TURKEY’S RUSSIAN & KURDISH CONFLICTS ESCALATE, MEANWHILE, AN UNEASY “HANDSHAKE” WITH ISRAEL

Will Turkey, Russia Fan Flames Into an Inferno?: Metin Gurcan, Al-Monitor, Feb. 4, 2016 — On Jan. 30, Turkey said its airspace was again violated by a Russian warplane.

Undoing Years of Progress in Turkey: Abdullah Demirbas, New York Times, Jan. 26, 2016— Entire towns and districts are under siege. Tanks ram through narrow alleys closed off by barricades and trenches.

The 'Ripple Effect': Canada's Support for the Kurds Brings Unintended Consequences: David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, Feb. 5, 2016— Whenever he is asked what direction Canada will take in fighting Islamic extremists in Iraq, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan points to what he calls the “ripple effect.”

Turkey and Israel: A Loveless Date: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, Feb. 9, 2016 — There is official evidence and credible speculation that Turkey and Israel may be on the brink of a historic handshake.

 

On Topic Links

 

Merkel Voices 'Outrage' Over Syrian Offensive and Russian Airstrikes: Arne Delfs, Onur Ant, Patrick Donahue, Bloomberg, Feb. 8, 2016

Turkey: Reaching Limits But Will Keep Taking in Refugees: Mehmet Guzel & Suzan Fraser, Washington Post, Feb. 7, 2016

Precarious Syria Talks Leave its Future Uncertain: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2016

Turkey Planning $5 Billion for Gaza Seaport: Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva, Feb. 5, 2015

                  

WILL TURKEY, RUSSIA FAN FLAMES INTO AN INFERNO?                                                                              

Metin Gurcan

Al-Monitor, Feb. 4, 2016

 

On Jan. 30, Turkey said its airspace was again violated by a Russian warplane. A statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry said a Russian Su-34 warplane on Jan. 29 had violated Turkish airspace despite repeated warnings in Russian and English.

The statement said this was yet another concrete indication of Russia’s escalation despite clear warnings by Turkey and NATO. The statement said, “We are calling on Russia clearly to act more responsibly and not to violate NATO airspace.” It warned that Russia would bear full responsibility for any consequences that could arise from these “irresponsible actions.”

 

The Russian ambassador in Ankara was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on the night of Jan. 29 to receive a protest of this violation. In turn, the Russian Defense Ministry called the claims "pure propaganda," according to the statement. That incident followed a Turkish F-16's downing Nov. 24 of a Russian Su-24 warplane that was giving air support to ground forces operating in Syria’s Bayirbucak region.

 

What makes the more recent violation different, however, is the type of the Russian plane involved. The Su-34 Fullback was armed with R-77 and R-73 air-to-ground missiles and designed for air-to-air combat. After the Nov. 24 downing, Russia had announced that Su-34s were now flying combat air patrols near the Turkish border.

 

The Su-34 is a tactical bomber that was being developed in the late 1980s to replace the Su-24. Its main function is to hit targets deep behind front lines at long distances with sophisticated guided missiles. It is fully equipped with advanced navigation and targeting systems. Su-34 development and mass production was stalled for a long time because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and consequent economic problems. The project was reactivated in the early 2000s and mass production began.

 

According to Arda Mevlutoglu, an aeronautics and space engineer, today Russia is believed to have about 100 SU-34s in its arsenal. He said there are six Su-34s and 12 Su-24s in Syria, supported by 12 Su-25 close air support planes. “Russian air power in Syria relies on Su-34s when attacking important ground targets," he said. "Now it appears that they are using Su-34s also against targets close to the Turkish border. This signifies that Russia is now more cautious about the possibility of encountering Turkish F-16s.”

 

Mevlutoglu’s disclosures can be best interpreted in the following way: Russia has upped its game by using Su-34s that have interception capability in critical operational missions near the Turkish border, and is saying that if Turkey challenges the planes, it will have to pay the price.

 

We hear about airspace violations only if the violated country reports it. Although Russia denies that it has violated Turkish airspace, if Turkey says it was violated, it means Turkey wants the international public to know about it. The intention is hidden in the emphasis on ‘‘NATO airspace” in the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement. That is how Turkey wants to get the support of NATO — in particular, the United States. Ankara believes Russia was probing the strength of Turkey-US and Turkey-NATO ties.

 

Another element that sets the latest airspace violation apart from earlier ones is its location. Although Ankara has not announced the location, observers believe it took place in the Turkish border region that faces the Azaz-Munbij front, which is currently controlled by the Islamic State. If this is accurate, Russia is telling Turkey openly that it seriously intends to maintain the de facto no-fly zone it has established over the Jarablus-Munbij areas, which are also of major concern for Turkey.

 

Russia’s first airspace violation with the Su-34 over the critical Azaz-Munbij front was clearly a deterrent message against Turkey. Turkey, by responding with strong words, had indicated that it has seen the Russian move and was notifying the United States and NATO that their support is required. If Russia is serious in its intentions, there will probably be more hot contacts between Russian Su-34s flying on the Azaz-Munbij front that includes Jarablus, and the Turkish F-16s that are flying round-the-clock patrols on the Turkish side.

 

Can Ankara-Moscow relations be normalized? According to Russian expert Habibe Ozdal of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Agency, more time is needed to know. Commenting on the airspace violation, she accurately predicted some new "aftershocks" in bilateral and regional issues are unavoidable, She said, "Although the opposing views of Turkey and Russia about the PYD’s [US-supported Kurdish nationalist Democratic Union Party] participation in the Geneva talks are known, these Russian moves in Syria escalate tensions. It is clear that Russia is not targeting Turkey militarily. But at this phase there is no room for mistakes in bilateral relations. All military, political, social and cultural relations between Ankara and Moscow have been suspended, but meanwhile, the process to determine the future of the Middle East continues. It is obvious that the crisis in relations won’t serve the interests of both countries.”…               

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

 

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 UNDOING YEARS OF PROGRESS IN TURKEY                                                  

                           Abdullah Demirbas

New York Times, Jan. 26, 2016

 

Entire towns and districts are under siege. Tanks ram through narrow alleys closed off by barricades and trenches. Residents are trapped indoors for weeks because of curfews. Those who venture outside risk sniper fire. Their bodies lie on the streets for days before they can be collected. Bullets fly in through windows and buildings collapse under shelling, killing those seeking shelter at home.

 

This is not Syria. This is Turkey, the European Union candidate country once hailed as a champion of the Arab Spring. The conflict that restarted here after the breakdown of talks between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., last summer has turned into a devastating war in Kurdish towns and cities.

 

One of the most affected places is the city of Diyarbakir’s historic Sur district, where I was mayor from 2004 to 2014. Sur has been under 24-hour curfew since the beginning of December. Many of its neighborhoods lie in ruins. Its historic buildings are damaged, once busy shops are shut, hospitals lack staff, and schools are closed. Tens of thousands of people have fled.

 

Sur’s walls surround an ancient city that has been inhabited for millenniums. Its narrow streets, spacious courtyards and elegant stone structures are reminders of a rich multicultural legacy — a legacy that has survived, albeit in an impoverished state, a century of conflict. Small but increasingly visible communities of Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Yazidis and other minorities live alongside adherents of diverse interpretations of Islam in what is now a predominantly Sunni Kurdish town.

 

Over the past decade, our municipality worked hard to revive and preserve this heritage. We oversaw the restoration of many historic buildings, including mosques and churches. The reopening of the Surp Giragos Armenian Church, which is now the largest Armenian church in the Middle East, after nearly a century in ruins has encouraged “hidden” survivors in Turkey of the 1915 genocide to rediscover and embrace their heritage. Efforts to restore the old synagogue in memory of Sur’s once vibrant Jewish community were underway before the eruption of violence last summer.

 

In 2012, Sur’s community leaders established an interfaith dialogue group bringing together representatives of the region’s different religions, cultures and civil society groups. Known as the Council of Forty, it has played a crucial role in keeping sectarian violence from reaching our city. Thanks to its efforts, Sur came to symbolize the vision of peaceful coexistence in a region plagued by intolerance. It causes me immense grief to see that pluralism fall apart along with Sur’s buildings.

 

Sectarianism is destroying Syria before our very eyes. To avoid the same fate in Turkey, the Council of Forty has called on the government to lift the curfews, and asked all sides to end hostilities and return to peace talks within the framework of parliamentary democracy.

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently that military operations in the besieged Kurdish towns would continue until they were “cleansed” of terrorists.” “You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug,” he threatened. But what peace can be built through destruction? Decades of military policies against the Kurds have shown only that violence begets more violence. Many residents of these towns are poor families who were forced to flee the countryside when the conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state was at its peak in the 1990s. Those who are digging trenches and declaring “self-rule” in Sur and other cities and towns of southeastern Turkey today are mostly Kurdish youths in their teens and 20s who were born into that earlier era of violence, poverty and displacement, and grew up in radicalized ghettos.

 

Now a new generation will grow up with the trauma of killing, destruction and forced migration. Where will they go? What will become of them? And how will an angrier generation of Kurds and Turks find common ground? The truth is that my generation may be the last to reach a peaceful settlement through dialogue. Dialogue is possible when those in power want it. Last spring, the two sides were on the verge of a breakthrough after two and a half years of negotiations. The Kurds, when given a real and fair choice, have repeatedly picked politics over violence and opted for coexistence in a democratic Turkey, where their rights and identities are recognized, over separation. But as the destruction goes on, their faith in a political solution withers.

 

In 2007, Sur became the first municipality in Turkey to offer services in local languages, including Kurdish, Armenian and Assyrian, besides the official Turkish — a move that infuriated the authorities in Ankara, the capital, and led to my removal as mayor. In 2009, months after being re-elected with two-thirds of the vote, I was arrested on charges of separatism. (I was released five months later on health grounds and kept my role as mayor throughout my arrest.) As I was rounded up along with hundreds of Kurdish activists and elected politicians, my teenage son left our house to join the P.K.K. “You are wasting time with your politics and dialogue,” he told me. I dedicated my life to trying to prove him wrong and bring him home in peace. I have been discouraged before, but never lost hope. Today, I struggle to keep that hope alive.

 

 

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THE 'RIPPLE EFFECT': CANADA'S SUPPORT FOR THE KURDS

BRINGS UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

David Pugliese                                                                        

Ottawa Citizen, Feb. 5, 2016

 

Whenever he is asked what direction Canada will take in fighting Islamic extremists in Iraq, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan points to what he calls the “ripple effect.” The Liberal government, he says, wants to ensure that its actions don’t make matters worse. In Afghanistan, for instance, the West’s support for corrupt individuals helped drive some of the population into the arms of the Taliban.

 

In Iraq, Islamic extremists took advantage of grievances felt by some groups and recruited those individuals into their ranks, explains Sajjan, a former Canadian Forces officer and Afghan war veteran. This time will be different, he says. “When we look at the decisions we make, the policies we create, we have to figure out what ripple we’re creating,” Sajjan said recently at a foreign policy conference in Ottawa. “We may not be able to control all the ripples that are out there, but we can control the ripples that we create.”

 

Can we? The ripples Canada is making in Iraq now, even before it announces its next steps, may already be flowing in directions we did not intend. Since the fall of 2014, Canada has been providing equipment and military training to Kurdish troops in northern Iraq. Canadian special forces have been working closely with the Kurds, providing them with skills needed to field a modern army.

 

And while the Kurds have used that training to fight Islamic extremists, such skills will also be useful in the future for another goal that Canada does not endorse: their plan to separate from Iraq. “The problem with training foreign forces is that you never know what they will put those skills to use for in the future,” said Walter Dorn, a professor with the Royal Military College. “With the Kurds there is the danger we are supporting a secessionist movement.”

 

The Liberals still have to decide how they want to proceed with the Iraq mission, an announcement that is imminent. Military sources say the government is leaning towards keeping the Canadian military’s aerial refuelling aircraft within the U.S.-led coalition, as well as providing more surveillance planes.

 

But also high on the list of options is providing the Kurds even more training. A new Kurdish special forces unit could be developed with Canadian expertise. Canadian training could also be expanded to include Kurdish police, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has said. When the Conservative government first committed Canada’s military to fighting the Islamic State (ISIL) in the fall of 2014, it said its goal was to protect the security of a unified Iraqi state. CF-18 fighter jets have been providing support to Iraqi security forces as they try to take back land seized by ISIL.

 

But Canada’s military efforts in northern Iraq are another matter. There, the Kurdish people have their own semi-autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government, as it is known, is technically still aligned with the federal government in Baghdad. The Liberals, like the Conservatives, maintain that Canada remains committed to a unified Iraqi state. But Canadian military officers privately acknowledge that, although it’s not their goal, they are indeed training an independent Kurdish army.

“We are providing training to essentially an independent military force that may or may not be used in other ways down the road besides fighting ISIL,” said retired Lt.-Col. Chris Kilford, who until 2014 was Canada’s military attaché in Turkey. Canada’s policymakers are aware of the problem of supporting the Kurds too much. But their alternatives are limited. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars and years training the Iraqi military yet it seems incapable of making many inroads against ISIL.

 

The Liberal government has suggested that one of its options could be providing aid to Lebanon and Jordan, to shore up those countries in a troubled region. That might be a safer bet – if one is trying to minimize ripples. The Kurds have never hidden their plans to eventually form an independent country. In December, Sajjan meet with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and his son Masrour, who heads the intelligence services of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Both are strong advocates for an independent Kurdistan. Massoud Barzani has suggested that Iraq is finished as a nation. It has already been broken up into various regions controlled by different forces or ethnic groups, such as the Kurds…

 

Full independence is next on the agenda. “We are not pushing for forced separation,” Masrour Barzani said in July 2015 during an interview with Al-Monitor, a news site that covers developments in the Middle East. “We are talking about an amicable divorce.” Indeed, the Kurds have emerged as the real winners from the chaos that has engulfed Iraq and Syria with the arrival of ISIL. Western nations have seen them as reliable allies in the war and have provided them with air support, training, equipment and cash. As a result, the YPG, the Kurdish force that is battling ISIL, has been able to carve out its own mini-state in northeastern Syria…                                                                                                                                                 

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

                                                                       

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         TURKEY AND ISRAEL: A LOVELESS DATE

Burak Bekdil                                   

                                                Gatestone Institute, Feb. 9, 2016

 

There is official evidence and credible speculation that Turkey and Israel may be on the brink of a historic handshake. Some say that it may be a matter of weeks, some speak of a couple of months before old friends, new foes, Turkey and Israel, will befriend each other once again. Probably until they become foes once again. Ankara and Jerusalem look like two teenagers being forced into an unwilling date by their classmates, friends, foes and schoolteachers, and also because they feel alone and threatened; not because they feel even halfheartedly warm toward one another. They are nervously, grudgingly going on their date.

 

After nearly six years, staggering diplomacy and pragmatism will probably win over emotions and deep mistrust. Since Turkey and Israel downgraded their diplomatic ties in 2010, Turkey's Islamist leaders have been careful about distinguishing between the "Israeli people" and "Israeli government." Deviating from that rhetoric for the first time, Omer Celik, spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party, said that "the Israeli state and people are friends of Turkey." That was a powerful confidence-building effort on Turkey's part. Celik's statement found an echo in Israel. On January 23, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was hopeful about normalization of ties with Turkey, and that normalization would be good for both countries.

 

But, as peace looked to be blossoming, reality showed its face. Speaking in Athens, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon bluntly told the world where he sees Turkey in the global fight against Islamic terror. The Turkish government has to decide, he said, "Whether they want to be part of any kind of cooperation in fighting terrorism, [and] this is not the case so far." More disturbingly, Ya'alon said that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) "enjoyed Turkish money for oil for a very, very long period of time," that Turkey allowed jihadists to move from Europe to Syria and back home, and that Turkey still hosts Hamas's "external terrorist brokers in Istanbul."

 

All that, under different circumstances, would have triggered a prompt and strong backlash from Ankara. Surprisingly — or not — Ankara remained unusually mute and mature. The denial of Ya'alon's allegations came from Ankara, but not from the Turkish government. The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, rejected the Israeli minister's claims and insisted that there is no evidence to support the allegations. Bass said: "In fact, ISIS oil smuggling has decreased over time, due to the efforts of Turks and other counter-ISIS coalition members to target oil extraction and transportation infrastructure. Turkey continues to take steps to improve the security of its border with Syria, working with the United States and other international partners."

 

Why were the Turks — always childishly angry at any accusation from Israel — silent, and why did the U.S. ambassador jump in like a referee in a boxing ring? It is vital for U.S. interests that the country's two Middle Eastern allies stop their feud and shake hands. And the American ambassador wanted to diffuse a potentially explosive dispute before it seriously began. Yet the ground is, and will probably remain, shaky in the Turkish-Israeli dating scene. Recent research found that nearly 60% of Turks view Israel as a security threat to their country. Worse, anti-Semitism in Turkey, fueled in recent years by the same Islamist government that now shyly wants to make peace with Israel, does not allow the Turks to be aware that it is time to be a bit more mature and a lot more pragmatic.

 

Turkish vandals spray-painted graffiti on a synagogue in Istanbul, just days after a one-time prayer service was held — the first in 65 years. They wrote on the external walls of the building, "Terrorist Israel, there is Allah," in white paint. "Writing anti-Israel speech on the wall of a synagogue is an act of anti-Semitism," said Ivo Molinas, editor-in-chief of Salom, a weekly newspaper of Istanbul's Jewish community, in an interview with the Turkish newspaper, Today's Zaman.

 

That will be the problem after any possible Turkish-Israeli handshake. Diplomacy is about ups and downs. But stereotypes and public perceptions of who is the foe or friend are often sticky. Turkey's ruling Islamists have systematically nurtured and exploited anti-Semitic sentiments. Now that the nearest election is four years away and there is no longer an emerging Turkish empire on the Arab Street, government-sponsored anti-Semitism in Turkey is suddenly supposed to be a thing of the past. By a simple twist of fate, the architects of Turkish anti-Semitism will now have to use the same propaganda machine they used to fuel anti-Semitism to diffuse, it if they want a sustainable courtship with their old Jewish friends.

 

On Topic

 

Merkel Voices 'Outrage' Over Syrian Offensive and Russian Airstrikes: Arne Delfs, Onur Ant, Patrick Donahue, Bloomberg, Feb. 8, 2016—German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed outrage over Russian-backed attacks in Syria as a government offensive drives thousands of civilians to the Turkish border, exacerbating the already critical refugee crisis Merkel is struggling to resolve.

Turkey: Reaching Limits But Will Keep Taking in Refugees: Mehmet Guzel & Suzan Fraser, Washington Post, Feb. 7, 2016—Turkey has reached the end of its “capacity to absorb” refugees but will continue to take them in, the deputy premier said Sunday, as his country faced mounting pressure to open its borders to tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled a government onslaught.

Precarious Syria Talks Leave its Future Uncertain: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2016—UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura this week announced the suspension of just-convened peace talks in Geneva intended to resolve the Syrian civil war. The failure of the talks was predictable, and foreseen by most serious analysts on Syria.

Turkey Planning $5 Billion for Gaza Seaport: Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva, Feb. 5, 2015—In the midst of ongoing normalization talks with Israel, Turkey is planning to invest $5 billion in reconstructing the Hamas stronghold of Gaza including a seaport – which Israel has fiercely opposed due to the blatant threat of weapons smuggling.