Egypt/Turkey: Breaking away from Israel

While Egypt’s revolution was very much about domestic matters — bread and butter, corruption, repression — its most immediate effects have been international. Not for a long time has Egypt loomed so large in the region, to both friend and foe. At least 13 of the 22 Arab League countries are now affected: Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

But just as powerful has been the resonance in Israel. It has no precedent for an assertive, democratic neighbour. Except for Turkey.

As the US was putting the finishing touches on NATO (established in April 1949), Turkey became the first Muslim nation to recognise Israel, in March 1949 (Iran did so a year later). Under the watchful eye of its military, Turkey and Israel had close diplomatic, economic and military relations throughout the Cold War.

The first hint of trouble was Turkey’s denunciation of “Israeli oppression” of the Palestinians in 1987, but it was not until the Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002 that a strong critical voice was heard. In 2004 Turkey denounced the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as a “terrorist act” and Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip as “state-sponsored terrorism”.

Saudi acquiescence to US-Israel hegemony is understandable because of the Saudi monarchy’s total reliance on the US dollar income from its oil. As US secretary of state Henry Kissinger told Business Week after Saudi Arabia defied the US with its oil embargo in support of Egypt in the 1973 war against Israel, any more such behaviour would lead to “massive political warfare against countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran to make them risk their political stability and maybe their security if they did not cooperate”.

His words were not idle. King Faisal, who had risked all to help the Egyptians and Palestinians, was assassinated shortly after that, and his act of defiance was the last peep heard from the Saudis. Or Egypt, which went on to make peace with Israel. Even as Turkey’s resistance to Israel has grown hotter, Israel continued to find comfort in the accommodating nature of president Hosni Mubarak’s rule, though it has been a “cold peace” between enemies.

Yes, enemies. For despite official relations and a trickle of photo ops of Egyptian-Israeli leaders shaking hands over the past three decades, 92 per cent Egyptians continued to view Israel as the enemy, according to a 2006 Egyptian government poll. Perhaps Mubarak also found maintaining good relations with Israel distasteful, but he complied with US wishes, getting the second largest US aid package (after Israel).

Current Israeli military strategy was honed in the early 1980s, after the elimination of Egypt as a military threat. Two names are identified with it. Ariel Sharon announced publicly in 1981, shortly before invading Lebanon, that Israel no longer thought in terms of peace with its neighbours, but instead sought to widen its sphere of influence to the whole region “to include countries like Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and areas like the Persian Gulf and Africa, and in particular the countries of North and Central Africa”. This view of Israel as a regional superpower/ bully became known as the Sharon Doctrine.

Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 followed traditional imperialism’s strategy of direct invasion and co-opting of local elites, in this case a Christian one. But already this strongman policy was losing its appeal. It didn’t work for Israel in Lebanon. There was always the risk of a strongman turning against his patron or being overthrown.

The more extreme version of the new Israeli game plan to make Israel the regional hegemon was Oded Yinon’s “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s”. Yinon was nicknamed ‘sower of discord’ for his proposal to divide-and-conquer to create weak dependent statelets with some pretense of democracy, similar to the US strategy in Central America, which would fight among themselves and, if worse comes to worst and a populist leader emerges, be sabotaged easily – the Salvador Option. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah described the Israeli policy based on Yinon in 2007 as intended to create “a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”

Yinon was using as a model the Ottoman millet system where separate legal courts governed the various religious communities using Muslim Sharia, Christian Canon and Jewish Halakha laws. Lebanon would be divided into Sunni, Alawi, Christian and Druze states, Iraq divided into Sunni, Kurd and Shia states. The Saudi kingdom and Egypt would also be divided along sectarian lines, leaving Israel the undisputed master.

“Genuine coexistence and peace will reign over the land only when Arabs understand that without Jewish rule between Jordan and the sea they will have neither existence nor security.” Yinon correctly observed that the existing Middle East states set up by Britain following WWI&II were unstable and consisted of sizable minorities which could be easily incited to rebel. All the Gulf states are “built upon a delicate house of sand in which there is only oil”.

Following on Yinon’s strategy in 1982, Richard Perle’s 1996 “A Clean Break” states: “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.”

Israeli internal security minister Avi Dichter said shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003: “Weakening and isolating Iraq is no less important than weakening and isolating Egypt. Weakening and isolating Egypt is done by diplomatic methods while everything is done to do achieve a complete and comprehensive isolation to Iraq. Iraq has vanished as a military force and as a united country.”

According to Haaretz correspondent, Aluf Benn, writing on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sharon and his cohorts “envision a domino effect, with the fall of Saddam Hussein followed by that of Israel’s other enemies: Arafat, Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Assad, the ayatollah in Iran and maybe even Muhammar Gadaffi.” By presenting the US with facts-on-the-ground and using its US lobby, Israel would keep itself at the heart of American plans for the Middle East.

The invasion of Iraq was always intended as a prelude to the invasion of Iran. The Israeli logic, which is hard to fault, is that with Iraq now occupied, unstable and its inevitably pro-Iranian Shia majority asserting control, Iran has been strengthened, and that the same war plan against Iran is necessary to defeat the chief remaining regional anti-Israeli regime, which is now gathering support from not only Shia, but from Sunni opponents to the US-Israeli project throughout the Arab world. Ben Eliezer told the gathering: “They are twins, Iran and Iraq.”

Despite Turkish storm clouds on the horizon, until 25 January 2011, Israel’s plan was still to replace the Ottoman Turks of yore as the local imperial power. The Arab nations (prepared by British imperial divide-and-conquer and local-strongman policies) would be kept divided, weak, dependent now on Israel to ensure safe access to oil. An Israeli-style peace would break out throughout the region.

But this tangled web has unravelled. Despite the $36 billion poured into Egypt’s military and Americanisation of Egypt’s armed forces since the peace treaty with Israel, according to US officials complained of the “backward-looking nature of Egypt’s military posture” (read: Israel is still Egypt’s main enemy), that the army generals remained resistant to change and economic reforms to further dismantle central government power.

Egyptian Minister of Defence Muhammad Tantawi “has resisted any change to usage of FMF [foreign military financing] funding and has been the chief impediment to transforming the military’s mission to meet emerging security threats.” In plain language, Egypt’s de facto head of state was criticised by the US because he refused to go along with the new US-Israeli strategy which would incorporate Egypt’s defence into a broader NATO war against “asymmetric threats” (read: the “war on terror”) and to acquiesce to Israel as the regional hegemon.

Mubarak was the Egyptian strongman that fit Sharon’s strategy for the region. But he was overthrown in a truly unforeseen manner — by the people. Yinon’s divide-and-rule strategy — in the case of Egypt, by inciting Muslim against Copt — has also come to naught with the popular revolution here, one of its symbols being the crescent and cross.

There has indeed been “a clean break” with the past, but not the one foreseen by Perle. His scheme can be rephrased as: Egypt and Turkey can shape their strategic environment, in cooperation with Syria and Lebanon, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Israel. As for Dichter’s hubris, it is impossible at this point to see what the future holds for Iraq, but it will not be what he had in mind. And Iran can now breathe a sigh of relief.

A year and a half ago, an Israel Navy submarine crossed the Suez Canal to the Red Sea, where it conducted an exercise, reflecting the strategic cooperation between Israel and Egypt, aimed at sending a message of deterrence to Iran. Just one week after the fall of Mubarak, the canal is being used to deliver a message of deterrence – but this time the message is for Israel, as Iranian warships cross the canal on their way to Syrian ports.

Nor are the upheavals across the Arab world at present following the sectarian scenario envisioned by Yinon. Even the Shia uprising in Bahrain is more about an oppressive neocolonial monarchy, originally imposed by the British, than about Shia-Sunni hostility.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has expressed fears about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood “undermining the peace treaty” which 85 per cent of Israelis approve of. But he need not fear. While Egyptians have no love for Israel, none contemplate another war against what is clearly a more powerful and ruthless neighbour.

What really hurts for the Likudniks is the new Egypt in cooperation with the new Turkey will put paid to the Sharon/ Yinon strategy for establishing Israel as the regional empire. It will have to join the comity of nations not as a ruthless bully, but as a responsible partner.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 24th, 2011 at 8:34am #

    however it may be right now; whatever games are being played, etc., let’s not ever forget an empire’s or a country’s supremacism always won thus far.

    and let us not forget that no longer a supremacistic country or empire attacks any other supremacistic country or empire of the same supremacistic ‘faith’ [read, please cult].

    in case of the attacks on supremacistic [highly inegalitarian] iraq, and afgh, diff cult may not be the only cause for fascist invasion of the two very evil empires.
    mind u, still much less evil than many others!

    iraq had also been socialist to a degree; however, much dysfunctional due to cultic and ethnic divisions! thus an easy target for world fascists! tnx

  2. bozh said on February 24th, 2011 at 8:49am #

    world supremacists may now see fascist israel as a liability. i wld say they loath-fear protests in muslim lands.
    these protests are, or seem to be, also fueled by what israeli supremacists [personal and ‘faith’] do to pal’ns.

    if the armies in protesting lands side with protesters, great cohesiveness among fascists build thus far, may severely wane.

    world supremacists may find a way out of this huge problem, but at an expense to israel.
    in any case, israel wld be rendered much less bellicose, intransigent. and inhumane!
    do we see a possible end of the ‘jewish’ state? hopefully, it comes about! tnx

  3. MichaelKenny said on February 24th, 2011 at 9:11am #

    A small aside. one aspect of the “new Egypt” is the about-face of the Al-Ahram journalists. Previously the “semi-official” mouthpiece of the ruling party, the Al-Ahram journalists are now presenting themselves as champions of a free press.

  4. shabnam said on February 24th, 2011 at 10:25am #

    {As the US was putting the finishing touches on NATO (established in April 1949), Turkey became the first Muslim nation to recognise Israel, in March 1949 (Iran did so a year later).}

    This statement is misleading.
    Iran NEVER openly recognized Israel, even under the Shah, because the public especially the religious groups were strongly against Zionism. What had happened was that the Shah allowed a delegation in Tehran which served as an UNOFFICIAL de facto embassy for Israel.

    The relations between the Shah and Israel were not publicized, but many people were aware of it, thus this relations was one of the sources of tension between the Shah and the people in Iran.

    Turkey on the other hand recognized Israel from the beginning and continued to this day, despite the fact Turkey wants to pretend her ties has been compromised by Israel’s action at the sea.

    Turkey, according to her foreign minister, has not received even an apology from Israel forget honoring one of the Turkey’s demand for improvement of ‘relations’ meaning “to break Gaza siege”. Turkey voted for Israel to enter the OECD after Israel killed many human rights activists at the sea. Turkey, apparently has forgiven all zionist crimes against humanity to continue his ties with Israel.


  5. Ismail Zayid said on February 24th, 2011 at 12:03pm #

    It is time that Egypt and Turkey, two major countries in the Middle East, as well as all neighbouring countries of the Arab world, begin to understand clearly the long-formulated Zionist designs for the Middle East. Besides the formulations, put forward by Oded Yinon, Richard Perle and Avi Dichter, amongst other current Zionist spokesmen, these ideas have been voiced by other Zioinist leaders, including Theodor Herzl and David Ben Gurion, amongst others. Their designs to fragment Lebanon and Iraq , by creating dissension between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon and Kurds and Arabs in Iraq have failed in Lebanon but are making continuing efforts in Iraq, which has been further fragmented thanks to the US-directed invasion of Iraq and the acquiescence of its allies in the neighbouring Arab states. including Mubarak’s collusion.

    The recent courageous revolution in Egypt brings promise and hope that the Arab world will finally wake up to the threats that Israel brings to this area, and become united to bring to a stop these imperialist designs led by the US and Israel.

  6. Rehmat said on February 24th, 2011 at 2:50pm #

    Turkey has not broken away from Israel – it has just got out of Zionist World (US, UK, France, Germany and EU) and joined its old Eastern roots. Egypt, on the other hand, still has to shake Zionist grip, but unfortunately, there is no Erdogan on the horizon to lead Egypt out of Israeli trap.

    Turkey beyond Israeli Hasbara

  7. 3bancan said on February 24th, 2011 at 5:23pm #

    Imho Eric Walberg wants to convince his readers that the Jewish colonial genocidal plans for the ME have somehow gone awry – because Iraq is not destroyed enough (too few millions dead for the good of the Jews), Iran has even “been strengthened” (probably by the sanctions of the zionazified “international community”) and there are still some Arabs there who dare to “raise their heads” and not obey the Jewish diktat – contrary to “the Israeli logic, which is h a r d t o f a u l t (sic!)”. (Obviously the invasion and occupation of Palestine and the genocide of its indigenous population, and the destruction of the neighbouring countries and massmurder of their populations is not enough for the Jewish genocidal overachievers.) The proof for the “failure” is found by Walberg in US officials’ complaint ‘of the “backward-looking nature of Egypt’s military posture”’, in Iranian warships crossing the Suez canal on their way to Syrian ports, in a complaint by a US diplomat that ‘Egyptian Minister of Defence Muhammad Tantawi “has resisted any change to usage of FMF [foreign military financing] funding and has been the chief impediment to transforming the military’s mission to meet emerging security threats”‘, in Arabs not cannibalizing each other at the Jewish diktat, … in what he interprets as the failure of “the Sharon/ Yinon strategy for establishing Israel as the regional empire”. He mentions that “85 per cent of Israelis approve” of the “peace treaty” – of course he doesn’t mention the reason why.
    In spite of all this tragedy he is an optimist: “While Egyptians have no love for Israel, none contemplate another war against what is clearly a more powerful and ruthless neighbour”, ie, nobody will/should oppose the chosenite barbarians. And after all the – nearly antisemitic – criticism he ends in the typical soft zionazi style: “It will have to join the comity of nations not as a ruthless bully, but as a responsible partner”, ie what they’ve stolen must remain theirs, their crimes against humanity must remain unpunished and the 7 millions Palestinian refugees must not get their land back. This is his Jewish justice.
    PS: I find assertions that Turkey is “anti-Israel” baseless. In the interview Turkish President Gül gave a couple of days ago not a single “bad” word vis-à-vis Israel was uttered. PM Erdo?an’s words spoken on his visit to Lebanon (“If the Zionist entity attack Lebanon or Gaza again, the loser will not only be the people of this region, but also the citizens of Israel” and “Do they think they can use high-tech weapons, phosphorus munition and cluster bombs against children and women, no, we will not be silent we will support justice by all means available to us”) are just diplomatic blather. Quite different from this action of his:

  8. Rehmat said on February 24th, 2011 at 6:23pm #

    Aluf Benn, an Israeli political analyst has lamented that the former US president, Jimmy Carter, will be remembered in history for losing Iran to Islamic Revolution in 1979 – and now, Obama will go in history for losing Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt to Islamists. (read US as ‘Israel’).

  9. catguy00 said on February 24th, 2011 at 8:02pm #

    Turkey refused to let US troops use its soil to invade Iraq.

  10. hayate said on February 24th, 2011 at 9:49pm #

    Instead of insisting Turkey go to war against israel, why don’t you lot insist your own countries go to war against israel. Insisting that other people fight your wars is exactly what israelis/Jewish zionists do.


  11. hayate said on February 24th, 2011 at 9:52pm #

    Put yourselves in the front lines, as well, instead of harping from the sidelines in total safety. That’s another thing Jewish zionists are expert at.

  12. catguy00 said on February 25th, 2011 at 8:56pm #

    “Instead of insisting Turkey go to war against israel, why don’t you lot insist your own countries go to war against israel. Insisting that other people fight your wars is exactly what israelis/Jewish zionists do.”

    Who are you talking to?