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TURKEY: AKP WIN OVERSHADOWED BY CORRUPTION SCANDAL, SOCIAL MEDIA CENSORSHIP, & CONFRONTATION WITH SYRIA — WILL ISRAEL TIES BE RESTORED?

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail: rob@isranet.org

 

The Trouble in Turkey: Tom Rogan, National Review, Mar. 24, 2014— Across the Black Sea, about 330 miles directly south from the Russian forces in Sevastopol, Crimea, is Ankara, Turkey.

Turkey’s Teflon Don: Jonathan Schanzer & Emanuele Ottolenghi, Foreign Policy, Mar. 31, 2014 — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan triumphantly addressed thousands of supporters last night from the balcony of his party's headquarters in the capital of Ankara.

Will Regional and Domestic Challenges Force Renewed Israel-Turkey Normalization?: Sean Savage

, JNS, Mar. 31, 2014 — Today Canada’s foreign minister proved once again why the Great White North is one of the world’s outliers with regard to the Middle East.

The Ottoman Revival Is Over: Elmira Bayrasli, New York Times, Mar. 30, 2014— For Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s embattled prime minister, a win in Sunday’s local elections will be a Pyrrhic victory.

 

On Topic Links

 

Syria Deploys Anti-Aircraft Missile Batteries Along Turkish Border: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2014

Turkish Leader Disowns Trials That Helped Him Tame Military: Tim Arango, New York Times, Feb. 26, 2014

U.S. Recording Studios Embroiled in Sprawling Turkish Government Scandal: Lisa Fleisher & Joe Parkinson, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2014

No Crimean Wars for Turkey: Dimitar Bechev, European Council on Foreign Relations, Mar. 13, 2014

                  

THE TROUBLE IN TURKEY                   

Tom Rogan

National Review, Mar. 24, 2014

 

Across the Black Sea, about 330 miles directly south from the Russian forces in Sevastopol, Crimea, is Ankara, Turkey. There you’ll find Recep Tayyip Erdogan — another fervent authoritarian. Last Thursday, Erdogan tried to “wipe out” the ultimate 140-character threat: Twitter. His intention was to dampen allegations of corruption that have engulfed his administration. Then, yesterday, Erdogan answered the questions of those who had been asking whether we’d see a Wag the Dog type of conflict in Syria. In an apparently calculated act, a Turkish air-force jet downed one of Assad’s bombers. In some sense, of course, this air attack wasn’t exactly a bad thing. After all, Assad is using his bombers to annihilate the Syrian people. Nevertheless, considered together, Erdogan’s latest actions should trouble us.

 

For a start, they come from a troubling playbook. At home, Turkey’s leader has repeatedly proven he’s willing to use violence to quell dissent. As Turkish investigative journalists have found, inquiry can easily end up in incarceration. In his foreign policy, Erdogan has shown a similar penchant for extremism, as typified in his reaction to the 2010 Gaza-flotilla incident. As Netanyahu formally apologized for the death of nine Turkish citizens aboard the flotilla, Erdogan cranked up the tension by calling Zionism a “crime against humanity” and comparing it to fascism.

 

The latest incidents continue in this vein and suggest that Erdogan is capable of just about anything. Think about the irrationality of his Twitter war. The Internet is a frontierless informational commons. In political terms, it’s a realm that’s extraordinarily difficult to control. That’s especially so in Turkey, where a young population has easy access to technology. Unsurprisingly, as the BBC explains, Erdogan’s ban is proving to be an unbelievable farce. In fact, far from silencing his critics, the prime minister has only reinforced their vocal anger, as Turkey’s explosion of tweeting illustrates. Turkish society is increasingly fragile — last summer’s bloody showdown in Istanbul’s Taksim Square shows that — and Erdogan seems determined to expand the divisions. In a sign of Turkey’s internal conflicts, even Erdogan’s fellow party leader, the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, has condemned him, albeit probably in part because he wants Erdogan’s job.

 

These are the facts. But how do we explain the social roots of Turkey’s increasing instability? First, we can blame the battle between Erdogan and Turkey’s political establishment. As Mustafa Akyol has noted, Turkey is suffering from the long-term rot of its political class. Decades of corruption have insulated powerful interest groups at various levels of Turkish political society. Born partly of Turkey’s turbulent military-political history, this rot is made worse by the absence of credible non-partisan institutions and by the flourishing of political patronage. Thus, as Erdogan seeks to consolidate his authority, he’s being challenged by others who are committed to retaining their power.

 

Second, Erdogan’s populist-ideological struggle with Turkish secular society is a destabilizing force. Many secularists once regarded Erdogan as a tolerable figure, but the majority of them now share the Kemalist assessment of him: He’s an existential threat. Fearful of Erdogan’s creeping authoritarianism and of his intoxicated, hectoring diktats (aimed at both public and private behavior), many now see him as the corporeal figurehead for an approaching Islamic dictatorship. Correspondingly, the more aggressive Erdogan becomes in his social restrictions, the louder and more desperate is the opposition response.

 

To be fair, we must accept that Erdogan retains significant popularity within his party, the AKP. Regarding education and the economy (notwithstanding Turkey’s problematic current account deficit), his record is at least somewhat impressive. More important, in his mix of fiery nationalism and genuine Islamism, Erdogan has offered his supporters an imam Ataturk. That ironic character sits well with the AKP party faithful, those who regard Turkey as a proud beacon for political Islam. Still, it’s increasingly clear that Erdogan’s unrestrained ambition is leading his nation down a hard path. In the arrogance and entitlement he displays when attacking his opponents, Erdogan reveals himself as calculating and gleefully undemocratic. In the unpredictability of his Syria policy, he adds another dimension to an already brutally convoluted war. And for a leader so personally associated with political Islam, Erdogan’s paranoid intolerance is an uninspiring example for that cause. Attentive to these truths, Erdogan would be well advised to find some humility. If he fails to do so, Turkey and the world will face an increasingly precarious future.                                    

 

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TURKEY’S TEFLON DON                                                 

Jonathan Schanzer & Emanuele Ottolenghi                                

Foreign Policy, Mar. 31, 2014

 

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan triumphantly addressed thousands of supporters last night from the balcony of his party's headquarters in the capital of Ankara. He thanked his supporters for "protect[ing] the ideal of a great Turkey," and promised to deal decisively with his enemies. Despite a litany of leaks that raised questions of corruption within the top ranks of his government, Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured a comfortable victory in the country's municipal elections, which were largely viewed as a referendum on Erdogan himself.

 

With a grueling campaign behind him, Erdogan is riding high. But even if he increasingly looks bulletproof among Turkey's electorate, he still should be worried about how the most recent corruption allegations will damage Turkey's sagging standing in the West. Two weeks ago, a Turkish prosecutor's report that included 300 pages of corruption allegations against his government leaked to local media. The leak was undoubtedly an attempt by Erdogan's enemies to weaken him before the elections — the top suspect is presumably followers of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, who have been accused of leaking damning recordings of top Turkish officials discussing everything from how to hide millions of dollars to whether to provoke a war with Syria.

 

The prosecutor's report sheds further light on Turkish involvement in a money-laundering scheme that helped Iran evade international sanctions. It has already been revealed that Turkey helped Iran profit from some $12 billion in illicit gold sales between 2012 and 2013 — but the scope of the money laundering is now alleged to be even greater. The prosecutor's report charges that a raft of front companies and intermediaries across Turkey – with help from entities in Dubai and China — helped launder Iranian oil and gas revenues.

Due to U.S. sanctions, Iran's foreign currency was locked up in escrow accounts overseas that the regime could only use in local currency to buy local products. Turkey now appears to have been Iran's country of choice to circumvent these strictures. The bulk of this illicit activity appears to have been between 2012 and 2013; it's unclear whether it is still ongoing.

 

As the report explains, Turkish front companies issued invoices for fake transactions for goods such as food and medicine that were permissible for Iran under international sanctions. For example, the report cites one May 2013 invoice detailing a luxury yacht company selling nearly 5.2 tons of brown sugar to Iran's Pasargad Bank, with delivery to Dubai, using Turkey's state-owned Halkbank at the whopping price of 1,170 Turkish Lira per kilo — the equivalent of approximately $240 per pound. This is a classic example of a money laundering technique called over-invoicing, which "allows illegal organizations the opportunity to earn, move, and store proceeds disguised as legitimate trade." In this way, at the height of the sanctions regime designed to deprive Iran of cash, Iranian banks accumulated untold sums in hard currency from Halkbank, where Iranian funds from oil and gas sales to Turkey were held in escrow, only to be transferred as approved transactions. Indeed, the bank transactions receipts in the prosecutor's report include assurances that the "goods and services are not related to EUR Reg 423/2007 and 428/2009" — the European legislation restricting authorized exports to Iran.

 

The Turkish network bypassed past sanctions offenders, which had already been cut off from the financial system, and instead moved funds through companies in Turkey and money exchange houses in Dubai (which may well have converted the Turkish lira to more universally-accepted currencies, like dollars or euros). The funds eventually made their way to the handful of Iranian banks — including Karafarin, Pasargad, Parsian, Saman, and others — that were not cut off in 2012 from the SWIFT electronic transfer settlement platform. The Iranian money also passed through China. The prosecutor's report, along with a leaked document believed to have been issued by Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT), further asserts that Turkey was working with Chinese banks to process transactions that helped Iran circumvent sanctions. It is unclear whether the banks were aware of this. Nor is it clear whether the five China-based international trading firms were cognizant of their role in the complex financial scheme — but the prosecutor's report specifically demonstrates that there were millions of dollars moved to Iran in bank transactions involving several of these entities. The proof comes in the form of actual SWIFT receipts.

 

The prosecutor's report further alleges that several Dubai-based entities played an integral role in Turkey's illicit scheme with Iran. Al-Nafees Exchange and Al-Massoumi General Trading, based on phone transcripts, are alleged to have issued forged invoices to other companies involved in the scheme. The prosecutor's report also confirms countless stories out of Turkey that identify Reza Zarrab, an Iranian with Turkish nationality, as the lynchpin of this scheme. Barely 29 years old at the time of his arrest, Zarrab rose quickly from obscurity to celebrity gossip status by amassing a fortune and splashing it around. He boasted a pop-star wife, yachts, private jets, a $72-million villa, and a racehorse (registered in his wife's name) aptly named "Duty Free." Zarrab apparently financed his lavish lifestyle by leveraging a complex web of companies — sometimes officially owned by close associates — to rake in healthy commissions on Iranian transactions.

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link  -Ed.]                                       

 

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WILL REGIONAL AND DOMESTIC CHALLENGES FORCE RENEWED ISRAEL-TURKEY NORMALIZATION?                             

Sean Savage

JNS, Mar. 31, 2014

 

Israel’s relations with Turkey, once its closest Muslim ally, have grown increasingly strained under the leadership of Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But after formally severing ties due to the fallout from the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Israel and Turkey are reportedly on the brink of restoring full diplomatic relations. In the midst of a messy election year in which Erdogan faces domestic political backlash over his increasingly authoritarian and Islamist policies, as well as the presence of growing regional threats like Syria and Iran for both Israel and Turkey, what would normalization offer the former allies? “The domestic situation in Turkey is extremely tense and polarized,” Dr. Michael Koplow, who maintains a blog on Turkey and Israel called “Ottomans and Zionists” and serves as the program director at the Washington, DC-based Israel Institute think tank, told JNS.org. “Turkey is quickly hardening into dueling camps of people who believe every allegation that is made against the government and people who believe that none of the allegations have a shred of truth to them,” he said.

 

Since taking office more than a decade ago, Erdogan’s biggest claim to success has been the stability he has brought after decades of military coup d’états. Under his leadership, the economy has dramatically improved and the country’s international profile has grown. But that success has dwindled over the past year, with a growing number of Turks becoming disenchanted with Erdogan’s increasing authoritarian policies, including attacks on the media, judicial system and military as well as political corruption in his AKP party and a stalling economy. This came to a head last summer when protests called the “Gezi Park Protests” erupted in Istanbul and quickly spread to other major Turkish cities…

 

Amid the domestic upheaval, Israel and Turkey are reportedly nearing a deal on restoring ties. A NATO member, Turkey in the past found Israel to be a reliable ally against 20th-century threats like pan-Arabism and communism. But with the rise of Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party, strong ties with the Jewish state became a political liability as Erdogan sought to reassert Turkey’s role as a Middle Eastern power. The situation reached a breaking point in May 2010, when eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish American were killed in clashes after they attacked Israeli soldiers on board the Mavi Marmara flotilla, which was trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. The incident led a formal suspension of Israeli-Turkish ties. According to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, a deal under which Israel would pay compensation to the families of the Turks killed abroad the Mavi Marmara could be signed as early as April, the Daily Hurriyet reported.

 

 “The gap between the expectations of the two sides is closing,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuoglu told AFP. “Progress has been made to a great extent, but the two sides need to meet again for a final agreement.” A flotilla compensation deal would lead to a restoration of full diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey, including the reopening of embassies. There have even been reports that Erdogan would visit Israel and the Palestinian territories. While reports of the deal appear have appeared in Turkish media and have cited Turkish leaders, the Israeli government has denied that a deal is imminent. Koplow believes the impetus for reconciliation on the Turkish side has come from two places— pressure from the U.S., and a string of foreign policy failures over the past year. “The Turkish government believes that making up with Israel will alleviate some of the recent tension with the U.S., and President Obama reportedly emphasized his expectation that Erdogan make tangible moves toward patching things up,” he told JNS.org.

 

The U.S. has been highly involved in fixing the relationship of its two key Middle East allies. In March 2013, during his publicized trip to Israel, President Barack Obama pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call Erdogan and apologize for the deaths of the Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara. After the call, Erdogan’s office issued a statement saying that Turkey valued its “friendship” with Israel.Yet since then, negotiations on restoring ties have been slow to bear fruit, despite several rounds of talks over compensation. Some in Israel are skeptical of Erdogan’s true intentions in the negotiations.  “I’m not certain that Erdogan is committed to a deal, as long as he demands the removal of the blockade on Gaza, there is no deal as far as Israel is concerned,” Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on Turkish-Israeli relations, told JNS.org.

 

While it remains uncertain if Erdogan is truly motivated to restore ties with Israel, on a geopolitical level, a Turkish-Israeli alliance would enable both countries to confront myriad of regional threats. “An Israeli-Turkish alliance makes sense in a lot of ways. Both countries have need of countering and containing Iranian regional influence, both countries border an increasingly unstable Syria, and both countries can benefit from Israel’s natural gas finds as Turkey is a large energy importer while Israel is now poised to be an exporter,” Koplow said. But the biggest challenge for restoring ties may lie in the growing anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in Turkey, undoubtedly fostered by Erdogan and his AKP party. While Turkey has a sizable secular population with strong ties with Europe, most Turks, like their counterparts in the rest of the Muslim world, do not have a favorable view of Israel, and anti-Semitism is rampant in the country…            

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link –Ed.]                           

                                                                                                 

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THE OTTOMAN REVIVAL IS OVER                                                             Elmira Bayrasli    

New York Times, Mar. 30, 2014

 

For Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s embattled prime minister, a win in Sunday’s local elections will be a Pyrrhic victory. While his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., will likely retain a majority of municipalities, Turkey as a whole, particularly as an international player, has lost. Mr. Erdogan’s decade-plus grip on power has been weakened by anti-government protests, corruption allegations, and an ugly confrontation with the powerful and admired Muslim religious leader Fethullah Gulen. In a desperate effort to prevent any further hemorrhaging of his power, Mr. Erdogan has abandoned the ambitious foreign policy that was the basis for Turkey’s regional resurgence in recent years and has resorted to attacking his enemies. The prime minister is now so fixated on his own political survival that he recently attempted, in vain, to shut down Twitter across the country.

 

It’s a far cry from 2003, when Mr. Erdogan ascended to the premiership and announced a determined and democratic agenda to strengthen Turkey’s economic and global standing. I visited him soon afterward in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. He told me then, “There are approximately 72 million people in this country — and I represent each and every one.” To represent everyone, he pushed for the passage of laws that granted increased freedoms to Turkey’s minorities, particularly the Kurds. He implemented economic policies to increase foreign investment. He reached out to far-flung capitals in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, opening more than a dozen embassies and many new markets. He even secured a rotating seat for Turkey on the United Nations Security Council in 2009 and made contributions to Washington’s “war on terror.”

 

Nearly every road that has been fixed, public transportation project approved, school built and reform passed has been done so with an eye to extending Turkey’s regional and global influence. In 2009, Mr. Erdogan began to advance a “zero problems” foreign policy. The brainchild of his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the policy was predicated on the idea that Turkey isn’t merely a “bridge” or “crossroads” between East and West, but an integral player in international diplomacy, security and trade. Turkey sought closer relations with neighbors in the Balkans, Russia, and especially the Middle East. “Zero problems,” guided Mr. Erdogan to deepen ties with Turkey’s southern and eastern neighbors, including Iran and Syria. Both became major trading partners and, in Iran’s case, a vital source for Turkish energy.

 

Some have called it “neo-Ottomanism” — an attempt to restore the former Ottoman Empire and its vanished regional glory. Whatever the label, Turkey managed to become a key foreign policy player in the eyes of American and European leaders. President Obama traveled to Turkey in 2009 and spoke about the country’s strategic importance and increasing global role. During the Arab Spring, Western leaders held Turkey up as a progressive and prosperous democratic model for other Muslim-majority nations. Mr. Erdogan even took Turkey further toward European Union accession than any leader before him. That model has now crumbled and the bold foreign policy agenda that made Turkey the world’s 16th-largest economy has disappeared. The once dynamic economy has weakened, consumer confidence has declined and the Turkish lira has depreciated nearly 20 percent since May 2013.

 

Beset by domestic crises, Mr. Erdogan has turned his focus toward his core constituency, a largely conservative, anti-Western population in the heartland. In doing so he has reverted to a tactic that has resonated with them: aggression. Frantic to recreate the enthusiasm he garnered after storming off a panel with Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, in Davos in 2009 and his decision to cut ties with Israel after Israel attacked a Turkish flotilla in 2010, Mr. Erdogan has ramped up hostile rhetoric against his opponents — abroad and at home. He has attacked what he calls the “interest rate lobby,” called last summer’s protests a “dirty plot by foreign-backed elements,” and blamed the “provocative actions” of “foreign diplomats” for concocting corruption allegations. Recently, he slammed Mr. Gulen and his followers as a “spy ring” seeking to overthrow the government.

 

Moreover, Mr. Erdogan’s current governance strategy has gutted the country’s foreign policy. Nearby Crimea, a former Ottoman stronghold and the native land of the Tatars, an ethnic Turkic people, is a case in point. When Russia invaded and annexed the Black Sea peninsula, Mr. Erdogan failed to come to the defense of his cultural and religious brethren, as he did in Egypt. Indeed, after the Egyptian military ousted Mohamed Morsi in July, Mr. Erdogan dismissed their actions as “illegal,” refused to recognize the new government and recalled Turkey’s ambassador to Cairo. On Crimea, the Turkish prime minister has restricted himself to grunts of disapproval despite the fears of the Tatars who will now fall under Russian control just 70 years after Stalin deported hundreds of thousands of Tatars to Siberia.

 

Mr. Erdogan may believe that his tactics have worked. But in the long run, he’ll have to accept that his increased belligerence has isolated his country. When it comes to regional issues like Egypt, Iran and Iraq, the United States has now largely marginalized Turkey. Not too long ago, the common question posed in Western capitals was “Who lost Turkey?” Many fingers pointed at Brussels and Washington. But today, as the prime minister steers Turkey away from its path of prosperity and international relevance toward antagonism and repression, the answer seems to be Mr. Erdogan himself.                             

                                                                                                 

                                                                          

Syria Deploys Anti-Aircraft Missile Batteries Along Turkish Border: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2014

Turkish Leader Disowns Trials That Helped Him Tame Military: Tim Arango, New York Times, Feb. 26, 2014

U.S. Recording Studios Embroiled in Sprawling Turkish Government Scandal: Lisa Fleisher & Joe Parkinson, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2014

No Crimean Wars for Turkey: Dimitar Bechev, European Council on Foreign Relations, Mar. 13, 2014

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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