Since the outbreak of a new conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the US has made it clear that it stands by its main ally, Israel. Washington has provided financial, military, military-technical, intelligence, and diplomatic support to Tel Aviv in addition to political affirmations regarding Israel’s right to self-defense.
It is clear that Israel would not have discriminated against the Palestinian people, enjoyed the same advantages in the Middle East for a large portion of its existence, and the political and territorial issues surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict would have been resolved without US assistance.
However, despite the UN resolution denouncing Israel’s disproportionate strikes on the Gaza Strip, backed by 120 countries, the US still insists on the admissibility of an Israel Defense Forces ground operation against Hamas, despite the growing anti-Israeli sentiment in the vast majority of the region’s countries, including even NATO ally Turkey. Along with the resources of US military sites located in the Middle East, more US assets are being transported to the conflict’s epicenter with the intention of giving the Israelis the support they require.
The State Department has intensified its operations in the area throughout the last month of hostilities. Antony Blinken has made repeated visits to Israel, Jordan, Bahrain, Turkey. Many commentators have concluded that Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Middle East tour was a disaster, given the growing list of countries dissatisfied with “Israel’s criminal actions” and “US patronage”.
As evidence, consider the surge in anti-American sentiment and anti-Israeli discourse in Turkey and Iran, two nations in the Arab East. Furthermore, the involvement of at least the pro-Iranian groups like the Shiite formations in Iraq and Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and the Yemeni Houthis poses a threat to the conflict’s geographical growth and internationalization.
For emotional clarity, the supposedly unsuccessful meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on November 6 in Ankara is cited. Critics, however, focus solely on the outward manifestations of this “failed” visit. Specifically, the late hour of arrival; inadequate lighting on the airport platform; the absence of Turkish officials (only the deputy head of the Ankara district) to greet the distinguished guest; Fidan’s refusal to offer Blinken a cordial embrace; and the symbolic display of Islamic symbols (a model of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the star and the crescent) to remind Washington of Turkey’s and the Islamic world’s discontent with US policy regarding the Hamas-Israel conflict.
Naturally, this viewpoint cannot be ignored because criticism of American and Israeli policies is found not only in the majority of Islamic nations but also in other regions of the world (Russia, China, India, Latin America, Africa, etc.). On the other hand, one cannot categorically concur with the experts’ assessment of the total failure of US diplomacy in the Middle East.
First, the results of the military conflict that has lasted for the past month show that the Arab countries are still split on whether to support Palestine in general and Hamas in particular against Israel and the United States. It has nothing to do with Arab nations like Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq. As is well known, these nations remain really willing, not just verbally, to offer Israel legitimate resistance, including military support. Still, the wealthiest and most famous Arab nations (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc.) refuse to align themselves with the political-military front opposing Israel and the United States.
Jordan and Bahrain have only taken action by removing their embassies from Israel and organizing large-scale demonstrations against Israel. Saudi Arabia, like Jordan, is not against hosting U.S. Patriot air defense systems to intercept missiles that are launched, for example, by the Houthis from Yemen to Israel; it has only so far declined to proceed with conversations with Israel over security and economic cooperation. Egypt has not extended “wide doors” to Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip; instead, it has restricted itself to protesting and taking in humanitarian aid.
The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, and Palestine convened jointly on November 4 in Amman with the aim of formulating shared strategies on Gaza and forwarding their conclusions to the US Secretary of State. The parties demanded that the US put pressure on Israel for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, an unhindered flow of humanitarian aid to Palestinians, the prevention of their displacement from their lands (i.e., ethnic cleansing), and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. However, Blinken refused to accept the position of the “Arab allies” in Amman, stating that the US still favors a ground assault and the ultimate destruction of Hamas. According to US Secretary of State, the ceasefire in the enclave will aid Hamas militants in regrouping and planning new attacks on Israel.
And how did the “Arab allies” of the USA reply? Just more words of concern, anxiety, perplexity and nothing more. According to Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, “the whole region is sinking in a sea of hatred that will define generations to come. This is not a religious war. This is not a war between Muslims and Jews.” What is the point? Is it going to deter an Israeli army backed by the US?
Secondly, there isn’t any comparable solidarity among important Islamic governments in a wider regional context. Turkey is outwardly demonstrating solidarity with Hamas and presenting significant measures for a political settlement to this long-running crisis by recognizing Palestinian independence on the 1967 boundaries, with East Jerusalem as its capital and Ankara providing security guarantees. In other words, Erdoğan anticipates receiving an international mandate for Palestine. In practice, nevertheless, the threat of military and political action against the same Israel has not yet equaled the verbal and telephone diplomacy of the Turks.
Indeed, Ankara did recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv but it didn’t cut ties with Israel. It has cut commercial ties with the country by 40–50% without enacting an economic embargo or refusing to allow Azerbaijani and Iraqi oil to pass through its borders to the hated Israel. While it is true that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated his support for just liberation struggle of Hamas and declined to speak with Benjamin Netanyahu any further, Ankara is not brave enough to take a military part in this “just struggle for East Jerusalem,” nor does the Turkish president decline to contact with Israel’s new leader in the future. Indeed, just before Blinken’s visit to Ankara, Erdoğan gave the go-ahead for what may have been the world’s largest pro-Palestinian march in Turkey, drawing in over 1.5 million people. This gave the Turkish population the green light to protest the Incirlik Air Base as well. However, in order to break up the protest and stop illegal access to the US military base, Turkish police were compelled to employ unusual tactics, including water cannons and pepper spray. In other words, Turks are aware of the limits of the permissible.
In this context, Yevgeny Primakov Jr., Head of the Rossotrudnichestvo, observes: “The Turkish rhetoric of ”keep me seven; now we will deal with all the civilians killed in Gaza“, apart from a few loud phrases, has so far not led to any real policy. No peace initiatives other than the obvious—humanitarian pauses, ceasefires, and stop massacres—have yet been heard from Turkey.“
Third, the November 6 meeting in Ankara between Blinken and Fidan lasted for two and a half hours. Why did they bargain for so long if it were disastrous? The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Sweden’s NATO membership, the United States’ military and financial-economic support for its partner Turkey, the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiating process, and the Zangezur corridor were among the topics discussed during this debate. We do not know the content of the agreements reached between Turkey and the US, but we have no doubt that they took place.
To begin with, the Americans are positive about their trip to Ankara. In order to destroy Hamas and demonstrate to other regional and global countries that it remains the dominating power in the Middle East, the United States has chosen to persist in its military assault against the militant group.
Furthermore, while Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, categorically refused to control and govern the Gaza Strip at the start of the conflict, apparently fearing Hamas’s reactions and threats, by early November this year, Ramallah had expressed its readiness to take over the Gaza Strip following a ceasefire. The fact that Arab extremists attacked the Palestinian leader’s motorcade on November 7 is no coincidence. In other words, Mahmoud Abbas believes that Hamas will be eradicated and, with American assistance, he will be able to seize control of what is left of the Gaza Strip. Washington and Tel Aviv have achieved political victory with this.
Ultimately, a joint venture between Türkiye’s conglomerate Koç Holding and the US automotive giant Ford was launched in Yeniköy, specifically on the same day that Blinken and Fidan’s talks took place. In particular, a factory was opened in the northwest of Kocaeli Province to manufacture vehicles with internal combustion and electric engines. The total amount invested was $2.14 billion. It is the biggest foreign investment in Turkey’s automobile sector.
Such a corporate venture also occurs in the context of politics. Thus, the Americans are prepared to pay the local elites in order to protect their interests and lessen the likelihood that they will rebel.
In an attempt to appease, the US Secretary of State stated following the negotiations in Ankara that humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip would greatly increase in the upcoming days. This suggests that they will permit a multiplicity of trucks carrying the necessary supplies to enter the conflict zone and may even open a corridor for the evacuation of injured parties and refugees.
The United States and Turkey have undoubtedly discussed a range of issues related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including the need for a ceasefire, the expediency of a ground operation, humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip, the preservation of Gaza’s territorial integrity following the war, Turkey’s proposal to assume the role of security guarantor for the Palestinian state, and, of course, the issue of hostages and their release. Washington seemed to be expecting Hamas’ loyalty to Turkey and the Turkish side’s ability to turn on active hostage exchange diplomacy. On November 8, Ismail Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas, traveled to Ankara for a meeting with President Erdoğan. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the Hamas leadership about the agreements achieved and the US attitude.
To the best of our knowledge, Hamas has declared its willingness to apply the all-for-all approach and hand over all prisoners to Iran in exchange for the release of Palestinians detained by Israel. The swap itself ought to encompass Turkey and Qatar as well. It’s difficult to determine which choice the United States would favor. Nonetheless, Turkish mediation is still a reality.
Iran distinguishes itself from other Middle Eastern nations in light of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, opting for more productive communication rather than verbal exchanges. Tehran does not rule out the possibility of the current conflict becoming international due to the participation of some of its proxy forces (in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq); in fact, they have already begun to do so indirectly by threatening to strike Israel and directly targeting US military bases in Syria and Iraq.
According to Bloomberg, the US nuclear submarine Florida made her way into the Persian Gulf at the beginning of November, ostensibly to warn and deter Iran from launching new strikes on US military installations in Syria and Iraq or from launching indirect operations against Israel. Tehran alerts Washington to the latest “tanker war” that occurred in the Persian Gulf after observing US ship movements within its security zone.
The only country that has warned the United States of a “serious strike” if Washington does not put an end to the war in Gaza is Iran, through its Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani. This assertion and the actual impact, however, are very far apart. Turkey cannot afford to treat its principal military ally in NATO that way. The United States has refused to acknowledge the parameters of a resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Washington has taken this attitude because of two concerns: 1) preserving its own power and interests in the Middle East; and 2) active Jewish capital and Diaspora influence in the United States.
Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.