Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Timur Goksel to Al-Manar Website: No War Looming, Israeli Isolation Growing

With the upheaval that had swept through the region, it’s doubtless that Israel is facing its most complex strategic situation in decades as Egypt and Turkey, former strategic allies, have changed policie.

The Israeli flag had been fluttering with haughtiness over Tel Aviv’s embassy in Cairo for 31 years, now it is torn down. The Israeli ambassador was forced to flee Egypt humiliated. In Turkey Israel is ostracized as Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador and frozen all agreements with the Zionist entity as a result of the Mavi Marmara attack and Israel’s refusal to apologize for killing 9 unarmed Turks on board the ship.

 - Al-manar
Timur Goksel, former spokesman and senior advisor to UNIFIL, talked about these developments in an exclusive interview with Al-Manar Website. Mr. Goksel describes Turkish PM Recep Tayyib Erdogan as 'master of populism', says his information about Syria are limited, and believes Israel's isolation will have dire consequences on it.
How do you view the situation in “Israel” vis-à-vis the changes in the Arab world in general and in particular in post-Mubarak Egypt?

Never mind Israel’s cliché boast aimed at Americans that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel couldn’t care less if all its neighbors are ruled by ruthless dictators and monarchs as long as they are a known quantity, maintain stability and do not pose any threats to Israel’s security. Have you heard Israel commenting on Syrian events? Of course not because they don’t know what might happen should Bashar Assad be deposed. It is all about Israel’s national interests. The same applies to Egypt.
Until now Israel based its relations with the regimes and did not care about the sentiments of the peoples. That worked as long as the dictators could tell their people what to think or suppress them cruelly. But now, the game is different. The Arab people have found their voice and tasted freedom. They are regaining their dignity. Even Israel’s eternal, unquestioning best friend, the US, cannot change the situation. Americans have their own credibility problems in the region. Why do you think they are working so hard to avoid vetoing the Palestinian request at the UN? They are aware that their standing with the Arabs and most Muslims would be severely affected.

How did you interpret the clashes at the Israeli embassy in Cairo and the tearing down of the Israeli flag, knowing that the Camp David agreements are still effective?

Camp David was between Israel and the Egyptian regime. Israel did not make peace with the Egyptian people. A broad part of the Egyptian population opposes the peace accord. Last year’s Israeli attacks against Gaza and the recent killing of Egyptian border guards only enflamed this opposition to Israel.
The embassy attack also showed that the current military rule in Egypt could even control the streets of the Capital city. It is true that the military would like to maintain the cold peace with Israel, but the future of Egypt-Israel relations will depend basically on the ability of the military to control the events. I think Israel is finally aware that the situation in Egypt is fluid and nobody really knows who will be in charge tomorrow. From now on Israel will act more carefully and prudently while dealing with Egypt without enflaming the passions of the people.

How do think the situation in Syria would unfold?

I don’t feel qualified to comment on the situation in Syria because my information is limited. I wasn’t surprised by the brutal repression by the regime as it fully controls military-security apparatus. I was surprised by the popular reaction, the courage and bravery of the people. I understand there are some political groups who want to manipulate the popular uprising for their own interests, whether sectarian or financial. But, unless I am very very wrong, it is the ordinary people who have risen to end their humiliation, restore their dignity and live in freedom.

The Syrian government responded to the people's demands and ultimately made various reforms vis-a-vis parties law, the media, elections, emergency law (lifted) etc... They have also called for dialogue with the opposition which is now divided between those backing an armed uprising and those against it. But talking about brutality, don't you think that the army of any state in the world would act exactly the same when more than a 1,000 of its soldiers get killed, disfigured, and sometimes dismembered (as videos show) by armed groups, not to mention civilians?

I understand that support for the President is particularly strong in Damascus and Aleppo which may also explain why protests are mostly in smaller cities. This may be because emergence of local leaders could have been easier in smaller cities and rural areas where people know each other and security services are not that strong. Only recently there were some signs of these local leaders coordinating somewhat, but I don't detect a national leadership, which would be easier to deal with.

With your military background, how do you explain the "uprising" in Syria taking the form of an armed, sometimes brutal battle only in border areas, starting from Daraa at the Jordanian border, to Lattakia which is open to the sea, to Jisr El-Shoughour bordering Turkey, Deir El-Zor bordering Iraq, and Tal Kalakh bordering Lebanon, while anti-government demonstrations are carried out elsewhere in Syria peacefully and sometimes covered by Syria's mainstream media?

I am aware that Assad still enjoys considerable support and that support, not only of the officials but also segments of the population, allows him to resist outside pressure. Certainly there are many who fear a sectarian strife and support the regime. You are saying that because some of the unrest are in border areas, there must be foreign involvement. I don't have information on the extent of the roles of armed gangs, Islamists and foreigners involved in the unrest.
Turkey has lately sent two messages in two different directions. One against Syria and another against Israel. Would you agree with analysts who say that Turkey is seeking to become the most effective country in the region, now that the picture in Egypt has not yet crystallized?
Turkey is surely playing for a regional leadership role. I think most people are overlooking the impact of the Turkish moves in the region on the local politics of Turkey. The Turkish people long ignored by the west and the east is now delighted to be seen as the “leader country”. The Turkish public loved the pro-Turkish demonstrations they saw from Cairo. The Turks are not hearing praises of their policies and economic progress from all over, not only from the Middle East. Erdogan is now being applauded even by Turks opposed to him. People are proud. Erdogan is master of populism.

In your opinion, Israel seeing itself in this new situation and talking about gradually losing its glitter within decision making circles in the US, what are the chances for Israel to start a war to escape forward?

War with who? What about the price Israel will pay no matter who the enemy is? Look, Israel always wanted to have at least one of the three key regional countries – Egypt, Iran, and turkey—on its side. Iran was out when Shah was deposed. Relations with Turkey, the first Islamic country to recognize Israel, are getting worse by the day. Situation with Egypt is uncertain. Israel’s growing isolation has serious strategic consequences for it. On top of that, it is going to start a war? I don’t think so.

Timur Goksel (born in Ankara, Turkey May 3, 1943) is a retired Senior Advisor who spent 24 years with UNIFIL in South Lebanon; he took office in 1979 as UNIFIL’s media spokesman, a post that he was scheduled to fill for six months but occupied it for subsequent 24 years. He also worked as Instructor of Political Science at the American University of Beirut.

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