to control its own destiny certainly is.

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