יום שבת, 31 בדצמבר 2011

Iran, engagement, appeasement and war

It is difficult to reconcile support of democracy, of free elections, of removal of dictatorial regimes, with a call for "tedious diplomacy," for engagement and for appeasement of not yet fallen structures of power, which a democracy would destroy. For the sake of argument let us assume that Israel is of no concern, because Iranians only talk about destroying it, but do not really mean it, or because security and existence of Israel is of no national interest to the US. In this case Iran needs nuclear ability in order to increase its power in the region, to control its neighbors, and to have an overwhelming influence on the oil market. A primary energy commodity will be in the hands of an unfriendly country. Iran will control the world oil price, and consequently the economy of the US. Since it will have nuclear weapons, when for instance, as it is threatening today, it will close the Hormuz straits, the counter threat by the Fifth Fleet, would be meaningless, unless nuclear war is tolerated.

In the preceding scenario, Israel was set aside. The supporters of engagement, be it or not an euphemism for appeasement , claim that Iran talk about attacking Israel is meaningless. It is hard to see how the pundits know how to distinguish between true and false Iranian talk. Be this as it may, since Israel's existence would be in line, Israel will respond by disregarding any interest, which is not its own and act as it deems best for itself.
The only way to avoid war is to press with hard sanctions and prepare for war. Anything else makes the war unavoidable.

יום ראשון, 25 בדצמבר 2011

Turkey , Israel, and the Kurds

Contemporary Turkey, although ruled by AKP, a Muslim religious party, strictly adheres to the nationalistic concept of nation-state as defined by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the father of Turks). The concept is similar to that of inter war Poland, which had one nation, one language, one religion vision. In spite of that, again like Poland at that period, it has a substantial minority of non Turks. The more difficult the minority problem is, the more nationalistic Turkey becomes. The Islamic parties in the Arab spring countries reject the Turkish model of governing, not because of theology, or balance between being Muslim and secular, but because they do not accept the nations state, as the primary factor in the life of its community members.

Turkey, like any other country, has a natural interest in its neighbors. The Kurdish problem in Turkey, makes this interest much more acute than usually expected. 

American victory in the cold war showed once again that every major victory may contain seeds of decline. Maintaing Pax Americana is as difficult as was keeping Pax Romana in the world. Lack of simple clear cut division between two powers brings about independent policies and conflicts in many places. The empire never has the resources nor the will and determination of controlling far away discords.

Until the end of the cold war Turkey was a loyal ally of the US in its rivalry with the Soviet Union. As such it maintained close relations with Israel too, where it was believed to be a strategic partner. Now Turkes follows a much more independent stance.

Turkey came to the conclusion that close relationship with Israel limists its flexibility in relations with Iran, Syria, Iraq and the whole region. Furthermore, severe critism of Israel has a major propaganda advantage in the Arab world. The decline of the Army in Turkey and change in its leadership faciliated the change of attitude toward Israel. In spite of that, strangely as its sound, the trade between the twol countries flourishes. It grew substantially after the Gaza flotilla incident.

In Israel, many believe, that this is still a reversible process and dream of return of the "strategic alliance." Although many influential Turks, among them Fethullah Gülen, who was instrumental in helping AKP to become the ruling party did not approve the anti-Israel turn, and although the UN Palmer committee in essence justified Israel in the Marmara incident, Israeli response was extremely cautious, as if walking on egg-shells. Israel largely did not follow the harsh language of Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Davutoğlu. What is more important, it did not object to US selling weapons to Turkey, as it usually does when arms are sold to unfriendly countries. It also might have influenced its friends in America not to object either. Cautious Israeli response was perceived by Turkey as weakness. It was damaging in the sense that it allowed President Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan to forge a friendship, notwithstanding the anti-Israeli turn. It also gave Turkey the false impression that the influence of Israel in the US is wanning. The fact that, strangely as its sounds, the trade between the two countries flourishes and grew substantially after the Gaza flotilla incident, may have enhanced Israel's rather naive hopes.

Turkey made a strategic decision about Israel and it is difficult to see any advantage for it in reversing the turn, It is high time for Israel to accept the state of affairs with Turkey realistically and define its response. Many in Israel see, at least emotionally, in the more than 30 million Kurdish people an ally because of history of repression and common residence of being surrounded by hating neighbours. During the Sadam Hussein repression Israel maintained defense and intelligence relations with Mustafa Barzani and the Kurds in Iraq. Today in Iraqi Kurdistan operates an Israeli Kurdish educational institute with its own weekly publications.

Nobody claims that Kurds, unlike Palestinians, are invented people. They have at least a thousand years history, a language and culture of their own and national aspirations for an independent state, or at least autonomy. Iraqi Kurdistan is semi-autonomous since American invasion of Iraq. It is, so far, the only tangible achievement of this war. In Turkey, Syria and Iraq the repression of the Kurds continues. It is time bring about  for Kurdish people too, a new spring. Israel can and should be a leader in such effort in the United States and other places. More independence for the Kurds will change the map of the Middle East, the position of Israel in it, and will contribute to peace, or at least to more favorable balance of power.

יום שישי, 23 בדצמבר 2011

Leopold Unger -- A Jew from Lwów

Leopold Unger 1922-2011, a Holocaust survivor, was a prominent journalist and intellectual. Because of the 1968 antisemitic campaign he left Poland and lived and worked in Brussels. In 2007 in the exhibition "Where is Lwów (Lemberg in German, Lviv in Ukrainian)?" in the New Synagogue in Berlin Unger had a statement to make.  Gazeta Wyborcza reprinted it, in the original  Polish, on the occasion of his death, few days ago.