Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Erdogan The Fireman

By Elias Harfoush
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 7/12/2010

Initiatives of a humanitarian type might be quite few, if not non-existent, between Israel and its Arab and non-Arab rivals. What prevails, and is exchanged between the sides, are initiatives of bloodshed and committing massacres, especially by the Israeli side. Therefore it was notable to see the attention given to the initiative by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send two firefighting aircraft to help put out the huge fire that consumed Mount Carmel near the city of Haifa, killing more than 40 people. The initiative was notable because of the frostiness that the government in Ankara claims exists in its relations with the Israelis, ever since the Israeli navy attacked the Freedom Flotilla in May, killing nine Turks who were headed to the Gaza Strip on a humanitarian mission.

The irony is that Turkey chose to deliver this humanitarian assistance to Israel, even though the criticisms that it made of the Netanyahu government was that it lacked any humanitarian sense when it carried out its attack on the defenseless Turkish fleet, which was carrying food and medical supplies to the besieged strip.

Does this Turkish initiative mean that Erdogan has chosen to give the Israelis a lesson in proper, civilized relations, rising above rivalry when the matter involves a humanitarian issue? Or did he find it an opportunity to gain Israeli sympathy and repair the two countries’ relations, especially since his request for an apology and compensation for the families of the Freedom Flotilla victims was met with deaf ears by the Israelis?

Certainly, Erdogan calculated things well. Under the current conditions, Netanyahu was not waiting for an initiative of this type to sympathize with the Jews who were burning above Mount Carmel. Thus, the telephone call between the two men, for which the Israeli prime minister took the initiative, represented a breaking of the ice, and perhaps will help overcome the earlier Turkish preconditions for improving relations and turning the page.

With his initiative Erdogan proved once again, for those who still required evidence, that he is a pragmatic Islamist who is completely different from the radical Islamists who fill the Arab world’s satellite stations with shouting and promises of woe to the Zionist movement and the agents of imperialism! Most notably, one can compare what Erdogan did with the statements by Ismail Haniyah of Hamas, who considered the fire a “divine punishment for what the Israelis have done.” Faced with such a “fatwa,” issued by one of Erdogan’s allies, how can one explain the assistance that the Turkish prime minister rushed to offer to the Israelis, to save them from this “punishment”? Moreover, if the Mount Carmel fire was “punishment” for the Israelis for their behavior, how can Haniyah explain the dry weather that has afflicted the entire region, including the Gaza Strip, where Haniyah took part in a prayer for rain, during which he delivered his famous sermon about the “anger” that has befallen the Israelis?

Certainly, the step taken by the Turkish prime minister is different in form and method than what can be offered by the resistance camp of Arabs, who believe Erdogan is with them, and allied with their positions. Could we wait for a humanitarian initiative such as this toward Israel by Hezbollah or Ahmadinejad or their allies in the region, not to mention Hamas? The lesson in all of this is that Erdogan is doing politics, while those Arabs who believe him their allies, are doing speeches and one-upmanship. The difference between the two is that the former takes advantage of opportunities that benefit him and his country, on the basis of “zero conflict” [among neighbors], while the latter waste all opportunities to build something positive for their stances and causes. The first is trying to win, and the others are piling up the losses.

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