President Obama has wound up his Middle East trip, which included Israel, Palestine and Jordan, the region where conflicts are raging. There had been hopes there would be a breakthrough in the Israeli – Palestine deadlock, perhaps thanks to involvement of king Abdullah II of Jordan. It had been clear before the visit President Obama had nothing to offer that would be acceptable for the both sides, so the assistants focused on enhancing his image in the countries included into the trip’s plan… Observers never expected the talks in Tel Aviv to yield any results. In Ramallah the Palestinians were satisfied with the very fact the visit took place, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the attributes of statehood, but the agenda was viewed with restraint and caution. Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, has dismissed the likelihood of fruitful discussions about Palestinian statehood: «The primary purpose of this visit is Israeli security, Israeli-American relations and saying that the U.S. is back». (1)
The parties never said anything new related to Syria or Iran. The part of agenda beyond the Middle East conflict happened to be much more fruitful. For instance, the role of US as an intermediary in settling the differences between Israel and Jordan. Like on other issues, Obama displayed his preference for «soft» power and «smart» policy. That’s what he brought out distinctly on March 21, 2013 in the well prepared address for Israeli students in Jerusalem Convention Center. Experts compared it to the speech delivered before at Cairo University, an ideological center of Arab Spring. This time it sounded openly gratifying for Israelis, he played the students ego actually calling for displaying disagreement with the Israeli government. According to Obama, «Israel has built a prosperous nation – through kibbutzeem that made the desert bloom, business that broadened the middle class and innovators who reached new frontiers – from the smallest microchip to the orbits of space. Israel has established a thriving democracy – with a spirited civil society, proud political parties, a tireless free press, and a lively public debate – lively may even be an understatement. And Israel has achieved this even as it has overcome relentless threats to its security – through the courage of the Israel Defense Forces, and a citizenry that is resilient in the face of terror». He emphasized, «We have built a friendship that advances our shared interests. Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. Together, we share a focus on advancing economic growth around the globe, and strengthening the middle class within our countries. Together, we share a stake in the success of democracy». (2)An Arab student from Haifa tried to interrupt his speech and Obama said it was an example of free debate. The student was then rudely pushed out of the hall by guards, but the President appeared not to notice. (3)
He called for peace between Israel and Palestine; he didn’t stress the right of both for democracy and freedom, but rather focused on the fact that it was impossible to control the occupied territories forever. According to him, «Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine». He said Israel was strong enough to make peace with Palestinians and allow them to have an independent state. This way Israel will preserve its own identity and national identity. The US stands by the side of Israel, so it’s not alone.
As experts view it, the gist of the address in concentrated in his words that «Peace must be made among peoples, not just governments». He added, «Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see». Actually the President openly called the people of Israel to push the government for peace.
According to Maariv, a leading Israeli newspaper, the Obama’s words are a clear message to the Netanyahu’s government letting know the President doesn’t count on it anymore. (4) In other words, the President resorts to an intrigue instead of putting forward a demand that Israel abide by well-known international decisions concerning the issue of Palestine. Will it pay back? I doubt it. The popularity of Obama in Israel is at low ebb. Russian Israelis often remember his middle name is Hussein. According to polls, only 10% of Israelis view President Obama favorably. (5)It will probably be a no go with Israeli politicians. No way will they change their course; the attempts to destabilize the Israeli society may boomerang in a way the President wouldn’t like.
Washington could have easily solved the Middle East problem, if it wanted to. For instance, Avi Primor, former Israeli ambassador to Germany, told in an interview to Tageszeitung that Israel fully depended on the United States. «If not for the US, the United Nations would have imposed sanctions against Israel a longtime ago. If not for the US, Palestine would have been a UN member. If not for the US, our armed forces would have been less capable, up-to-date weapons come from the US gratuitously. If the US President wanted to do anything in concrete terms, he would have all the means to exert pressure». (6)
Barack Obama has no intent to use the means and exert pressure. All his eloquent calls for peaceful Middle East solution are nothing but empty words. Actually President Obama does more for Israel that his predecessors. For instance, the decision to deliver F-35, the fifth generation fighter, to Israel had been taken before similar plans were approved for NATO members.
The US provides funds for Hetz (Arrow) and Iron Dome air defense systems. When the situation exacerbated in the Gaza strip, Obama personally ordered additional funds for installing one more Iron Dome system in the area. Additional $200 million are allocated by the US this year for the Iron Dome program. According to the new US-Israel defense agreement for 2018-2027 Washington will provide $40 billion as a military aid package. The agreement comes into force right after the current one is expired, which stipulates that Israel gets three billion dollars yearly for military purposes ($30 billion in ten years). Let’s note the real volume of the aid to Israel is not known because the information is limited by FMF and DCS programs (direct arms deliveries). Israel gets aid through the State Department programs too. (7)
President Obama simply ducked the issue of crisis management avoid the reputation of the one who brings pressure to bear on Israel, so the mission is to be tackled by John Kerry, the new US Secretary of State. He is to kick off his own Middle East trip soon.
Israel is a key US ally in the Middle East. But it was not the only reason the President went there now. The Arab Spring goes on getting near to the Israeli borders. Jordan faces economic hardships. Its budget deficit is $3 billion while the whole budget is 9.7 billion dollars. King Abdullah II is opposed by Muslim Brothers – his traditional adversary. Now some of the tribes, that used to be his unconditional supporters, have switched sides. The US military aid to Jordan is $1 billion a year; it sends dozens of special operations troops to train the king’s personal guards. (8)Abdullah II does not trust his Circassians anymore. The US leader promised not to leave the king alone having a rough time.
The most interesting thing happened at the end, when Benyamin Netanyahu called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to apologize for the Freedom Flotilla incident upon Obama’s initiative and in his presence (to make sure he did?). Let me remind you, the ship Mavi Marmara was part of the flotilla, organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH). It was carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials, with the intention of breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip. The ship refused Israeli demands to change the course.
Israeli Shayetet 13 naval commandos boarded the ships from speedboats and helicopters in order to force the ships to the Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection. On the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, boarding faced resistance from about 40 IHH activists – described in an Israeli report as a separate «hardcore group» – who were armed with iron bars and knives. During the struggle, nine activists were killed including eight Turkish nationals and one American national, and many were wounded. All activist casualties were caused by gunshots, some of them at point blank range or from behind. Ten of the commandos were also wounded. Five other ships in the flotilla employed passive resistance, which was suppressed without major incident. The ships were towed to Israel, where all passengers were detained and deported.
Now, according to Israeli Prime Minister’s press-service reports, the both sides agreed to normalize the relations and return the ambassadors. (9)Before that Israel resolutely refused to apologize, something the Turkish government was insistent on.
As experts view it, the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey is a serious deviation from previous political course the Turkish government stuck to. It ushers a new element into the regional geopolitics. Israel was considered to be the one most interested in normalization of relations. But there have been signs recently Turkey wanted it too. Its armed forces depend to large extent on Israeli military technology and spare parts. Besides, the Syrian crisis made Turkey change the transportation routes for a large part of its exports. Now the commodities are transported through the Israeli sea ports of Haifa and Ashdod on the way to Jordan. It needs most favorable nation trade status there, something hindered by the aggravation of bilateral ties. Turkey views with hope the prospect of Israeli off-shore gas deliveries (large deposits have been discovered recently and to be developed) going across its territory. (10)
Trying to justify the recent unexpected turn in the government policy, the Ankara based strategic studies institute says, «The countries pursuing the goal of becoming a regional force, are prone to rush and use all the opportunities without looking back on where they come from. It’s a political imperative. Cheap conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism may boost standing in public opinion polls, but we should view the internal and foreign policy from point of view of national interest. The apology received from Israel gave Turkey a psychological advantage on the regional scale. Turkey’s image went up in the eyes of Arab world, as well as in Israel» (11).
The incumbent Turkish leadership is becoming more and more subject to what Washington says about Turkey’s special role in the region. Ankara starts to believe the United States can help it restore the grandeur of Ottoman Empire on the new basis of large spaces strategy. It should be taken into consideration that this way may lead to large damage to the country’s international standing and waste of national resources to serve other states interests.