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Between Cairo and Ankara, Netanyahu's failures are exposed

These are the most challenging times the Middle East has seen in decades, yet one couldn’t imagine a more inept government for Israel than the one that sits in Jerusalem

Protesters storming the Israeli embassy in Cairo, September 9, 2011 (photo: Maggie Osama / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Last month, Israel rejected a compromise over the flotilla incident that Israeli and Turkish negotiators reached. The American administration has been applying pressure on Jerusalem and Ankara to reach an understanding prior to the publishing of the Palmer Report. According to recent reports in the local media, both sides to the talks in Geneva had agreed that Israel would apologize for “a military failure” that led to the death of eight Turkish citizens and one American during the attack on the Mavi Marmara, but the legality of the blockade on Gaza will not be questioned. Israel also agreed to compensate the families of the deceased.

Such an understanding would have served Jerusalem’s interests, and allowed for relations with Turkey to be mended (I say that even thought I oppose the blockade and believe it should end immediately). Yet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the deal, fearing a backlash from the right and political gains by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the only political rival that could hurt him at his base. The result was a rapid deterioration of the diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey.

Following the political failure, the government moved to propaganda, claiming that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has decided to secure his role in the Arab world by going after Israel. Yet the facts don’t add up: If there was no hope in resolving the crisis with Ankara, why send representatives to Geneva and negotiate a deal? And if that wasn’t enough, while the full effect of the rift with Turkey was being revealed, Lieberman decided to start another fire by speculating on giving military aid to the PKK (the anti-Turkish Kurd resistance group) – something similar to a possible Turkish declaration of sending weapons to Hamas. This was too much even for Netanyahu, who rushed to issue a denial, long after the damage was done.

On the very same day of Lieberman’s provocation, troubles started in Cairo, and while military escalation remains unlikely, it seems that the peace treaty with Egypt – Israel’s greatest diplomatic achievement – is about to collapse. The Israeli embassy in Giza was stormed by protesters on Friday night, and the Egyptian commando had to rescue the security team which was at the building. Later at night, the ambassador, most of the diplomats and their families were flown back to Tel Aviv in a military plane.

It looks as if the anti-Israeli mood in Egypt has a lot to do with the frustration many feel due to the tightening of the military control over the country and the failure to make good on many of the promises the revolution made. Israel is perceived as an ally of the army and the old regime; relying on Egypt’s help in placing the blockade on Gaza has come back to haunt Israel. Once again, it’s clear that Jerusalem has failed to understand the local mood in Cairo. This was revealed in Israel’s dealing with the diplomatic fallout following the Eilat attack and the death of five Egyptian soldiers, and with the inflammatory statements that followed the escalation in the South.

At the heart of the diplomatic failure lies Netanyahu and Lieberman’s policy on the Palestinian issue, one that has replaced diplomatic initiative with public relations. Netanyahu sees existential threats everywhere, from Iran to the BDS campaign and from Ankara to Cairo, yet he is unwilling to do the single thing that could get most of the pressure off Israel: Ending the 44 years old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. By using his skillful manipulation of American politics – perhaps his best and only talent – the Israeli prime minister is dragging Washington’s foreign policy with him down a very dangerous path. Netanyahu’s policy plays a big part in making the United States less and less relevant in the Arab world, and ironically, strengthens the forces which do not recognize the legitimacy of any Jewish existence in the Middle East.

When the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman trio took control over Israel’s foreign policy, there was a debate over the potential damage this cabinet could do. Some even argued that an extreme right government such as this could actually lead the Israeli public to accept concessions it wouldn’t normally, certainly not under the left. Nobody dares present these theories again. As it turned out, the right-wing government didn’t “adjust” itself to the left, but rather the other way around: With its provocative rhetoric and hard-line positions it helped bring about the geopolitical reality in which it could prosper, one of hate and anger.

As the situation around the country deteriorates, Netanyahu and Lieberman thrive, playing on the very real existential fears of Israelis, declaring that “now is not the time for concessions,” behaving as if Israeli actions play no role in the regional dynamics, and preparing the public for nightmare scenarios. With no immediate political threat to their government, it seems that the worse is yet to come.

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    1. There are two areas that Netanyahu is exposed for his reelection effort.

      1. The international isolation of Israel, as a direct result of his policies.

      2. The internal social/economic disparity, as a direct result of his policies.

      Even his mark of success, a vibrant elite economy (start-up nation), is ultimately frail.

      Value-addition occurs between the supply chain and the end user. If the end users have much more limited disposable purchasing power, then growth only occurs in business to business trade, which is very finite ultimately.

      Its the same everywhere in the world.

      And, the theme of avoiding risk is also weakened, largely due to the breakdown in all of Israel’s international relations, and much more unnecessarily heightened regional animosities.

      So, to summarize.

      Two fundamental bases of criticism. Only one base of support, which will be seen as frail shortly.

      Reply to Comment
    2. RichardNYC

      “It looks as if the anti-Israeli mood in Egypt has a lot to do with the frustration many feel due to the tightening of the military control over the country and the failure to make good on many of the promises the revolution made. ”
      It has a lot more to do with existentially wounded Arab honor and decades of antisemitic indoctrination – nothing we can do about that except wait for Egypt to come to terms with modernity – no quick fix I’m afraid.
      “yet he is unwilling to do the single thing that could get most of the pressure off Israel: Ending the 44 years old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.”
      Pressure from whom? European and American politicos and journalists, or Israel’s Arab neighbors? I can’t imagine you mean the latter.
      “Netanyahu’s policy plays a big part in making the United States less and less relevant in the Arab world, and ironically, strengthens the forces which do not recognize the legitimacy of any Jewish existence in the Middle East.”
      As if there were any credible, popular
      forces in the Middle East that ever did.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Sylvia

      that reminds me those who blamed Lara Logan for her own rape.
      Anything rather than the politically incorrect: the Egyptian Spring is not what it is billed to be and Egyptian society by and large is a violent society.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben Israel

      These events will INCREASE the popularity of the government. You see, most Israelis don’t see things the way you do. They view it as age-old Arab/Muslim animosity to Jews, no connection with “the settlements”, “lack of negotiations with the Palestinians”, “the flotilla” or even with the terrorist attack in the Negev.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Delphine Goldberg

      Actually RichardNYC the majority of European, Asian, African, South and North American countries are for a Palestinian independence. The only countries against it are Israel, US, Germany and Holland give or take some other countries. In the last 5 years Israel has managed to turnish its reputation of being the victim in the middle east into a country that commits crimes against humanity every single day. And it’s doing EVERYTHING to lose even more allies. Lets be honest the US is tired of Israel and even France is siding with the Palestinian cause now. As for the Egyptians I understand their disgust with Israel after Israel officials mentioned they prefered Mubarak… what an awful thing to say.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      Delphine Goldberg-
      Actually most people in the world (and I mean the rank-and-file, not the governments) outside the Muslim world couldn’t care less about the Arab/Israeli conflict, viewing it one of the innumerable unsolvable conflicts the world has. The ongoing violence engulfing the Arab/Muslim world, including the contribution of the Palestinians, has given them a negative image in much of the world.
      I see no evidence that the US public is “tired” of Israel. Yes, there is a minority of ideological “progressives” in the Western world who take a negative view of their own countries and who identify with the “downtrodden non-European population of the world”, but this is a minority. The fact that Obama and his advisors have this view themselves and the fact that he was elected President does not mean that most of the American people identify with his world-view in these matters. He won because of the economic crisis in the US.

      Reply to Comment
    7. aristeides

      For that matter, Ben Israel, most people in the world couldn’t care less about Israel. And yes, people in the US are definitely growing tired of Israel, tired of sending our tax dollars there instead of spending them to meet domestice needs.

      The August hajj to worship Jerusalem on the part of the US Congress was met by a great deal of criticism from constituents who would have rather seen their representatives at home, listening to their own needs, instead of in Israel, being briefed on the way to spin tax dollars giveaways to a foreign state.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben Israel

      Agreed. Israel should ON ITS OWN INITIATIVE ask for the aid to be phased out. Then Israel will have more economic and political independence. For example, combat boots and combat rations are made in the US, paid for by the aid money. These jobs can be moved back to Israel. Israel had an offer to buy Airbus jets for El Al at a lower cost than Boeing, but we were forced to buy the Boeing jets.

      Reply to Comment
    9. RichardNYC

      @Delphine Goldberg
      You misread my comment – try again.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Yuval

      Of course one can imagine more inept governments than the current one: the one before it, and the one before that, and Barak’s, and Netanyahu’s first government, and Rabin’s, and Shamir’s, and Golda’s, and Sharet’s.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Shanzdah-e Shirin

      Dear +972 Magazine,

      Are the Arabs ever to blame for anything they do? Are they ever responsible? Do they ever do more than just react to outside stimuli?


      Reply to Comment
    12. Israel should ON ITS OWN INITIATIVE ask for the aid to be phased out.

      You need to add to this that Israel will ask for American Jews to stop lobbying the Congress for US support of Israel. Any Jews or other Americans wishing to send money and aid to Israel is fine. But Israel has to remove the evidence that it is manipulating the US Congress to act on behalf of AIPAC and not on behalf of the American People.

      Israel needs to demonstrate it is willing to confront its neighbors as a truly Sovereign country without resorting to any victimhood arguments. That way the question of Israel’s Right to Exist will disappear as it should. Sovereignty is the fount of rights and there is no higher reference point.

      Reply to Comment
    13. weinstein henry

      @ Ben Israel
      Just three short remarks
      1. If these events (these NEWS actually: the way the media system of each country depict political events outside) increase the popularity of your government, it would be only for very short-term irrational emotions,
      ‘Us’ against ‘Them’.
      Unless the great majority of Israeli citizens are perfectly aware their government is playing with fire and that they welcome the perspective of
      a total war in the next coming years to solve all the problems.
      2. You’re right to say most people in the world view the Israel/Arab conflict as desperating & unsolvable, but you’re wrong to think the Europeans don’t care about a threat of total war in the Middle-East: we are not far away, we remember also how our suicidal total war (WW Part 1 & Part2) was intended to be a limited war and what happened.
      3. At the present time the Middle-East looks a lot like Europe in the 1905-1913 years, with the same blindness, nihilist nationalism, irresponsible leaders, and disastrous diplomatic blunders.
      It’s not a time to be ruled by autists.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Borg

      After reading those wonderful reports on Egypt from Lisa Goldman, I thought she was going to take on Egyptian citizenship. We also saw pictures of J14 protesters saying We are all Egyptians. I would like the entire 972 staph to parade around Tahrir Square in Israeli flags and let us know how it goes

      Reply to Comment
    15. Dannecker

      You can have peace or israel. You cant have both. Its that simple. The Palestinians will never accept the theft of their land. The green line is a red herring

      Reply to Comment
    16. Shanzdah-e Shirin


      Straight talk. Just dont go biczin when ordinary Israelis support WB settlements because of it… “You can have peace or israel” therefor no point in giving up WB settlements. “Give us this part, keep that part in peace” OK, but to “give us everything” the responce will be “no thanks, we’ll keep everything til you change your tune.”

      Reply to Comment
    17. Do you folks understand how dangerous the current diplomatic setting is in the world?

      The prospect of war between Israel and Turkey, of war between Israel and Egypt, of the prospect of the US getting involved.

      There would be MUCH more support for US involvement in a war in which Israel was attacked, than Iraq (thankfully) or even Afghanistan (from where a large coordinated attack on the US was staged).

      It is a violation of international law to sack an embassy, to allow an embassy to be sacked. (For all those for whom international law is significant.)

      There is no rational glee for a progressive on this track.

      It is a different beast to identify that the current government has alienated its former allies, and to support the prospect of war.

      Reply to Comment
    18. weinstein henry

      @ Richard Witty
      I don’t mean to be harsh, but…
      Do you realize how short-minded and out of touch with the reality the current Israeli diplomatic setting has been and still is in the present changing Middle-East?
      Do you realize the people in Turkey and Egypt are not informed by the media you trust but by media they trust, and they are as well informed than you but with different perspectives & cognitive explanations?
      Do you think it was intelligent, wise & rational for an Israeli government
      in 2011 to do the ostrich?
      To Turkey: No apology!
      To Egypt: Don’t revolt!
      To Gaza: Don’t move!
      To Obama: F… you!
      And so on
      Do you realize how Jurassic Park the Israeli way to do politics looks now?

      Reply to Comment
    19. Ben Israel

      Apparently it is necessary to remind certain people that when the “peace governments” of Rabin, Peres and Barak were in the massive suicide bombing campaigns were conducted, and under the “peace government” of Olmert, there were TWO missile wars in which Israel failed to knock out the enemy and in which Goldstone appeared which “isolated” Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Ben Israel

      Funny that you should mention Lisa Goldman. Her reports from Egypt were very interesting, she asked for money in order to be able to continue reporting. I particularly found her report from the textile plant in the Nile Delta very informative. The, SHE VANISHED. No reports, no explanations. She wrote a couple of comments. I even left comments asking what happened. She finally wrote a piece here at 972 some days ago.
      Going to that textile plant revealed a dark side to Egyptian society…how low-paid workers were exploited by the state. Did someone take offense? Did the authorities intervene?

      Reply to Comment
    21. “Do you realize how Jurassic Park the Israeli way to do politics looks now?”

      Yes, read my opening post to this thread.

      The scope of danger of war has changed even in these few hours.

      Cooler heads need to prevail. Now is not the time to provoke.

      The state of war is the LEAST progressive conditions on the planet. Martial law, military discipline, summary judgment, gross mistakes in the military field, friendly fire, failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants, collective punishment.

      Even the precipice itself shortens lives, for the anxiety of it.

      The threat of war will not change this Israeli government for the better, it will worsen it.

      I know that creates a dilemma for a progressive that would otherwise work under the slogan “forward ever, backward never”.

      The Palestinian petition is enough. Lets deal with that creatively, so that there is a viable Palestine.

      Threats on multiple fronts, do not allow for dealing with single important questions, even if the threats are promoted partially to support the Palestinian petition.

      I know that you personally cannot influence Turkey or Egypt, but you can influence the tenor of the world space.

      A sober voice urging restraint on the part of dissent, will facilitate a sober voice urging restraint on the part of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    22. José Pedro

      @ Richard Witty
      Just to say I agree with you on this issue. I am for Palestinian Statehood, for Social Justice, Freedom & Human Rights all over Palestine & Israel. Yet, we all know very well, from Ancient & Recent History, that none of the above can come really come true within a chaotic, militarised state of war society/world.
      Everyone of us must find this delicate balance between the pursuit of legitimate and just objectives and the necessity to keep the means absolutely coherent with the ends!

      Reply to Comment
    23. Ben Israel

      Interesting how there is no interest on the part of the Egyptian “masses” regarding the situation in Syria. No big demonstrations at their embassy. This is true about the entire Arab world. This goes to show that the Arab/Israeli conflict has nothing to do with “human rights” or any such thing, but rather is a matter of “injured Arab pride”.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Ben Israel – I was present at and photographed several big demonstrations outside the Syrian embassy in Cairo.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Ben Israel

      I have seen reports of demonstrations outside Syrian Embassies in various places, but they do not receive much publicity and it wasn’t indicated whether they were “large” or not. I don’t think it can be said that the Arab world has been mobilized to protest what is going on in Syria.

      Reply to Comment
    26. AbeBird

      Sorry to say that Noam Sheizaf mistaken in most of his claims and assumptions. Let me define few of them:

      1. The Turks didn’t look for compromise with Israel over the Mavi Marmara dispute. If Israel would have been asking for apologizing to the Turks would have used it to further pushing Israel to the back, and even to find other issues in order to amplify their need to abuse Israel in order to build the Ottoman Empire spirit again. Turkey needs Israel to consolidate her authority and leadership over the Sunni Muslim in the Middle East. In that context, the Israel rejection of Turks demand was excellent decision. You fail to notice that Ardugan started his over whole policies towards the region way back from 2003 and more arrogantly from December 2008 Gaza.

      2. As the matter is that the Turks have to apologize before Israel for letting the Flotilla ships with illegal Turkish-Islamic extreme organization to leave Turkey in illegitimate mission to Gaza. Israel should demand from the Turks to apologize.

      3. Lieberman didn’t say or decide to start another fire by speculating on giving military aid to the PKK. He is not in status to decide on that issue but only to recommend. But he didn’t even recommend. It sure has been raised on the foreign ministry discussions, but that doesn’t means that this suggestion had been accepted by Lieberman or by the high ministerial clerks in the foreign ministry. As we heard Netanyahu, he spoke very cool , moderate and leveled on this crisis , and as we all know Netanyahu is the one to represent the Israeli stand.

      4. The Israel-Egyptian peace treaty is not about to collapse, The Egyptian military leadership is too weak to break it.

      5. The 200 protestors that broke into the Israel embassy were few who embarrassed Egypt and the Egyptian people. As all the leaders in the wide political sectors had expressed their ideas we see that the Egyptian society is totally condemn the hooliganism of few.

      6. Netanyahu and Lieberman’s policy on the Palestinian issue is very clear and cautious, because the huge split in the Arab Palestinian society and because Abu Abbass can’t deliver any compromise with Israel. That’s why he broke the negotiations with Olmert and Livni the doves in 2009 and bought obstacle to meet for furthers talks with Netanyahu. You should understand that no Arab Palestinian can accept the annexation of the 3 urbanized blocs, including Jerusalem old city, to Israel; nor he can give up the “right of return”, which Israel can’t accept; nor he can declare his affirmation and acceptance of the survival of Israel as a Jewish state next to Israeli already approves the existence of Palestine as an Arab state. Continue the negotiation with Israel would have force Abu Abbass to renounce some of his totalitarian demands. Of course, Abu Abbass is too weak to make any concession, not only because he represents less than a half of his people. But because his “moderate” people including himself can’t give up those 3 demands, in order to be able to execute their “stages policy” to annihilate Israel.

      7. It is not the time to renew the talks. Israel should let the “Arab spring” to utilize all its changes and destructions in the Arab world and let the “Arab winter” to fix it and then begin to talk only if the “Arab spring” will spring. Who knows what the “Arab summer” will bring? May be the Palestinian people of Jordan will force the Hashemite-Bedouin king of Amman to give the kingdom back to them?

      Reply to Comment
    27. weinstein henry

      Also Sprach Abebird

      A Digest
      “So the Turks want to build the Ottoman Empire again and Turkey needs to abuse Israel to consolidate her prestige but Israel should have demand from the Ottomans to apologize for letting the Islamic Flottila leaving the Marmara Sea and even if Lieberman is the official Foreign Minister of Israel we all know Bibi is the Captain so don’t worry baby be ready to see Egyptian hooligans visiting the Israeli embassady for free nevermind the Israel-Egypt treaty is not about to collapse Egypt is too weak Abbas is too weak Obama is too weak so it’s no time to renew the talks we just have to wait and see all the Palestinians emigrate in Jordan”

      Reply to Comment
    28. ARTH

      I doubt very much that the formulators of Foreign Policy in Turkey are thinking “Ottoman Empire.” That notion only exists in the imagination of establishment Israel and American neoconservatives. Yes, Turkey is expanding its influence, but it is doing it in the context of the successor Turkish state.

      Reply to Comment
    29. […] is beginning to look like one of the worst periods in Israel's history. (Read this great piece from the Israeli blog […]

      Reply to Comment
    30. Borg

      Noam and Lisa
      are you Egyptian citizens yet? WE all know that Egypt is far more democratic than Israel is

      Reply to Comment
    31. Ben Israel

      I think what you said is incorrect. Many counries feel they have a “national destiny” to fulfill. Russia is a very good example of that. For that matter so did France and Britain up until fairly recently…you don’t build up a huge empire without such a feeling. It is not unreasonable to think that Erdogan thinks in those terms…after all, Istanbul was the seat of the Caliphate up until the 1920’s in addition to being the capital of a large empire, many Muslims also feel they have a world-significant destiny to fulfill (aside from being merely a “religion” in the Western sense of being a way to personal salvation) and Erdogan no doubt views his Islam in “national terms” as well.

      Reply to Comment
    32. ARTH

      Ben Israel, what evidence do you have for that? Do Turkish officials ever use the term “Ottoman” at all? Do you think it really means anything to them? Why do you think that other than your own speculation?

      Reply to Comment
    33. tawfic

      Ben Israel, why do u think that the so called nation israel is in any higher position, in the middle east… it’s just a matter of time… but what you don’t have any idea about, is that Egyptians are highly adaptable; proven that within fragments of the social back bone(due to imperialistic regimes ) of the egyptian society, middle high class is adapting to create societies that is modular and capable beyond the soup bubbles that the western cultures trying to feed our underdeveloped countries. it’s just a matter of time, and if you think that when the time comes for the middle east to to rise, we will treat you with violence, then you are defiantly mistaken. violence is the middle east is not is a result of your own violence when you came to palestine after the 2nd world war at the first place. violence is an energy and energy are neither created nor destroyed

      Reply to Comment
    34. TAWFIC

      “violence in the middle east is not due to any ideology or religion it is a result of your own violence when you came to palestine after the 2nd world war at the first place. violence is an energy and energy are neither created nor destroyed” *

      Reply to Comment
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