Top Israeli general: ‘Expect problems’ so long as Erdogan in power
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Top Israeli general: ‘Expect problems’ so long as Erdogan in power

In unusually candid remarks, Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan dismisses prospects of reconciliation, calls Turkey ‘a problematic entity’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan speaks at a ceremony to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2016. (Gefen Reznik/IDF Spokesperson)
Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan speaks at a ceremony to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2016. (Gefen Reznik/IDF Spokesperson)

The IDF deputy chief of staff dismissed the possibility of reconciliation with Turkey and called the former ally a “problematic entity”, in an unconventional set of statements by a military official.

“As long as Turkey is ruled by a party with a strong Islamist orientation — basically the Muslim Brotherhood — and by a ruler as contrarian as [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan; as long as this is the situation, we can expect problems and we can expect challenges,” said Major-General Yair Golan, in an address at Bar-Ilan University Thursday night.

“I wouldn’t go for direct hostilities, that’s not wise. It’s still a large and powerful country,” he stressed. “Even if we don’t have identical interests and identical ideologies, we need to work to assuage tensions with the Turks, while still standing by our values.”

Golan was speaking at a conference on the IDF’s current challenges, organized by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

“I see in Turkey a most problematic entity,” Golan said.

Supporters of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) hold up a portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they celebrate in Istanbul after the first results in the country's general election on November 1, 2015. (Photo by AFP Photo / Ozan Kose)
Supporters of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) hold up a portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they celebrate in Istanbul after the first results in the country’s general election on November 1, 2015. (Photo by AFP Photo / Ozan Kose)

“The West is having a complex conversation with the Turks,” he added. “The Russians not too long ago had a complicated conversation with the Turks — and still are. Yeah, there’s definitely some complexity.”

Israeli-Turkish relations, already troubled in 2009 following Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip, entered a deep freeze after Israeli troops raided a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that included Turkish activists aboard the ship Mavi Marmara. The activists resisted the boarding; 10 of them were killed in the ensuing fighting and several IDF soldiers were wounded.

Golan’s statements were not necessarily out of line with the thinking of other members of the defense community, notably that of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has repeatedly expressed reservation, if not outright disagreement, with the ongoing negotiations with Turkey.

“I am not sure that it will be possible to reach an arrangement of relations with Turkey. Perhaps we’ll succeed, but they will have to address our conditions in order to overcome existing obstacles,” Ya’alon said last month.

“Turkey is hosting in Istanbul the terror command post of Hamas abroad. We cannot accept this,” he said, as an example.

However, Golan — as a military official — was unusually candid in publicly expressing such an opinion on the ongoing diplomatic process.

It was not clear if Golan was presenting an official IDF assessment of the situation with Turkey or expressing his personal thoughts on the topic, and a request for clarification from the IDF went unanswered.

His remarks may reflect the strong ties between the IDF and Egyptian military, as Egypt has been feuding with Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas for years.

Though the extent of Israel’s military cooperation with Egypt is not openly discussed, military and political officials have repeatedly indicated that ties between the two militaries are strong, especially as they relate to Gaza.

“Some Hamas tunnels were flooded, to a certain extent at our request,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed last month, offering one example of the cooperation between the two countries.

As a result, reconciliation with the Turks is “going to annoy the Egyptians tremendously,” Dr. Natan Sachs from the Brookings Institution told The Times of Israel.

“They have already signalled that they don’t like this because Egypt has very strained relations with Turkey and Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Sachs said.

The Muslim Brotherhood is an international Sunni Muslim organization, with a sometimes radical conservative religious bent. It has ties with Hamas and other terror groups, as well as hard-line parties in countries around the Arab world.

Former Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi came from the Muslim Brotherhood, and was overthrown by current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

As such, an agreement with Erdogan and Turkey could throw Israel’s close ties with Egypt into question, Sachs said.

Golan, who previously served as head of the IDF’s Northern Command, also expressed a certain degree of optimism towards security threats in the near future.

“I sincerely hope to finish 2016 without a war. I think there’s a reasonably high chance that there won’t be. And why should there be? We have paid dearly for strong deterrence,” he said.

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