Saturday, June 23, 2012

Escalation Unlikely after Syria downs Turkish F-4

June 23, 2012

I have been meaning for sometime to write about the deteriorating situation in Syria. With over 15,000 people dead, the far-majority protesters, but many government forces also, Syria is looking more and more like it is in a state of civil war. As the bombardment of anti-government cities, such as Homs, is continuing with brutal force and massacres of the civilian population occurring with no end in sight, the western countries remains with their hands tied due to the fact that Russia is standing behind the Syrian regime blocking any intervention on behalf of NATO, or Europe. Further, all attempts by the UN to stop the violence has proven inefficient. The situation is grave.  

Turkish Newspapers covering the downing of the Turkish fighter plane
As for Turkey, it has used all of its political ammunition to no avail, with the closing of all mutual political representation over a month ago. Even, a  military conflict between the two states seemed closer than ever a few weeks back when Syrians were firing over the border at the refugee camps which are housing over 30,000 Syrians who have fled out-of-fear of the Assad regime. However, yesterday, with the downing of a Turkish fighter plane off the coast of Syria not far from Turkish airspace, tensions between Turkey and Syria have entered a dangerous state.  Syria has tried to ease the tensions claiming they did not realize that it was a Turkish plane, something which does not makes sense.Until now, there is no word of the two pilots who have gone missing.  

The Turkish newspapers today were filled with headlines such as Syria is "Playing with Fire," and President Abdullah Gul stating that such an incident cannot "go ignored," hinting at possible action. The Turkish government has been meeting with army officials but has remained silent until now.  Whatever the case, it seems that Ankara will not opt for military intervention and is not interested in an escalation.  Syria is far too messy to get involved with and any Turkish intervention will just lead to a more chaotic state.  Likewise, it is unclear why Syria would shoot down the Turkish jet and who in the chain of command ordered this. It would seem unlikely that anyone high up ordered this but rather it was a an officer who acted out of the moment, showing extremely poor judgement. This point actually might be the core problem: the Syrian forces are losing hold, leading to splits within the military and a break in the chain of command. Planes are "just not shot down," and President Assad is not that stupid to pull Turkey into the conflict. 

While in my opinion, no immediate Turkish reaction is on the horizon (apart from a slap on the hand), this incident brings Turkey closer to supporting the Syrian opposition, and working towards a NATO/European coalition to interfere in Syria during the next few months; something which seems even more possible with the recent warming of ties between France and Turkey, following the election of the new French president Francois Hollande. In any case, it is clear that with the breaking up of Syria into warring camps, Turkey will need to brace itself for future unrest on its long southern border with Syria, and work hard not to get dragged into an unnecessary war.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Netanyahu and the Failures of the Mavi Marmara Flotilla Incident

While the recent publication of the Israel Comptroller’s damning report of the government’s handling of the Mavi Marmara Flotilla incident most likely will not have any immediate repercussions concerning Turkey and Israeli relations, it certainly will be a stain on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s standing in the world community. Further, this will supply leverage to Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan to continue to press for an Israeli apology. While this is not in the forecast, this report is the greatest proof that Israel would be wise to reconsider the price they are paying by continuing to remain at odds with Turkey, and the benefits they could reap by mending ties. 

The report that came out two days ago sent out a strong message not only to Netanyahu, but also Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. As for Netanyahu, the State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, focused on numerous failings in the decision-making process, going as far to say that the “decision making process regarding the dealings with the Turkish flotilla led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and under his responsibility was found to include essential and significant flaws.” The report goes into detail of lack of communication between the army, and basically a case in severe mismanagement.  For the full details, one can look at the following article in Haaretz. However, it is clear that Lindenstrauss’s message is clear: the outcome could have been different.

According to the report, the then Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, made numerous references that taking over the ship could turn into violent confrontation. In terms of the sheer damage that such an operation would create, Ashkenazi stated that “completing the IDF's stated mission as it has been defined for it will lead to confrontation with foreign nationals onboard and will create a provocation which will serve to further fan the flames of criticism already targeting Israel.” Yet, the Prime Minister along with Defense Minister Barak chose that the violent outcome over diplomacy. 

Lindenstrauss also had strong words for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stating, “The Foreign Ministry is struggling to act properly in the realm of public relations due to the wide gap between what is required of it and the ministry’s limited abilities.” This should be no surprise, as Foreign Minister Lieberman has proved time again his lack of knowledge concerning basic diplomacy.    

Despite the stern words which targeted the highest echelon of Netanyahu’s government, the Prime Minister brushed off the criticism stating that Israeli citizens’ sense of security is proof of the success of his policies.  However, what about the life which could have been spared on the Mavi Marmara? What about the damage which it has caused Israel in terms of foreign-relations? 

With the recent joining of the large opposition party, Kadima, to Netanyahu’s government, making this the largest government in Israeli history, with Netanyahu holding 94 seats out of 120, no criticism from a State Comptroller will make a difference.  Therefore, it seems unlikely that even in light of such a critical report any change is on the horizon. What is clear is that this is one more reminder that the Mavi Marmara Flotilla will go down as one of the biggest public relations fiascos in Israeli history.   

Of course, the incident will continue to occupy news reports. The Turkish side is continuing to push on and in November four military officers, including former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will be tried in absentia in Turkish courts for the death of the nine Turkish citizens killed. And, the story goes on and on…more to come.....

Here are links to the report in Hebrew...

Monday, June 4, 2012

When Language becomes Violent: the (lack of an) Abortion Debate in Turkey

Within a week of my arrival back to Turkey, Prime Minister Erdoğan threw the country into a frenzy by claiming that “that every abortion equals an Uludere,” equating abortion with the killing of 34 innocent civilians by Turkish armed forces, who mistakenly were thought to be PKK militiamen due to botched intelligence.  This affair, which occurred on 28 December 2011, has continued to top the agenda in Turkey with the government trying to dodge any responsibility. With this one sentence, Erdoğan succeeded in swaying attention away from Uludere and changed the agenda to abortion.  First, it needs to be said that the comparison between abortion and jet fighters bombing innocent civilians left most accepting that this was yet another one of Erdogan’s blunders. However, the Prime Minister also unleashed a violent campaign of words against women who have legally chosen to abort their pregnancies, by stating that abortion is equal to murder.  If this was not enough, he also confused most people by claiming that equally worrying for Turkey is the high rate of c-sections, as this put the country’s women at risk of limiting their birthrate to two children. Lastly, the icing on the cake was his hinting that both c-sections and abortions was the result of a conspiracy to limit Turkey’s young population from growing at an expansive rate.

Within hours, the media and politicians grabbed on this and as a result the last two weeks or so we have seen numerous “men” come out with the harshest of words, with the news outlets filled with such language as cinayet (murder) and tecavuzculer (rapists). Especially showing their insensitivity have been members of the ruling AK party who have stated that they will do their utmost to make almost all abortions illegal and this even including women who have been raped. The health minister, Recep Akdag, offered a solution to these victims of rape, stating that the state would be in charge of taking care of the new class of orphans, basically meaning that rape victims would have to serve a nine-month term holding a baby. Of course, not taking into consideration the pain and emotional damage thousands of women will go through; of course, not taking into account that without an abortion option, women most likely will be subjected to more violence due to cases of honor killings which will occur once they are found pregnant. Not to mention cases where women will be carrying the baby of a member of their family as a result of familial rape (an issue discussed on one Turkish television channel this evening). Not to think about the number of women who will opt for suicide, try to perform self-induced abortions, or find themselves injured in illegal clinics.  

The violent language however reached a new high with Ankara’s mayor Melih Gokcek offering a solution to the women that have no mercy for their unborn fetuses. Gokcek, who ironically is trying “to protect life,” asked why should the child pay for the crime of the mother, [in that case] let the mother kill herself. 

Well, it seems if the government has it their way, within the near future, the time limit to abort will be lowered from ten to four weeks, a stage where pregnancy often can go unnoticed.  We will need to wait and see the stipulations which come with the new sanctions. 

I suppose the tragedy in this is that the government has shown that it is not interested whatsoever in opening this topic to a debate with the medical world and the public at large. Overnight, they have attacked women’s right over their body and did so in a reckless and hurtful way. Numerous demonstrations have been held, and on the nightly news one demonstration in Ankara caught my attention. It was a group of women hitting the police with sticks and confronting the police force’s batons and shields. Of course, the sticks were symbolic and posed no challenge but it reflected the polarization we will see with one sided decisions by a government which has a strong enough majority to create new status-quos with the snap of a finger. Furthermore, with a government with almost twenty male ministers and only one female, they should think twice about what the real issues women deal with on a daily basis, such as violence and a lack of education, just to name a few. However, sadly they have demonstrated the opposite.