Israel's airport security is widely admired but its stringent passenger screening has been criticized by other countries -- and by the Israeli supreme court. On Monday, some Israelis got a glimpse of what it's like on the receiving end of a harsh security inspection when they were forced to undress by personnel at an airport in Turkey.
The incident came days after relations between Israel and Turkey reached an all-time low when Turkey announced a further downgrade of diplomatic ties, including expelling the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Turkey and suspending military and economic dealings. The Turkish moves followed Israel's rejection of a Turkish ultimatum for Israel to apologize for last year's deadly flotilla raid.
Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor told Israel Radio on Monday that he hoped Turkey and Israel could find a way to fix the damage to their relationship but said that would not be easy. Once a strong strategic ally of Israel, Turkey now seeks closer ties with Egypt, another regional asset threatening to slip away from Israel.
Some defense analysts speculated that the rift could hinder Turkey's fight against Kurdish militants. Turkey has recently acquired substantial military gear from Israel, including armored vehicles, upgraded tanks and unmanned aerial vehicles. That equipment already has been delivered but the usual post-sale agreements for maintenance and parts are now iffy.
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem
Photo: A Turkish Airlines jet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Libya’s rebel leadership may seek international assistance in establishing policing in the nation, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a Thursday briefing, according to Bloomberg reports.
Nuland said that at Thursday's meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Istanbul, participants discussed the security needs of the rebel’s fledgling government, the National Transitional Council.
Nuland said the council is “unlikely to request a formal peacekeeping force,” but may request international and United Nations help in support of its policing needs.
“Precisely what it may ask for is still to be determined,” Nuland said.
The Libya Contact Group of international powers issued a statement in Istanbul, Turkey, Thursday urging embattled Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi to turn himself in to avoid further bloodshed.
The group, which met in Istanbul earlier in the day, includes members of Libya's rebel leadership, the National Transitional Council, as well as senior diplomats opposed to Kadafi's rule.
They issued a 14-point statement, excerpts of which were posted online by Reuters, also urged the United Nations Security Council to pass a U.S.-supported resolution currently under discussion to unfreeze Libyan assets so that they could free up the assets in an “expedited” manner.
Photo: From left, Fatih Mohammed Baja, adviser of political affairs to head of National Transitional Council of Libya; Khalid Al Ghaith, United Arab Emirates assistant minister for the Department of Economic Affairs; Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu; and Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway attend the Political Directors meeting during a Libya Contact Group summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday. Credit: Mustafa Ozer / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Numerous Libyan embassies switched allegiances this week, with more declaring support for the rebel government Wednesday.
At the Libyan embassy in Manilla, Libyan diplomats and students smashed portraits of Moammar Kadafi, shouted “Game over!” and raised the rebel flag, the Associated Press reported, as Libyan Consul Faraj Zarroug said that about 85% of his country's 165 diplomatic missions now recognized the rebels' interim government, the National Transitional Council.
“It's game over for Mr. Kadafi!” Zarroug said. “Probably in a few days, everything will be over, hopefully. I'm very happy.”
Libyan missions to Switzerland and Bangladesh switched soon after the rebellion in February, but embassy officials in Japan and Ethiopia only replaced the government flag with the rebels' tricolor on Monday, according to the Associated Press.
The Libyan ambassador to the African Union, Ali Awidan, said he raised the new rebel flag Monday, changing sides at the last moment.
“I was not serving Gadhafi, I have been serving Libya,” he told the Associated Press in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The United States is working with the United Nations to release from $1 to $1.5 billion in U.S.-held frozen Libyan assets, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing in Washington DC on Tuesday.
Nuland said officials plan to give the assets to Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council for humanitarian purposes and to “help it establish a secure, stable government."
The U.S. has $37 billion in frozen Libyan money, while Germany blocked 7.3 billion euros. Britain has frozen about 12 billion pounds and the Netherlands has frozen 3 billion euros, according to the Associated Press.
While they wait for the green light from the U.N., Germany and the Netherlands each agreed to lend the Libyan rebels 100 million euros to fund immediate rebuilding and humanitarian needs. The money will then be deducted from the assets they unfreeze.
Nuland said U.S. officials were confident the money would be used properly.
“We would not have taken this step if we didn’t have confidence that the money would get to the people who need it,” she said.
Nuland also said it was clear the Kadafi regime has nearly collapsed and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday about how the U.N. could provide Libya with humanitarian relief, security assistance and help writing their constitution.
Once the UN gives its approval, European Union member countries were also preparing to unfreeze Libyan assets, according to Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, who spoke with reporters in Brussels Tuesday.
Libya’s transitional government will need money to pay public sector workers such as policemen and nurses, ensure stores are stocked and the economy can be redeveloped, Ashton said.
She said she held discussions with the EU’s 27 member states, the leader of the Libyan National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, and Ban Ki-Moon.
“This is a rich country. The question is how to get the economy moving again quickly,” Ashton said.
Current events in Syria are expected to impact other states economically, especially neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. The first potential effect is on bilateral trade between Syria and its neighbors. Turkey comes to the fore here, since its trade to and from Syria was valued at $2.27 billion last year.
The situation in Syria affects Turkey in two ways. The first is the potentially large drop in trade volume, especially since demand for imports and Turkish commodities –- which used to be high –- has dropped sharply since the beginning of the events. Some sources estimate that trade volume has dropped between 30% and 40%, and that these percentages could drop even lower with the expiration of prior arrangements and the continued state of chaos.
Meanwhile there is an absence of desire on both sides, Syrian and Turkish, to renew these contracts before matters become clearer. During 2010, Syrian exports to Turkey were valued at $1.6 billion, while Syrian imports from Turkey were around $630 million.
A year and a bit after the ill-fated interception of the Mavi Marmara that headed last year's flotilla to Gaza, Israel is bracing for another one. This time around, say authorities, they are more prepared, having learned the lessons from operations to public relations and media. (We'll get back to that second point later.)
Israel launched a diplomatic, legal and bureaucratic offensive to prevent the flotilla well in advance and for months has been appealing to governments to block their citizens' efforts to participate, with a certain degree of success. Easing restrictions on goods entering Gaza certainly helped, as has the recent Egyptian decision to open the Raffah crossing, which Israel did not like but quickly recognized as advantageous in this context.
The ships are supposed to rendevous in the Mediterranean and then sail to Gaza but some of the likely candidates in the region are dropping out. Cyprus has announced it will not let the ships in, Greece will let them in but is stalling them with red tape at Israel's request, activists complain. Greece has its own issues this week and will have limited energy to spend on this, one way or the other.
Elsewhere in Europe, delegations met with problems as insurance companies were reluctant to issue policies for the ships and their passengers, after an Israeli legal group, Shurat Hadin, sent letters to the world's leading marine insurance companies advising them they could be held accountable for damages and complicit to violating the law. Other initiatives seek to block satellite communications services to the ships.
The Turkey-based IHH was to be the biggest contingent of the flotilla, its massive passenger ship the largest by far of the dozens of vessels originally slated to sail. Last week the organization announced the ship was staying home.
With Syria's troubles spilling into its backyard, Turkey may have bigger fish to fry at this time -- and both countries seem keen to work things out in advance of the United Nations report on the 2010 flotilla. Turkey was not impressed with the early draft and Israeli media suggest the final report, currently due early July, is still pretty critical of Turkey. And Israel, for its part, always needs all the friends it can get.
In recent weeks, the military completed a series of comprehensive drills for intercepting the next flotilla. Netanyahu is determined to uphold the naval blockade, which Israel says aims only to prevent gunrunning to Hamas-ruled Gaza and not against Palestinian civilians. On Monday, the security cabinet approved the operational plan presented by the army.
Israel has reached understandings with Egypt about the ships docking in El Arish and inspecting the cargo before transfer to Gaza by land in case participants decline Israel's invitation to dock at its Ashdod port -- as expected. There's no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, repeat Israeli spokespeople, who call the flotilla a provocation.
The organizers and activists are equally determined to sail for Gaza and are undeterred by the difficulties. And if Israel has eased up some on Gaza, well, if anything, this just proves flotillas work, says the Free Gaza movement . At a news conference in Athens on Monday, organizers said the 10 ships taking part in the voyage would gather at sea toward the weekend before heading to Gaza.
Meanwhile, until any encounter at sea, the skirmish is being waged on YouTube and all sides are uploading fast and furious -- some straightforward, others kind of clever.
And back to that media lesson learned. One of the main problems Israel had getting its message across last time (besides the message) was the long delay in releasing timely visual images and information from the scene while the operation was still ongoing, leaving the media stage to activists and semi-professionals and an anti-Israeli angle. For weeks, Israeli officials have been stressing the importance of the media battlefield and assuring outlets that professional and credible material will be much more timely.
That's good. Less good was the letter from Government Press Office director Oren Helman on Sunday, warning foreign press they could be deported and banned from working in Israel for 10 years if they participated in the flotilla. Besides infuriating both local and international media, the move seems to have embarassed Netanyahu, who ordered the directive be rethought.
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem
Video, from top: An Israeli Defense Forces video explains the Gaza naval blockade from the official Israeli perspective; activist Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli combat pilot who has become an outspoken critic of his county's policies, discusses his reasons for joining the flotilla. Credit: YouTube
Babylon & Beyond today is switching to a new commenting system.
The system requires commenters to sign in through their Facebook accounts. People without Facebook accounts will not be able to leave comments.
Readers will have the option of posting their Babylon & Beyond comments on their Facebook walls, but that's not required. Readers are welcome to express their opinions about the news -- and about how the new Facebook comments system is working.
As a tireless advocate for the disabled, Safak Pavey toured the world convincing reluctant governments to sign and ratify the United Nations convention guaranteeing rights for people with disabilities.
Now, as a newly elected opposition member of the Turkish Parliament, she’ll have to convince her own government, which ratified the Convention in 2009, to actually implement it.
Pavey, 34, is one of four disabled candidates to join the 550-member parliament, having lost her left arm and leg in a train accident. But she ran as a candidate from the center-left Republican People’s Party, skipping the required (but inevitably ignored) quota that calls for 4% of government positions to be filled by persons with disabilities. The daughter of one of Turkey’s most prominent investigative journalists, Ayse Onal, and a former art student, Pavey started stirring up trouble the night of the elections, even before the last vote was counted.
Appearing on a local talk show with Tülay Kaynarca, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has also worked on disability, she roundly objected when Kaynarca boasted of the achievements of AKP’s 2005 Law on Disability.
“This law has been violated today,” Pavey corrected her, referring to the fact that ballots were still not accessible to the visually impaired. “You had six years to work on these ballot papers, and yet you violated your own law.”
Editor’s note: This post is by Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of Carnegie's analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the positions of The Times or its blog.
Despite their sweeping repercussions for both domestic and international players, the Arab uprisings have not led to a dramatically new regional order or a new balance of power. This could change, particularly if developments in Syria continue to escalate.
While Iran has welcomed uprisings against Western-backed regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, it dealt harshly with its own protesters and has been worried about recent events in Syria. Moreover, countries that threw out pro-Western dictators are not moving closer to Iran.
Egypt's and Tunisia’s future foreign policies are more likely to resemble Turkey's in becoming more independent while remaining allied with the West. And Iran's soft power has decreased as its regime looks increasingly repressive and new models of revolutionary success have emerged in Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Arab world.
Turkey, for its part, bungled the opportunity to take advantage of this historic shift to bolster its influence in the Arab world. The Arab uprisings are effectively calling for the Arab world to be more like Turkey: democratic, with a vibrant civil society, political pluralism, secularism alongside Islam, and a productive and fairly balanced economy. However, after expressing clear support for Egyptian protesters, Turkey has hedged its bets in Libya and Syria.
Is Turkey's role in the Middle East centrist, or just plain cynical?
Ankara's arms trade with Middle Eastern and North African countries is thriving, according to local reports, despite popular uprisings across the region against governments described by the protest movement and others as repressive and corrupt.
"Egypt is a market and partner with previously signed contracts," he said.
"Tunisia and Libya were prospective markets. They still are for the longer term," he added. "As the dust settles we will roll up our sleeves to help the [Turkish] industry for new contracts...future contracts will come up as soon as stability has been restored."
Turkey's total arms exports are expected to reach $1.5 billion this year, with the Middle East and North Africa accounting for a significant chunk.
Al Jazeera posted a written statement Friday from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan concerning the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"We hope The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will adopt a common sense approach and under this new administration organize free and fair elections," Erdogan's statement said. "It should hand over power in as short a time frame as possible. Since the beginning of the mass protests in Egypt, Turkey has supported the legitimate demands of our brother Egyptians for democracy and freedom. The country should now move peacefully towards a new order that is pluralist, representative, and upholds human rights."
Photo: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with a military guard in the background, welcomes Crown Prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa before their meeting in Ankara on Tuesday. Credit: Reuters